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Museum of Arts and Design Presents Twenty-Five Year Survey of One of Today's Most Original Furniture Makers in North America: 'Gord Peteran: Furniture Meets Its Maker'

Exhibition is the Second Installment Celebrating the Museum’s Design and Innovation Gallery

On View May 27‐July 26, 2009

New York, NY (March 30, 2009)

The Museum of Arts and Design presents Gord Peteran: Furniture Meets its Maker, a retrospective of Peteran’s twenty‐five year career in furniture making. One of the most innovative artists working in North America today, Canadian artist Gord Peteran has launched a boundary‐crossing career, opening up the category of furniture to an unprecedented range of psychological and conceptual content. The first large exhibition of his work in the U.S., Gord Peteran: Furniture Meets its Maker explores issues key to Peteran’s work including the use of the found object; the role of narrative and functifurniture; and the relationship between serial and one‐off production. The exhibition, opening on May 27 and on view until July 26, 2009, includes approximately 21 works in a variety of media.

Gord Peteran: Furniture Meets Its Maker is the second installation at the Museum’s Design and Innovation Gallery, a new initiative for temporary exhibitions that reflect the Museum’s focus on innovation in design, emerging trends and distinguished voices within the field.

“Peteran’s work focuses on erasing the traditional boundaries between art and craft,” states Holly Hotchner, the Nanette L. Laitman Director of the Museum. “His pieces are conceptual, frequently non‐functional, often witty, and meant to challenge pre‐conceived notions about both furniture and sculpture. A highly inventive designer in his field, Peteran is a true pioneer and a perfect fit for our Design and Innovation Gallery, where we feature important designers as well as emerging trends in design.”

Peteran’s work does not easily match conventional categories of contemporary art, design, decorative art, or craft. He calls his pieces "furnitural," a made‐up term that suggests his unique relationship with sculpture. “The area between the intimate objects of the home and the psyche,” he has said, "is exactly where any great sculptor would want their work performing. This is what sculpture claims it wants, but has never had the wherewithal to do. I don’t see my work as sculptural furniture; I see it as the only place to point my arrow."

“Gord Peteran is a fine craftsman with an even finer sense of visual playfulness. His work is rich in symbolism and skillfully crafted, from a wide variety of materials and with many underlying concepts beyond the inherent functionality of furniture. In all cases, Peteran’s work addresses the specific conditions of furniture even as it subverts those conditions. The theme of this exhibition is none other than Gord Peteran himself—his history, his intentions, and his objects,” adds David Revere McFadden, the Museum’s chief curator.

Peteran’s means as a designer are sometimes disarmingly simple: his work A Table Made of Wood is cobbled together, seemingly at random, from scraps lying on his workshop floor. At other times, he employs craftsmanship of the highest order, as in 100, a precisely machined occasional table that disassembles into a carrying case like that used for a rifle. Other works suggest specimen cabinets, seesaws and game tables, all twisted into new relevance through subtle manipulation.

Gord Peteran often starts with a found object: a rickety ladder‐back chair, scrap wood from a dumpster, a pencil, or a heap of twigs. He takes one of these objects and operates on it, creating an artwork while leaving the object itself more or less intact. In this way, Peteran has taken the category of furniture as a found object in its own right, an object to be operated upon conceptually. At Peteran’s hands furniture dies a fascinating death, without ever quite going away.

  • Peteran’s Musical Box, commissioned by the Glenn Gould Foundation for its Glenn Gould Prize in 1996, is a machine for testing sounds. Its mechanisms are each operated by a brass and ebony knob. One internal device is a globe containing smooth rocks from the bottom of a fish tank, which swish together when the globe is turned. There is a crude xylophone, an even cruder geared music box, a contraption consisting of different lengths of metal rod that strike a piece of plastic when they are rotated, and a reed sounded by a homemade bellows. Turn another knob, and a single string is plucked by a Fender guitar pick. The box does for music what Peteran’s work normally does for furniture—isolating the medium’s basic premises and freezing them in a state of arrested development.

  • His work 100 consists of a pair of identical tables, packed into a custom‐built, leather‐lined case. The metaphor of a gun leaps to mind, both because of the carrying case and the combination of dull black metal and polished wood. The title of the work also hints at another subject: mass production. These tables were manufactured through the investment of hours and hours of laborious set‐up and calibration on expensive replicating tools, even though only two were ever made. By concentrating the productive capacity required to make a hundred or a million objects into only a pair, Peteran created an experience of irony and unusual intensity.

  • A Table Made of Wood is an object that is exactly what it is described to be, no more and, perhaps, even a little bit less. It is a table but also a pile of scrap cobbled together from the wood lying on Peteran’s workshop floor. That the table exists at all seems to be a matter of bemused determination on the artist’s part—a desire to create something worthwhile from the least promising of circumstances.

  • Ark is Peteran’s most complex and monumental work. Quarter‐sawn red oak panels make up the exterior project. Bronze rings top each corner, suggesting that the whole work is meant to be portable, perhaps through the agency of ceremonial bearers armed with long poles. The interior is luxuriously upholstered in plush, hand‐tufted red velvet. The overall form brings to mind a bewildering variety of furniture‐related precedents: a sedan chair, a confessional, a throne, a phone booth, and even an electric chair. The last association is particularly strong because of the mysterious black electrical cord that snakes away from the piece. When a person enters Ark and closes the door,  an overhead light automatically illuminates. Suddenly the user is put on view, enclosed in a luxurious but airless chamber. When in use, Ark becomes a double‐edged and many‐layered metaphor that calls forth numerous oppositions: exhibitionism and privacy, coziness and claustrophobia, display and functionality, privilege and death.

  • Peteran draws almost constantly, an artistic exercise that finds its way into his work in surprising ways. Electric Chair, 2004 consists of the tubular steel frame of a found Marcel Breuer–style chair, a cord, and a light bulb. The artist has described the work as “a drawing in space.” The piece is one of Peteran’s simplest and most direct ideas.


In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will organize artist demonstrations in its Open Studios; workshops; lectures and artist panels; readings; screenings; studio visits, and programs for children and families. Many programs will be made available on‐line as well as on‐site.

Gord Peteran: Furniture Meets its Maker is organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Chipstone Foundation with generous support from The Windgate Charitable Foundation.

The Design and Innovation Gallery at the Museum of Arts and Design, located on the 2nd floor, showcases emerging trends in contemporary design through a program of short‐term exhibitions. Responding nimbly to new developments in design, the Museum invites guest curators to explore current themes, issues, and innovations in the field. Exhibitions introduce the work of young, up‐and‐coming designers as well as design pioneers, and explore advances in sustainable design.

The Museum of Arts and Design explores how craft, art, and design intersect in the visual arts today. The Museum focuses on contemporary creativity and the ways in which artists and designers from around the world transform materials through processes ranging from the handmade to cutting edge technologies.
The Museum’s exhibition program explores and illuminates issues and ideas, highlights creativity and craftsmanship, and celebrates the limitless potential of materials and techniques when used by creative and innovative artists. MAD’s permanent collection is global in scope and focuses on art, craft, and design from 1950 to the present day.


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