Furniture of the future

Now here’s a show that puts the gallery imperative — “Don’t touch!” — to the test.

Pass by Isaac Arms’ “Southbound” — a steel chair with the sweeping lines of a Jazz Age sedan and a light-absorbing patina — and it’s impossible not to wonder: But is it comfortable?

Arms is one of 15 young artists whose work is included in “Studio Furniture: The Next Generation,” a traveling exhibition of sculpture expressed in the vernacular of furniture design. The pieces range from eminently functional to esoteric, but it’s difficult to tell just how far a steel chair, for example, veers in one direction or the other without taking a seat.

There are security guards stationed near the main gallery at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen. Some questions must remain unanswered.

MCAD Director of Gallery and Exhibition Programs Kerry Morgan writes in the forward to the exhibition catalog that “some semblance of functionality” is one of the hallmarks of studio furniture, along with small production runs, fine craftsmanship and good design.

Ryan McNew strikes a fine balance among those qualities with his “Legume Console Table,” which looks like it could be where the crew from “2001: A Space Odyssey” stashed the DVD player on the way to Jupiter. Its gently curving surface, painted in glossy white, encircles a compartment fronted by tinted glass doors.

MCAD graduate George Mahoney updates a modern chair design with a bold graphic touch. Mahoney upholstered “Kay” with a recycled vinyl billboard, emphasizing the eye-catching, black-on-white serif font.

Both pieces are stark, modish and appear to be perfectly usable. Then there’s Katie Hudnall’s fanciful “World’s Longest Drawing Table,” a spindly, 18-foot-long contraption that uncoils into a less-than-ideal drawing surface.

What’s remarkable, though, is Hudnall cobbled it together from scrap wood and mismatched screws, nuts and bolts. Tight-fitting joints and evidence of traditional wood construction techniques belie its haphazard appearance.

The craftsmanship on display in Yuri Kobayashi’s “Will,” a mere sketch of a ladder executed in unstained wood, is impeccable down to the dowel pins holding it together. Floating in front of the ladder is a kind of curled leaf shape, delicately carved out of a similar blond wood, but given an iridescent sheen.

Timothy Maddox also demonstrates some serious woodworking skills with “Oh Ponti,” a restrained and elegant chair finished in black lacquer. Only the rails and back slats have right angles; the delicate legs are trapezoids that taper toward the ground.

Several of the artists make novel use of nontraditional materials like corrugated cardboard, which reveals interesting patterns when stacked and sliced. Daniel Michalik’s “Tilter,” a chair made of cork, seems to rock back on its heels.

Jennifer Anderson riffs on Danish designer Hans Wegner’s famous Y-chair, building its shape out of mud on a steel frame. Probably not ideal deck furniture.

MCAD is one of a handful of colleges across the country producing young studio furniture artists. Another is Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, the next stop for this exhibition.

Walk down the first-floor hallway connecting to the MCAD main gallery to see pieces by recent graduates of its furniture design program. Along with a coffee table that resembles a ship’s hull, a few interesting chairs and a modular ottoman is a hilarious re-imagining of an invaluable ancient artifact as the lowliest of home décor objects: “The Venus of Willendoorstop.”

Go see it
“Studio Furniture: The Next Generation” runs through Feb. 21 in the main gallery at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 2501 Stevens Ave. S. 874-3700.