For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2004

Nature Transformed: Wood Art from the Bohlen Collection

June 12–October 3, 2004
Twentieth-Century Gallery

Ray Allen vessel
Ray Allen Untitled vessel
1995, mesquite, satinwood, bloodwood, rosewood, curly maple, ebony, dyed veneer.
Gift of Robert M. and Lillian Montalto Bohlen.
Photograph by Dirk Bakker.

Innovative and bold, contemporary turned and carved wood art pushes the traditional boundaries of the genre and has stimulated an overdue reevaluation. This phenomenon is witnessed clearly in the internationally renowned collection of Brighton, Michigan residents Robert Bohlen and Lillian Montalto Bohlen. The personal relationships they developed with the artists they collect have resulted in a fascinating body of work, which not only documents the development and growth of a number of artist careers but also captures the current state of the art.

Nature Transformed: Wood Art from the Bohlen Collection, includes a selection of works from the generous gift of seventy-two pieces of fine wood art donated to UMMA by the Bohlens in 2002 and 2003. Added to this selection will be works still in the Bohlens' private collection, including several recently acquired works. The result of several years of careful thought and effort, Nature Transformed will reflect contemporary practices by the most gifted artists working in the medium. For some time, the field of wood art has itself grown and developed to a point that yesterday's boundaries and definitions have eroded and traditional forms are reinterpreted every day in a myriad of exciting ways.

Shield sculpture
Stephen Hughes and Margaret Salt Eruption Shield #3
1998, jarrah burl, acrylic paint, gold leaf.
Collection of Robert M. and Lillian Montalto Bohlen.
Photograph by Dirk Bakker.

The exhibition is divided into three distinct sections: The Vessel Unleashed, Sculptural Tendencies, and Allusions to Nature. In The Vessel Unleashed, the viewer will witness how contemporary wood artists are breaking free from the vessel, the form most commonly associated with turned wood objects. While these works retain some resemblance to the vessel, most have divorced themselves from functionality and exist more fully as objects rather than containers. Pieces that move further away from any reference to the traditional vessel form fall into the section entitled Sculptural Tendencies. Whether shield-like forms that hang on the wall or delicate egg shapes balancing on small troughs, these works operate primarily on the level of sculpture–sculpture that happens to be made of wood. In Allusions to Nature, artists use wood to explore other aspects of the natural world. From streams to landscapes, thistles to crabs, cattails to apples, these artists probe the connections between the material and the natural world. Whether vessel-like, sculptural, or referencing the larger universe, the artists in Nature Transformed investigate and celebrate the rich potential found in this underappreciated medium.

Mark Lindquist sculpture
Mark Lindquist Double Totemic Sculpture
1994-1995, oak burl.
Gift of Robert M. and Lillian Montalto Bohlen.
Photograph by Dirk Bakker.

Organized by UMMA, Nature Transformed: Wood Art from the Bohlen Collection will travel to the Mobile Museum of Art in 2005 and to the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2006. It is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated companion publication produced for UMMA by Marquand Books, Seattle, in association with Hudson Hills Press. The volume contains three insightful essays by major figures in the field: David Revere McFadden, Chief Curator and Vice President for Programs, Museum of Arts and Design (formerly American Craft Museum), New York; Terry Martin, wood artist, writer, and lecturer from Brisbane, Australia; and Janice Blackburn, writer and curator of contemporary art for Sotheby's, London.

Sean M. Ulmer
University Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

This exhibition has been made possible by foundation and individual sponsors who wish to remain anonymous and by the Friends of the Museum of Art.