Gilpin exhibit a wood lover’s paradise

By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / October 21, 2009

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Studio furniture aficionados know Hank Gilpin. Twenty years ago, his wooden furniture was in the landmark exhibition “New American Furniture’’ at the Museum of Fine Arts. Three years ago, he designed a piece for the Peabody Essex Museum’s “Inspired By China, Contemporary Furniture Makers Explore Chinese Traditions.’’

But unlike his peers such as Judy Kensley McKie and Garry Knox Bennett, Gilpin, busy working on commission, has never had a solo gallery show. Until now. A gorgeous, playful exhibition packed with Gilpin’s tables, cabinets, benches, and more is up at Gallery NAGA. It’s a wood lover’s paradise. (Gilpin is slated to give a gallery talk tonight at 6.)

Gilpin is an improviser when it comes to form: Give him a piece of wood and he’ll figure out the best thing to do with it, based on the properties of the material. All his work is made to show off the grain, knots, splits, and burls of the wood. He often utilizes wood no lumberyard would sell, savoring its flaws. His forms are elegant, and beautifully made down to the joinery.

The top of the small, varnished “Blister Tulip Table’’ glistens and burbles; the blond wood is remarkably dolloped with dark marks. It’s like looking through golden water at a colony of mollusks, each reflecting the sun. “Very Difficult Table’’ is so-called because it’s made of redwood, which is notorious for splintering and splitting. The payback for that hard work is the dark, delicate grain that shimmers across the unvarnished surface, and dances down the long legs in filigrees.

“Curiously Red. . .,’’ the table Gilpin designed for “Inspired By China,’’ takes inspiration from an altar table. Gilpin doesn’t usually stain his work, but he stained this one a claret red, to associate the altar with the blood of sacrifice. The tabletop undulates like flying silk over the three brackets upon which it rests; its billowing form, plus the swooping grain, imbue it with the rush and dynamism of river water.

Gilpin’s forms work in service to the wood, in the way a male ballroom dancer shows off his female partner. Both, though, are beautiful.

LeWitt’s forms in space
If you’ve seen the ambitious and stunning “Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective’’ that opened last year at Mass MoCA, you have taken in the sheer scope of LeWitt’s output on walls. The show now up at Barbara Krakow Gallery offers a comparatively microscopic view. It’s an edifying show, focused more on LeWitt’s conceptual underpinnings than on any visual bravado. Good enough: The conceptual underpinnings are what made LeWitt a groundbreaking artist.

“Sol LeWitt: Locations’’ features three wall drawings (dated 2005) and several prints (from the mid 1970s). They emphasize the artist’s instructions for the drawings, and specifically how they place forms in space. For instance, the second instruction for “Wall Drawing #1189: The Location of a Square,’’ reads “From a point halfway along this line, draw a line halfway toward the center of the topside.’’ The wall drawing includes the written instructions, straight lines, and various dotted trajectories.

The accumulation of these images and words in several works reveal LeWitt’s restless imagination and his joy in possibility. A set of white-on-black aquatints, “Lines to Specific Points (E-12)’’ gives us first lines from the center, then from one point on a side, then from the center of each side, and so on. Each has a different effect: a fireworks explosion from one point, or network from several.

In the series of etchings “The Location of Lines (E-14),’’ LeWitt includes the instructions written directly below some of those lines. Many of these prints are a thicket of criss-crossing text. In these, the text is inextricable from the image, but truly, that’s always the case, even if the text is not included. Image and text both convey the idea, and the idea, more than anything on the wall or on paper, is LeWitt’s work of art.

Studies in identity
The painter Sandra Scolnik is every character in her small, unnerving paintings at the Cartin Collection @ Ars Libri. Scolnik paints her own face onto bodies in confined interiors, making each scene a psychodrama.

She paints small. “Liz’’ is only 10 inches square, and she’s the only figure in it, standing stiffly in a short dress, holding a cigarette at her side. She stands in a cramped room. Scolnik’s grim face is large, out of proportion to the body it sits on, and indeed to the room. It’s also painted with more modulation, as if it is more real.

“Mimi’’ features two Scolniks, seated in a parlor in their coats and hats, each with a little white dog facing away from her. Most disturbing, a portrait hangs over the mantel behind them, and it, too, shows Scolnik, angry and nearly bursting out of the frame. In these claustrophobic explorations of identity, the ego is oversized, but isn’t everybody’s? Scolnik has painted them in such a way that over time the surroundings will fade to reveal other ones, but the figures will remain static. The nightmare may change, but the mood never will.

HANK GILPIN: New Furniture and a Display of Commissioned Projects At: Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St., through Nov. 7. 617-267-9060,

SOL LEWITT: Locations At: Barbara Krakow Gallery,

10 Newbury St., through

Nov. 10. 617-262-4490, www.


At: the Cartin Collection

@ Ars Libri, 500 Harrison Ave.,

through Nov. 1. 617-357-5212,

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