Taste Contemporary Craft in Geneva is showing the work of Ernst Gamperl and Maria van Kesteren together for the first time. They are both artists at the top of their field who work with wood, although in very different ways. Both artists are celebrated and collected: Gamperl won the Loewe Craft Prize 2017 for his piece Tree of Life 2 and his work is in museum collections including The Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg, and the International Design Museum, Munich. Van Kesteren had a major retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1995, and her work is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Museum of Arts and Design, New York.
Ernst Gamperl strives to enhance the grain and character of the piece of wood while adding criss-crossing fine lines across the surface. These lines enhance the natural surface with a man-made touch of technology and control over nature. Knots and flaws in the wood are made into features of his pieces which he turns while wet. Small openings in the top of many pieces add a hint of functionality and there are some Japanese-esque boxes on display as well. There is a combination of rawness with controlled beauty in many pieces. One piece, made from maple, is translucent; its edges incredibly thin. This is the piece most like one of Maria van Kesteren’s pieces in its color and flawlessly smooth surface.
One could say that Maria van Kesteren’s approach to her work is the opposite of Gamperl’s. She strives to hide the wooden qualities of her pieces. They appear like industrial machine parts, or futuristic puzzles. The shapes are timeless and based on variations of the circle. They are smoothly finished and each piece is painted so that the grain is covered up. Her pieces can even appear to be ceramics at first glance. They display a control over the material so complete that the fact that they are made of wood disappears, and it is the shape of the form that is the focus.
When they met to plan this exhibition at Maria’s studio in The Netherlands, Maria gave Ernst a piece of wood. He has turned this into two pieces which are on display at the exhibition, another result of the conversation that was started on that day. It is a special treat to see their work together, in conversation. Monique Deul, Director of Taste Contemporary Craft, has selected pieces that speak to each other, with similar shapes placed next to each other in the gallery. The juxtaposition of the pieces allows the viewer to appreciate just how differently each artist approaches the same medium, with radically different results. This exhibit is an excellent opportunity to witness the range of expression and quality of pieces being created in contemporary craft today.