Studio Furniture 2010 - An Independent Review

STUDIO FURNITURE 2010 - An Independent Review

Tables, desks and cabinets seem to be the favoured pieces for the second biennial Studio Furniture exhibition and competition.

An exhibition like this gives makers an opportunity to develop new designs, test them in the market and establish a price. It is also a chance for them to showcase their work and make a piece they may not have otherwise have done – but they take a risk. Artistic Director of Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, David Mac Laren calculated that it would, conservatively, take two weeks on average to complete each piece on exhibit; possibly time wasted, if the work does not sell.

The brief for the competition was for a well-considered and crafted piece of furniture, made with saleability within a gallery setting in mind. The design and finish was required to communicate a “studio furniture” attitude: that is, an emphasis on individually designed and made work showing an appropriate use of hand work so as to distinguish it from mass-produced manufacture.

Over 135 pieces were submitted with 70 selected being exhibited. This is considerably more than the first exhibition in 2008. David Boucher (Boucher & Co), Evan Dunstone (Dunstone Design) and Will Matthysen judged the competition and awarded the total prize money of $11,000. During heated judicial discussions Mac Laren spontaneously – and generously – created and added a fourth prize of $1,000 to the original $5,000 first, $3,000 second and $2,000 third prizes.

First prize was awarded to Alby Johnston from far northern Queensland for Rainforest Rocker in Red Cedar. The back and the seat are carved to represent two leaves from a lush tropical plant, their juncture being elegantly completed. As the judges said, it sails close to the wind in terms of structure and aesthetics, but is well resolved and successfully meets the set criteria. Somehow, a small carved frog and snake that enhance the back of the seat manage not to take the chair over the top. The deep red colour is highlighted by the play of light on the carved surface of the seat and back.

Neil Erasmus, from Western Australia, was awarded second prize for Ell, a hall table in blackbutt, jarrah and ebony with steel, delrin, acrylic and leather. The judges declared this work as amazing: inside, outside, and upside down. The central drawer is as close to perfect as any of them had seen. The cabinet is elegantly balanced and appears to float. The contrasts of colours, textures and horizontal planes are finely resolved. A small decorative motif draws the eye to the centre of the draw. The craftsmanship is perfectly executed and this is a most successful piece.

The third prize was given to Cunji Dining Suite by Tony Kenway, a dining table with six chairs. The hghly figured and richly coloured top in quilted raindrop and Tasmanian blackwood, is also highly polished. The base is a sculptured variation of a traditional pedestal for a round table, and the design is completely resolved. The chair backs complement both the table top and the base and the seats are shaped for comfort.

Adrian Potter was awarded the spontaneous fourth prize for Ned’s Chair. We were told that it is based on Ned Kelly’s helmet, although it appears as though it might also be informed by an art deco design. The back and base are curved to embrace the sitter and the seat and back are upholstered in Eastern grey kangaroo. The colour and texture of the fur contrasts with the smooth, dark ebony of the back, arms and legs. It is witty and a well resolved design that is layered with meaning, as is Potter’s work generally.

Another work that appealed to me for its reference to art deco furniture was Mirrored Hall Stand by Jeff Phillips. It is modest but well finished and small enough to fit into a small home with a narrow hall way.

The judges awarded an acquisitive prize to Japanese Folding Screen in kauri, huon pine and Shoji paper by Des King. The patterning is reminiscent of Japanese textiles and the screen is beautiful in its complexity but apparent simplicity.

Several works have decorative marquetry panels, for example Peter Young’s Falling Cubes Drinks Cabinet and Museum Piece Cabinet, by Megan Christie with an Australian landscape scene viewed through a ‘wire’ fence.

An unusual piece is Dress Code/Multi Functional Stool by Fukutoshi Ueno in silver ash, which has been digitally printed with another textile pattern. It is one of those useful objects that could be used for sitting on or as a table.

A range of boxes – for jewellery, treasures, documents and collections – is also on exhibit. All are well resolved, interesting in their design and construction and serve the dual purpose of being both useful and functional.

There is a large range of furniture on exhibit, ranging from a small, decorated mirror titled Ocean Spirit in decorated red cedar to dining suites. With exhibits spread throughout the gallery, I found it difficult to sort out the exhibits from the general stock despite the big, easily-read identifying labels. While it is impossible to display everything in the Octagonal Gallery upstairs, I feel that the audience should be assisted to easily find all works.

The development of an exhibition and competition such as this is a huge undertaking and is welcomed and appreciated by both the audience and makers – whether or not they have work on display.

There is a great deal of energy and experimentation in fine furniture designing and making in Australia right now, and it is a exciting time for everyone – makers and buyers alike – to see the work in a global context and grab the opportunities.

© Meredith Hinchliffe
Approved to value Australian ceramics, glass, textiles, jewellery and leatherwork from 1970 for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

For a report on the Studio Furniture 2010 Conference by Meredith Hinchliffe download the attached document at the end of this page.

Thursday 16 April 2009