A Beautiful Collision of Art and Design

By: Clark Malcolm

Design solves problems. Art inspires and provokes human emotion. The Ann Arbor Art Center’s Mid-West Furniture ZOKU exhibition exemplifies the two impulses and a charming variety of arresting combinations of the two.  Beauty, wit, and function join in wonderful ways throughout the upper two rooms at the Art Center on Liberty.

Curated by EMU’s John DeHoog and The College of Creative Studies’ Ray Wetzel, this stimulating display of artful designs form an array of “sculptural and super functional pieces and everything in between,” says DeHoog.  “It will challenge your assumptions” about furniture, he says.

The 18 pieces in the show range from John Baird’s elegant and functional stools designed and manufactured for Ann Arbor’s Comet Coffee shop in Nickels Arcade, to Matt O’Brien’s deconstructed / reconstructed kitchen chair—with a variety of benches, seats, settees, boxes, and cabinets that demonstrate varying degrees of art and design.

Susan Monroe, board chair of the Art Center, observed on opening night that the “level of craftsmanship and creativity is incredibly high.  The diversity of materials and scale is superb.”  A quick tally of materials includes glass, walnut, steel, brass, plywood, lace wood, and plastic.

The stark beauty of Maxwell Davis’s glass chair contrasts with the wit and craftsmanship of Bob Marsh’s toppled chair and perching bird.

If you are a fan of Comet Coffee, the story behind Baird’s stools will interest you and demonstrate the process of problem-solving design.  Baird tested numerous prototypes (present in the show next to the final design) at Comet before settling on a functional and stylish solution to short-term seating for a small space also incorporating a place for backpacks or parcels. “How people interact with a stool is not as straightforward as you might expect,” says Baird.  The depth and thoughtfulness of his solution proves he understood the true nature of the problem before finishing a solution.

After the opening reception on Friday, February 5, the show will run until March 5 at the 105-year-old Ann Arbor Art Center on Liberty between Main and Ashley.  If you enjoy re-thinking your notions of art and design—or simply appreciating the skill and creativity of Midwest artists and designers—I highly recommend a visit.

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