Preview: FUNCTION, an Exhibit

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From the January 3, 2013 edition

In a couple of months, customers at J.C. Penney will be able to peruse functional wares by the likes of Bodum Design, Jonathan Adler and Terence Conran. With similar partnerships already in place at Target and many other retailers, it seems these days as if Walmart is the only thing separating our society from a total saturation of high industrial design.

With “FUNCTION, an Exhibit,” opening this weekend at the Cultural Arts Center, seven designers and sculptors in CCAD’s faculty consider the perceptions and meaning of living in a world packed with beautifully designed objects.

As CCAD exhibitions director Michael Goodson explains in the show’s description, “Taking into account the unthinkably wide variety of designed ‘things’ in our inordinately object-heavy culture, the exhibition will attempt to find a confluence of ideas that include things like tables, vessels, architectural objects and exercise equipment. In these things it will look for the line in design between lucidity and madness.”

That line appears to rest somewhere in the space between function and dysfunction, between a focus on industrial service and aesthetic fascination.

Of the featured artists, Goodson said, “It’s kind of an interesting mix of people who make things that function and people who make sculpture based on the idea of function.”

Among them is sculptor and installation artist Tim Rietenbach, who pushes the limits of traditional function with his characteristic sense of humor in “Sub Committee.” A row of clown portraits painted on hefty, water-filled glass jugs is evenly distributed on a narrow wooden table, forming an elegant and precarious bow.

Tom Gattis, chair of CCAD’s industrial design program since summer 2012, makes his local gallery debut with functional wooden vessels that celebrate the organic properties of his medium, while fellow woodworker David Burghy deconstructs functional building elements such as stair banisters, giving them new purpose as the building blocks of raw sculptural works.

Joining these three are mixed media artist Danielle Julian Norton, furniture designer Joel Gundlach, and Matthew Flegle, who contributes drawings in which items of differing uses collide. Goodson also presents his own sculptural works – meticulous, gleaming pieces with an iconographic take on functional design, though which particular function they serve may be seductively elusive.