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VALLEY LIFE | art review

A Turn for Timber

Finegood Gallery's homage to wood gives credit to an overlooked art material.

September 08, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Wood generally has not been given its due in the world of fine art, in part because of the debate over craft versus art.

The fine art of wood deserves more credit is the message behind the current show of wood sculptures at the Finegood Gallery, "Turned Wood Treasures and Wood Sculptures: Selections from the Lipton Collection."

The evidence here may not make an overwhelming case, but there are enough strong pieces and otherwise boldly crafted examples of woodwork that it is a felicitous encounter.

The very act of manipulating and assembling the material plays an important role in many of the pieces, as in Ray Allen's "Tapered Vessel with 531 Pieces," with its myriad pieces of ebony and mesquite fitted together in a clever puzzle logic.

Some works impress by sheer intricacy and craftiness. Po Shun Leong's "Jewelry Box" is an extravagantly intricate structure, suggesting a little citadel fashioned from different woods.

The German-based Hans Weissflog shows his "spider bowls," which look like delicately woven basketry, but are woven from carefully sculpted pieces of wood.

Steve Paulson is an ardent, detail-obsessive miniaturist, who creates tableaux of tiny, archaic interiors filled with precious wood vessels barely larger than thimbles.

Humor rears its head in Mark Sfirri's "Rejections from the Bat Factory," with gnarled and variously deformed, Cubist-like versions of a bat. Beneath the sight-gag factor, the sensuous surfaces of the wood prevail, as they do throughout the gallery.

Humor comes in subtler form, too, in eccentric furniture works by Robert and Joanne Herzog. Their work eschews right angles and neatnik instincts, favoring more fluid, plant-like forms, as if inspired by ferns and Gaudi. Richard Patterson's perfectly usable "Walnut Love Bench" follows a nature-oriented and therefore asymmetrical pattern. A touch of '50s alien sci-fi sensibility creeps into the design.

Other pieces tread the line between form and function, leaning closer to design than aesthetics.

In some, organic sculptural forms find a happy accord with the medium, as if using wood to reflect on natural processes.

Connie Mississippi's laminated birch sculptures in ambiguous mushroom shapes seem to have spawned smaller oak pieces.

On the whole, the show's unstated agenda is to awaken our appreciation of wood used to artistic ends, and it fulfills that mission nicely.

Chris Rittershausen's life-size nude study "Girl at Play" is delicately carved from black California walnut. It seems to occupy a special place between the hardness of stone and the warmth of flesh.

For art-watchers accustomed to the detachment of nudes depicted in paint and rock, it gives off an almost eerily intimate impression. Wood works in mysterious and multitudinous ways.

BE THERE

"Turned Wood Treasures and Wood Sculptures: Selections from the Lipton Collection," through Nov. 5 at the Finegood Art Gallery, Bernard Milken Jewish Community Center, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday., 10 a.m.-5:20 p.m. Sunday. (818) 716-1773.

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