Mixing it up at the Mingei 'Forms in Wood and Fiber' showcases works in different media
By Robert L. Pincus
ART CRITIC - San Diego Union Trib
June 19, 2008
Tables, a teahouse and a few works of art....
Forms in Wood and Fiber, a second show at the Mingei curated by its director, Rob Sidner, provokes big questions. First among them: Why is one piece of furniture a work of art and another is simply a piece of nicely done craftsmanship? Second question: Why does art that tries really hard to be meaningful fall flat? All of those represented in the show have considerable skills in their medium. Many are members of a 38-year-old group known as California Fibers, whose members work in media as diverse as basketry, weaving and wood. Their output runs a gamut from bowls to figurative sculpture.
The best of the work on view doesn't worry about being art with a capital A. They simply wed form to ideas better than much of what's included. Wendy Maruyama, who heads the woodworking and furniture design program at SDSU, shows why she
is so highly regarded internationally with a piece like Philip Cabinet (1995). It is wall-mounted and finished in a burnished green. Inside, there's a box with a patterned door, like a secret compartment set within its elegantly finished shelves. The overarching effect is magnetic mysteriously so.
Her full-scale Teahouse is compelling, too. It takes traditional design and adds hand-rendered panels within, which function like paintings set within its walls. Other examples in wood simply don't come close. Brett Allen Hesser's Game Table is immaculately assembled, with inlaid ivory, but the design is showy, featuring too many effects and styles competing for your attention.
In the arena of wall-works and sculptures, too many artists strain to whack you over the head with symbolism and tell you (in wall text) what they mean. One case: Impulse by Gail Fraser, a woven form loosely resembling a canoe, suspended from the ceiling. While well-made, the form is pretty pat and its metaphorical dimensions all too familiar. As she writes: I think of myself in the form of a canoe or waterborne vessel on a journey through life.
No one doubts the sincerity of her sculpture and words. But sincerity isn't always enough to yield persuasive art. Unfortunately, many of the objects in the show underscore this point.
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