I first saw Michael Beitz's work at the Oshkosh Triennial, a contemporary art exhibition in autumn 2012 that popped up in a vacant furniture store building in Oshkosh, WI. Two of the works he displayed, Cloud Chair and Knot, stuck with me since, and I wanted to catch up with him a couple of years on.
Influenced by past experience in furniture fabrication, Beitz's work is heavily influenced by furniture design, which he uses to highlight "the physicality of psychological spaces between people."¹ The power of his sculptural pieces lies in simple formal alterations -- an elongated, arched table; a sofa tied in a knot; a picnic table that appears to crash at high speed into a wall -- which share common traits in that they are still usable furniture objects, straddling the line between contemporary sculpture and fun, sometimes funny, furniture.
One of my favorite works that highlights that physicality of space between people is Dining Table, which aside from being a long table that separates those sitting at one end and the other, it swoops up in the middle, thus blocking the view in the middle. At a table, where people typically gather to eat and socialize, suddenly the furniture itself becomes a barrier to socialization, cutting off those who sit at it, from sight and conversation.
Cloud Chair, which Beitz described as depicting "'the extension' that is sometimes responsible for attracting or repelling a significant other, or a complete stranger," bears a humorous element, perhaps unintentionally. It is also somewhat unsettling in scale and prominence, catching the viewer off-guard, which in terms of a sexual encounter between two people could be just as amusing, unsettling, or unwanted.
The strength of Beitz's work is his formal understanding of the materials, how they can be manipulated, and what effect it has on the viewer who expects an object or a material, like wood (or a tree), to exist one way, yet encounters it doing something unusual or operating in a different way. It's No Picnic shows the wooden boards of a standard picnic table reacting to the railing, draped ever so casually over the side like a piece of textile on a line. Hinged Tree looks like it could start moving around of its own volition, creaking at its joints, rearranging its branches or stomping away like an arboreal robot. He has the ability to manipulate and utilize the materials in order to address not only interpersonal relationships, but also the social and utilitarian functions of furniture and how we react when our expectations of these relationships are altered, broken, or prevented.
Much more work can be found at the artist's website, michaelbeitz.com.
¹Artist's statement in Oshkosh Triennial exhibition guide, 2012.