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Wendell Castle (1932-2018), Spooning Chairs, 2002; Maple, Jelutong, 20 x 43 x 40 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of HSBC Bank and the artist, by exchange, 2008

Wendell Castle (1932-2018), Spooning Chairs, 2002; Maple, Jelutong, 20 x 43 x 40 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of HSBC Bank and the artist, by exchange, 2008

What do you see? Resisting tradition, Wendell Castle, the internationally celebrated artist, teased viewers by remaining enigmatic with his assertion, all in caps, “I DON'T WANT TO MAKE AN ARTIST STATEMENT,” which reads:

I don't want to make things too easy. I don't want to give away the secrets. I don't want to be obvious. I like ambiguity and uncertainty. Uneasy relationships keep one awake. I don't want to explain my work. If things are understood at first viewing, then that doesn't leave much to the imagination. If things are what they seem to be, there is no pretending, no magic. Playing at the edge is where the excitement is.

Castle melded the worlds of sculpture and furniture design to reflect a uniquely contemporary aesthetic, enticing viewers to ponder the vocabulary of his works, which can be mysterious, beautiful, surreal, irreverent, and humorous. He embraced challenges to evolve forms and production techniques in service to his vision.

In Spooning Chairs, you might see either an homage to chair design or the suggestion that it is retiring. The most basic, archetypal chair motif is reduced to its essentials as if conceived by Piet Mondrian—one in black and one in white; the two appear to sink down into a voluptuous, hand-stitched, leather pillow. Considering the title, Spooning Chairs might also symbolize a loving biracial couple in a comforting embrace. By balancing two simple, glyph-like chairs on a super-realistically carved wooden pillow, Castle once again demonstrates his lifelong love of wood, his unique ingenuity, and an unparalleled mastery of both medium and message.

Nancy Weekly, Burchfield Scholar, Head of Collections, Charles Cary Rumsey Curator