Art beat: Wood wonders

Selections from the Waterbury Collection of wood art at the MIA

WHITTIER — It was a canny move on the part of Minneapolis Institute of Arts curators to let a recently installed show of wood art spill out of the gallery and into the second-floor hallway.

The lithe, flower-like form of William Hunter’s carved wood sculpture “Garden Songs” beckons like a curled finger to passers-by, and there in the gallery entrance, like a bull’s-eye, sits Connie Mississippi’s “Sea Chamber,” a massive block of birch plywood whose spiral curve mimics a nautilus shell. Before you know it, you’re drawn in, surrounded by the stupendous collection of wood art assembled by Minneapolis collectors Ruth and David Waterbury.

Eighty or so pieces are on display from the Waterburys who, over the past quarter century, not only built one of the largest and most important collection of wood art in the country, but have also, through their relationships with the artists, helped to prod its evolution from wood-turning to something broader, encompassing a range of forms and techniques that go far beyond wooden vessels carved on a lathe. “Conversations with Wood: Selections from the Waterbury Collection” is an enlightening exhibition not just for the breadth of work represented, but also for the personal insights collected by the Waterburys from the artists themselves that accompany almost every piece.

Simple forms accentuate the endless variety of color and texture in the material, as in the case of a platter by American wood artist Chris Boerner. Carved from a redwood burl — a bulbous, tumor-like growth prized for its irregular grain patterns — it courses with veins of burgundy and crimson.

Second-generation wood artist Mark Lindquist learned the craft from his father, Melvin, who developed specialized tools to work with spalted, or rotted, wood. From the older Lindquist we get a turned cherry wood bowl, gouged by rot and speckled with voids; his son, among a new generation of artists embracing the chainsaw and other tools beyond the lathe, produces an vase-shaped piece from a black birch burl, lined on the outside by overlapping spirals and gouged inside with vertical saw marks.

The German artist Hans Weissflog shows a jaw-dropping mastery of woodworking tools and techniques with “Ball Box,” two spheres constructed of toothpick-thin concentric circles, one inside the other.

Even if you’ve never so much as whittled a stick, you’ll find plenty more to enjoy in this concise, fascinating history of modern wood art.

“Conversations with Wood: Selections from the Waterbury Collection” runs through Sept. 4 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S. 870-3000.


A ‘miracle’ at Intermedia Arts

THE WEDGE — Artist collective Grupo Soap del Corazón celebrates its 11-year anniversary with “El Milagro” (“The Miracle”) at Intermedia Arts, an exhibition examining the role the miraculous in Latin American life.

Douglas Padilla, the group’s co-founder, recounts in four mixed-media panels the story of his emergency hospital stay over Easter weekend 1969, at age 20. Images, including some of curvy, feminine angels, accompany meandering text telling how Padilla fell unconscious on Good Friday as doctors attempted to defibrillate his heart, awaking two days later on Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday, he writes, was spent with the angels.

Others pieces are more tongue-in-cheek. “Coleccion de Apariciones” (“Collection of Appartions”) by Abel and Gabino Flores, who work together as Los Hermanos Flores, is a series of photos documenting apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a rotting tree, on a tortilla and on a public message board.

A shrine constructed by Marisa Martinez from stained and painted wood, cut metal, tiny charms and wooden rosary is appealingly rustic and feels intensely personal. There are several more shrines, and icons, too, including Cristina Perez’s weeping virgin, who mourns decades of environmental tragedies — from the 1979 Ixtoc 1 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to this year’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan — and “El Milagro de Mi Tia” (“The Miracle of My Aunt”) by tattoo artist Claudia “Billy” Baca, an anatomically realistic riff on the burning heart motif with smoke pouring from the aorta as if from a chimney.

“El Milagro” runs through Sept. 11 at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-4444.