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Opening March 2013, Against the Grain Showcases Innovative Trends in Wood and Woodworking in Groundbreaking Works of Art, Craft, and Design

Part of MAD’s “Materials & Process” Series, Exhibition Features New and Recent Installations, Sculptures, and Furniture by Maarten Baas, Sebastian Errazuriz,

Sarah Oppenheimer, Martin Puryear, and Ai Wei Wei, Among Others


New York, NY (September 13, 2012)

Featuring more than 75 installations, sculptures, furniture, and objects, Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Craft and Design explores the most cutting-edge conceptual and technical trends in woodworking today. Opening March 19, 2013, at the Museum of Arts and Design, the exhibition emphasizes the way artists, designers, and craftspeople have incorporated 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, all 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 made its premiere at the Mint Museum in September 2012, and following MAD’s presentation will travel nationally. 

Against the Grain is a complete immersion into the seemingly limitless world of contemporary woodworking, an imaginative experience where function is subsumed by fantastical forms and textures,” Holly Hotchner, MAD’s Nanette L. Laitman Director. “The creators featured in the exhibition exemplify the innovative practice that MAD is dedicated to supporting and bringing to the fore. Their work defies clear categorization and draws together traditionally disparate themes, ideas, and techniques into stunning and surprising works of art.”

Organized by MAD Curator Lowery Stokes Sims, Against the Grain is part of MAD’s ongoing “Materials & Process” series, dedicated to exploring contemporary innovations in traditional techniques and materials, and highlights the tremendous creative energy and fresh thinking that creators are bringing to wood today. The exhibition features 57 artists and designers from around the world, including influential sculptors Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtney Smith, and Martin Puryear, who will display one of his furniture pieces for the first time; installation artists Gary Carsley, Sarah Oppenheimer and Alison Elizabeth Taylor; designers Maarten Baas, Sebastian Errazuriz, and Pablo Reinoso; and studio wood artists Wendell Castle, Bud Latven, Andrew Early, and Hunt Clark, among others.


“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.”


The featured works fall into seven thematic designations 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 will be woven throughout the exhibition as increased ecological consciousness is implicit in the work of all contemporary woodworkers.


Highlights from the exhibition include the following works:

  • 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.  


  • In Oddychająca, 2011, Ursula von Rydingsvard manipulates a field of flat 2-by-4 beams into an organic form that gently curves out into space.


  • Designers Ian Spencer and Cairn Young will present their Roccapina V chair, 2012, a product of the Yard Sale Project, which produces furniture that combines computer-aided design and traditional construction techniques. The result is a richly patterned surface resembling 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 disptych by Judith Beltzer, which exploits 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 Craft and Design is organized 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 and project manager for the exhibition.


The exhibition tour includes the Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC (September 1, 2012—January 27, 2013), Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY (March 19—May 2013).  



The catalogue, published by Monacelli Press, will include essays by Sims, who will write on the conceptual framework of the exhibition, Kirrane who will chronicle how history, environmental issues and politics have predicated the use of various woods, and noted writer on art and craft Suzanne Ramljak, who will examine the enduring preoccupation with wood in human cultures.



The Museum of Arts and Design explores the blur zone between art, design, and craft 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 artisanal to digital. 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 gifted and innovative artists. MAD’s permanent collection is global in scope and focuses on art, craft, and design from 1950 to the present day. At the center of the Museum’s mission is education. The Museum’s dynamic new facility features classrooms and studios for master classes, seminars, and workshops for students, families, and adults. Three open artist studios engage visitors in the creative processes of artists at work and enhance the exhibition programs. Lectures, films, performances, and symposia related to the Museum’s collection and topical subjects affecting the world of contemporary art, craft, and design are held in a renovated 144-seat auditorium.



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