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December 29, 1989 - Image 45

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-29

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of the


Davira Taragin, DIA's
curator of decorative arts,
heads the national
Wendell Castle
furniture exhibit.

Davira Taragin seated on the "Bench" designed by Wendell Castle.


Local Columnist


hen Wendell Castle
lectured at the
Detroit Institute of
Arts in 1986, curator Davira
Taragin couldn't believe
that there was never a retro-
spective exhibition of
Castle's designs. It was a
logical extension for
Taragin, as the DIA's first
curator of 20th century dec-
orative arts and design, to
develop and organize a ex-
hibit on furniture artist
Wendell Castle.
Taragin believes the
Wendell Castle exhibit, now
at the DIA through Feb. 4, is
special because it will begin
to document the Studio Craft
movement in American art.
The Studio Craft movement
is a post 1945 movement
where university trained ar-
tists work in a studio envi-
ronment producing unique
art objects that may or may
not be functional.
"Wendell is one of the
leading craftsman in
America. Recognition and
acceptance of his work has
basically paved the way for
other craftsmen," says
Taragin. Detroit Free Press
art critic Marsha Miro

describes Castle as the
master of modern American
art furniture.
Taragin notes how Castle
is constantly challenging
traditional concepts of fur-
niture design. She becomes
animated as she walks
through the DIA exhibit
that spans 30 years of his
work. Some of his earliest
work in the 1960s involves
stack lamination, where
boards are sawed and glued
together. In the 1970s,
Castle moved to historically
based furniture with Art
Deco and Beidermier in-
fluences. The 1980s contain
an illusionistic period and
"fine" furniture.
Although the exhibit has
"Do not touch signs," some
patrons find the trompe l'oeil
designs irresistible. There's
The Table with Gloves and
Keys made of purpleheart.
On top of the traditional
table are a carved set of
leather gloves complete with
fur lining and some keys.
The Ghost appears. to be a
clock with a drop-cloth over
it ready for the movers, but
in reality it's mahogany and
bleached mahogany that
look like fabric. The Wendell
Castle coat racks give the il-
lusion that they are filled
with trench coats.

The show has a humorous
side. "You just want to
giggle when you think of a
chair that is a molar or a
gigantic tooth," says
Taragin. The Molar Chair
made of glass-reinforced
polyester is part of the DIA's
collection. Taragin says

"Coatrack with Trench Coat."

laughingly that people
believe she is partial to the
tooth chair because her hus-
band is a dentist.
Under Taragin's guidance
the DIA commissioned
Castle, with funds from the
Art of Poland Associates and
the Bal Polonais of Detroit,
to make a bench that would
be both artistic and func-
tional. The bench is a two
seat arrangement with
brushed aluminum
framework and armrests of
Another commissioned
piece in the exhibit is a
humidor owned by Janis and
William Wetsman. The
Wetsmans, like Taragin, are
members of the Jewish
community and admirers of
Castle's work. Janis
Wetsman is on the dec-
orative arts steering com-
mittee at the DIA and works
closely with Taragin.
Janis Wetsman commis-
sioned the humidor for her
husband after seeing
Castle's work in the Alex-
ander Milliken Gallery in
New York.
Taragin views the Wendell
Castle exhibit as a continua-
tion of her work at the DIA.
Furniture by Wendell Castle
officially opened at the DIA
in the beginning of

December. At its conclusion
Feb. 4, Castle will critique
the exhibit. This national
survey will then travel to
the Delaware Art Museum,
Virginia Museum of Fine
Arts, Memorial Art Gallery
at the University - of
Rochester and the American
Craft Museum in New York.
Since Taragin's arrival at
the DIA, the museum boasts
several acquisitions, con-
tinuous displays of objects
and excellent exhibitions.
She came to the DIA in 1984
after her work as curator of
the Artrain and then
organizing the national ex-
hibit Design in America. The
Cranbrook Vision.
Taragin recalls always be-
ing an art lover, even years
before her art history train-
ing at Barnard College in
New York and George
Washington University. As
a child, she loved to attend
flea markets and admired
her parents' art collection.
Furniture by Wendell
Castle is an important step
for Taragin's career as cura-
tor of 20th century dec-
orative arts and design. "For
a general art museum to
give a craftsman a retrospec-
tive, we are very much
breaking ground in America
today." CI


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