‘Audacious’ Exhibition Coming to PEM

To celebrate the fine art of wood.

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David Ellsworth, Intersphere, 1991, from the Solstice Series. / Photo by Dirk Bakker via PEM

This past summer, BSA Space hosted “Urban Timber,” an exhibit that celebrated wood as a sustainable, versatile material for construction.

In the fall, the ICA debuted “Fiber Sculpture: 1960-Present,” which highlighted 50 works by 33 artists who used fiber as a common medium.

Now a similar material-centric exhibition is set to debut at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem early next year. Opening February, “Audacious: The Fine Art of Wood from the Montalto Bohlen Collection” will celebrate “the beauty and sensuality” of wood art, with more than 100 works ranging from the utilitarian—vessels, bowls, and vases—to abstract sculptures. The exhibition is aligned with a donation of 47 works of contemporary wood art from Bob and Lillian Montalto Bohlen.

And don’t expect boring dry sticks of plywood. The works in this collection are bright, shapely, and rich. While some pieces emphasize wood’s natural texture, others exemplify complex surface-treatment techniques. Works include Hawks & Owls by Frank Sudol and Cam Merkle, a vase-like sculpture made of birch wood painted to look like a circle of floating feathers, and Seven Poppies by Binh Pho, an actual vase decorated with symbols of Pho’s past and heritage.

“This amazing collection shows the dynamic nature of contemporary wood art,” said curator Dean Lahikainen in a press release. “The pieces are at times difficult to reconcile with our expectations about the look and feel of wood.”

At PEM, the works in “Audacious” will be arranged in a six-part exhibition highlighting how artists use contrast, texture, color, and pattern to create intricate works from an often overlooked medium.


Audacious: The Fine Art of Wood from the Montalto Bohlen Collection will be on view at the Peabody Essex Museum February 21 through June 21, 2015.

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LEFT: Frank Sudol and Cam Merkle, Hawks & Owls, 2000. RIGHT: Binh Pho, Seven Poppies, 2009. / Photos by Terry Martin via PEM