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Review Archive

Marrying Function to Form: Display Explores Tension Between Art and Industry

By Roger Green

Booth Arts Writer, Sunday, May 27, 2007

The dictum "Form follows function'' holds that the shape of a building or object should be predicated on its use. Adopted by generations of architects, it explains the slow-paced acceptance and eventual triumph of modernist design.


Today, an art exhibit questions the sacred principle. "Function,'' at Gallery Project through June 17, brings together furniture, ceramics, metalwork, sculptures and jewelry authored by skilled, thoughtful artists with Michigan ties. Items in the exhibit, curated by Joshua Smith of Concordia College, challenge traditional distinctions between what's functional and decorative, what's industrial and what's fine or museum art.

Among the more straightforward contributions are Sarah Burgess' "Cup as Ring Sets.'' These are wearable rings - as in wedding rings - constituting the handles and parts of the bodies of plastic and china cups. Opposing functional and decorative purposes, Burgess' rings generate tensions replicated, if more subtly expressed, in other works on view.


Gregory Tom's and Darmesh Patel's "Bricks'' is a circle of what appear to be white, Roman bricks, laid in parallel, diagonal stacks that spiral outward. But the "bricks'' are slip-cast ceramic elements that modify the shapes of actual bricks and that reference ceramic vessels by being hollow.


Further, the work's circular configuration challenges traditional, rectangular building plans.


Both Sylvie Rosenthal and Evan Larson strive to humanize functional, scientific models. Rosenthal is showing two whimsical, interactive, kinetic sculptures, "Padgitt Ranch 4'' and "Two Beaks, One Heart.''

The viewer's manipulation of these works' knobs, weights, pulleys and other devices is a metaphor for life's choices, she explains in her statement. Larson's wall-mounted sculpture "Self-Similarity Model'' is an intricate, symmetrical arrangement of geometric and organic-looking elements in metal, rubber and plexiglass. Combined three-dimensionally, these elements are meant to fuse the worlds of thinking and feeling into a single, aesthetically apprehensible whole.


In some artists' works, the human/scientific split has pressing, topical resonance. Curator Joshua Smith has one view of two tables of glass-topped metal, "Horizon Table'' and "Great Divide Basin, Water Table.'' According to his statement, Smith finds enormous personal fulfillment in metalwork, but fears for the earth from which minerals are extracted.


Mark Wentzel's "XLounge'' wittily manipulates designer Charles Eames' classic, 1957 Lounge Chair, with the aim of addressing today's crises of obesity and excess generally.


"XLounge'' retains the original's thoughtfully engineered steel frame and ergonomic, molded-plywood shell. But the black leather cushion the shell supports is extravagantly enlarged, resembling a grossly overweight nude. Viewers will chuckle over "XLounge,'' while also considering the not-so-fixed distinctions it and other items on view explore.


"Function'' brings together many thoughtfully conceived and skillfully executed works that satisfyingly challenge preconceived ideas.


Gallery Project is at 215 S. Fourth Ave. Hours are: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-9 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-4 p.m. For more information, call 734-997-7012 or visit