June 10, 2012

ART REVIEW: Furniture-related art: Clever craftsmen reach new heights


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"Armada/Regatta" (detail) by Adam John Manley, on display at June Fitzpatrick.

Contributed photo

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"Continuance", an installation by James Marshall, on display at Coleman Burke Gallery in Portland.

James Marshall

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: June Fitzpatrick Gallery, 522 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Through June 23

HOURS: Noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

INFO: 699-5083; junefitzpatrickgallery.com


WHERE: Coleman Burke Gallery, 504 Congress St., Portland

INFO: colemanburke.com


WHERE: Rose Contemporary, 492 Congress St., Portland

WHEN: Through June 29 HOURS: 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

INFO: 780-0700; rosecontemporary.com

Manley's works all play on the idea of ships -- but as toys. "Armada/Regatta" is a packed group of 2-by-4s carved elliptically to mast-like points with sails wired onto them. This group sits on a rocking base -- like a crib -- with clear childhood connections.

"Buoy" features a 9-foot sail-topped cedar pole bolted into a semi-spherical concrete base. Just to set this rocking is worth the trip.

Manley's "Waterline" is a human-sized, deeply tilted wooden crow's nest. It's amazing for what it implies with Oldenbergian wit, from physical data to fantasy play. Manley may or may not be the son of a sailor, but these pieces will resonate with anyone who has ever visited the Admiral Benbow Inn.

I reserve special praise for Jamie Johnston's work, and regret not having the space here to do it justice. His wall pieces use sculptural logic, and his sculptures soar on the terms of architecture and furniture.

Most notable is the set of standing works -- like a figure group -- that use re-purposed table leaves. Three of the six are taller and made of darker wood, angled, jointed and painted on the edges. (It so happens that one is the leaf from Johnston's childhood family dining table. Its edges are colored with mantis green and vermillion sign paint.) Each of the works has a unique personality, and the other two "male" pieces have geometrically fabulous gray edges that, in painterly terms, telegraph their architectural qualities.

Johnston's fluency in furniture technique allows him to move past fussy and into the smoothly familiar textures of wear by long use. When edges are worn through, they feel natural by revealing layers past. His "paintings," likewise, are sometimes wall objects with script so covered by layers of finish that they are only visible to the extent of the depth of their carved marks. His metaphorical deployment of mark and memory is brilliant. It's unrecoverably subtle but wonderful nonetheless.

Furniture-related art often now addresses some of the most complex conceptual real estate of contemporary art, because it touches so many cultural boundaries with integrity rather than deflected irony.

I hardly scratched the surface of Johnston's work here, but, like everything in this review, it's best seen in person.


Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:



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Additional Photos

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"#146" by Jamie Johnston, on display at June Fitzpatrick.

Contributed photo

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"Anchored Candy No. 1" by Vivian Beer.

Image courtesy of Rose Contemporary

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"White Cube" by Sarah Bouchard.

Image courtesy of Rose Contemporary

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Oak chair by Steven Anderson.

Image courtesy of Rose Contemporary


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