Carved wood art is an old but powerful tradition. The University
of Michigan Museum of Art’s wood art collection,
“Nature Transformed: Wood Art from the Bohlen
Collection,” is an exhibit that demonstrates the developments
of wood art by revealing a contemporary twist to traditional

Fine Arts Reviews

The exhibit is divided into three sections: “The Vessel
Unleashed,” “Sculptural Tendencies” and
“Allusions to Nature.” Each section is graced with an
abundance of art whose radical colors and unconventional shapes
will inevitably please the naked eye. The pieces maintain a
traditional and native look, but are virtually intended for simple
house decorations.

“The Vessel Unleashed” holds works of art that
epitomize the contemporary artist’s escape from the
traditional vessel. The displayed entities exist as objects rather
than containers. The very first vessel that one sees in the
exhibit, “Untitled,” is made of Norfolk Island pine,
mahogany and oxidized copper tacks. The simple list of resources
used, make the artifact convey the extremity of the piece.
Normally, a vessel is intended to be held and interacted with. This
one, however, transmits the opposite invitation. The hundreds of
bright turquoise tacks projecting out of the vessel present a
rather witty juxtaposition (or down right contradiction).

“Sculptural Tendencies” displays artwork that moves
away from the previous vessels and becomes unpredictable wooden
sculptures. “Prairie Avenue,” made from butternut and
oil paint, is a three-dimensional canvas that illustrates urban
scenery. Here, a flat piece of wood has been transformed into a
meticulously textured 3D relief. The piece focuses on a house on
Prairie Avenue in Chicago whose front steps and front door almost
strangely invite the viewer to continue observation. Although the
trees surrounding the house are not physically present, their
cleverly painted shadows contribute a greater sense of space to the

“Eruption Shield #3,” made of jarrah burl, acrylic
paint and gold leaf, is a captivating circular piece that seems to
have three distinct layers. With a wooden center that looks like a
broken, enlarged nut shell and shiny, almost glittery gold and
bronze paint along the border, the viewer’s eyes are
constantly moving to take it in as a whole.

“Allusions to Nature,” the final display of the
exhibit, makes the often neglected connection between material and
our natural surroundings. The precise earth-tone color scheme of
this display truly ties the viewer to nature.

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