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NSU's Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale Presents: Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design

Published on Sep 30, 2013 by Riverwalk Arts Entertainment District

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Exploration of cutting-edge conceptual trends in contemporary woodworking by leading artists and designers including Ursula von Rydingsvard, Martin Puryear, Ai Weiwei, Betye Saar, Alison Elizabeth Taylor Maarten Baas, Sebastian Errazuriz and Mark Moskovitz among others.

Featuring nearly 90 installations, sculptures, furniture, and objects, Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design explores the most cutting-edge conceptual and technical trends in woodworking today. On view at NSU’s Museum of Art l Fort Lauderdale from October 12, 2013 – January 20, 2014, the exhibition emphasizes the way artists, designers, and craftspeople have incorporated post-modernist approaches and strategies into woodworking—deconstructing vessel shapes, playing on the relationship between function and form, and utilizing woodturning and furniture techniques in the creation of sculpture. The works, most created since 2000, challenge traditional applications of wood within the design and craft worlds, and exemplify the wide-ranging, frequently unexpected, approaches to the medium by contemporary artists and designers. The exhibition is organized by the Museum of Arts and Design, New York and is curated by Lowery Stokes Sims.

Against the Grain features 57 artists and designers with new works by artists Martin Puryear, Betye Saar, Alison Elizabeth Taylor, and designers Ian Spencer and Cairn Young from Yard Sale Project, and Joseph Walsh. Also included are recent works by influential sculptors Ursula von Rydingsvard and Courtney Smith; installation artists Gary Carsley and Francis Cape, designers Maarten Baas, Sebastian Errazuriz, and Pablo Reinoso; and studio wood artists Wendell Castle, Hunt Clark, Andrew Early, and Bud Latven, among others.

The exhibition explores several thematic threads that encapsulate the breadth of creative production in wood. Many of the artists and designers are inspired by wood’s most natural state as trees, utilizing branches, logs, and planks and creating works that draw upon the wood’s grains, textures, and patterns. Others fuse a variety of wood elements together to create distinctly new visual forms, producing a more powerful experience than the individual parts might allow. Digital techniques have also transformed woodworking, allowing creators to manipulate materials and produce illusions that were previously impossible. The use of wood as a material to convey political and social content, as well as humor and visual puns, has also grown and been refined as artists experiment with the medium. Additionally, environmental issues are woven throughout the exhibition as increased ecological consciousness is implicit in the work of all contemporary woodworkers.

“Wood is a ubiquitous material and a medium of basic function as well as tremendous versatility. In the last several decades, artists have truly begun to test its creative boundaries, expressing and expanding wood’s aesthetic and conceptual possibilities,” says Sims. “The artists featured in Against the Grain represent the forward-thinking approach that has spurred the medium’s renaissance.”

Highlights from the exhibition include:

  • Martin Puryear’s wingback chair that combines the exquisite craftsmanship and elegant design for which Puryear is best known, and walks the delicate line between functional furniture and art object.
  • Mark Moskovitz’s fully-functional chest of drawers—mimicking wood stockpiled for the winter—exemplifies the type of camouflage and secret compartments that have long been an intriguing feature of furniture. His Facecord Chest, 2011, was inspired by the haphazard geometry of cordwood and the accidental poetry in its stacking.
  • Ursula von Rydingsvard’s Oddychająca, 2011, in which the artist manipulates a field of flat 2-by-4 beams into an organic form gently curving out into space.
  • Designers Ian Spencer and Cairn Young of Yard Sale Project produce furniture that combines computer-aided design and traditional construction techniques. Their Roccapina V, 2012, is a chair whose richly patterned surface resembles a volumetric quilt.
  • Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s installations of illusionistic marquetry, which recreate architectural elements of abandoned houses—including linoleum floors or painted and papered walls whose many layers have been worn away after years of water damage.
  • Maarten Baas’ “smoked” version of a Marc Newson chair, which has been torched and rendered nonfunctional and yet maintains lyricism and elegance in its new sculptural form.
  • A painted diptych by Judith Beltzer, which transforms tree bark patterns into a new vocabulary for abstraction. In Inner Life of Trees #1, 2007, the grooving of the tree bark appears as a landscape of hills and valleys.
  • A chest of drawers by artist Courtney Smith, whose functionality has been subverted by the insertion of arbitrary rectangles and boxes of plywood. The resulting sculpture challenges ideas of structural integrity and authorship as Smith intrudes on existing design elements.
  • Ai Weiwei’s 2008 evocation of a cluster of “grapes” in his eccentric assembling of ten simple Qing Dynasty stools, rendering the group useless.
  • Gary Carsley’s cabinet installation is part of an ongoing project of photographing parks and landscapes all over the world, printing them on vinyl, and then applying them to walls and IKEA furniture. He plays with our sense of space as the print blends the wall and furniture together into one landscape environment.
  • Cameroon-born artist Barthélémy Toguo’s large-scale stamp, hewed out of a block of wood and engraved with “Who is the true terrorist?,” taps into the tradition of the woodblock-printed image and evokes the political paranoia infecting recent international relations.

Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design is organized by the Museum of Arts and Design and curated by Lowery Stokes Sims, Charles Bronfman International Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, assisted by Elizabeth Edwards Kirrane, Assistant Curator at MAD.

Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design is made possible through the support of the Windgate Charitable Foundation and, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from Larry and Madeline Mohr. Support for the Fort Lauderdale exhibition is provided by the David and Francie Horvitz Family Foundation, Ms. Bonnie Laitman Eletz and The William and Mildred Lasdon Foundation.


Saturday, October 12, 2013 6 – 7 pm Join Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims for a lecture on the exhibition. Free with museum admission. RSVP at or (954) 262-0241.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full color, illustrated, 160-page catalogue published by Monacelli Press. The catalogue includes essays by Sims on the conceptual framework of the exhibition and Kirrane on how history, environmental issues and politics have predicated the use of various woods as well as text by noted writer on art and craft Suzanne Ramljak, on the enduring preoccupation with wood in human cultures. The catalog is available for purchase in our Museum Store.

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The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment Consortium is supported by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. For additional cultural events happening throughout Broward County please visit Copyright 2020 ® Riverwalk a&e. All Rights Reserved.