Although both trained as architects and both have been guided by a sensibility to their chosen material, the late American woodworker George Nakashima and sculptor Dee Briggs of Pittsburgh and New York would seem an unlikely exhibition match. But the warmth of his organic forms and the cool minimalism of hers provide balance and initiate discussion at the Regina Gouger Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University.
The 15 pieces of furniture in "Nakashima: The Carnegie Mellon Collection Revealed" -- each reflecting the noted artist's respect for natural form and integrity of craftsmanship -- are on loan from CMU offices where they have withstood daily use since they were commissioned for the new Warner Hall, completed in 1966.
The exhibition and accompanying publication were organized by Rachel Delphia, Carnegie Museum of Art assistant curator of decorative arts, and accomplished with the help of students in her design class.
Nakashima continues to be internationally exhibited, nearly two decades after his death, while Briggs is a star fast rising. This is her first solo exhibition and the generously sized CMU galleries allowed, perhaps challenged, her to increase the scale of her work. This she has achieved admirably.
Maquettes of her sculpture, completed and proposed, are shown with figures of varying height to indicate scale, and most appear visually to have promise of succeeding whether sized for room or for plaza. The technical demands of material are another consideration, but Briggs seems up to the task. Working mainly in steel and bronze, she does, for the most part, her own fabricating, so has an intrinsic knowledge of the metal's possibilities.
As opposed to the rigor of a sculptor like Richard Serra, Briggs infuses steel with grace, taming it without mellowing it.
The steel pieces here comprise either flat rectangular plates or open rings, the former solidly grounded, though appearing to have the potential to drift slowly off like a manta ray, while the latter encircle volumes of space, incorporating it as part of the whole.
A suspended work, "18 Rings, 3' Diameter" which Briggs welded in place, is deceptively light and airy in appearance, its flowing line resembling drawing more than sculpture, finding agility beyond what its material suggests. As the viewer moves around and through it, different configurations of line reveal themselves. Angular shifts in direction at the rings' joinings introduce tension that adds complexity and takes this piece beyond a harmonious exercise in repetitive forms.
Briggs worked in stainless steel for the first time in "5 Rings/5' 6' 7' Diameter," her largest rings composition to date. It also contains the first mechanical connection she's used. Though free-standing, it exhibits the same freedom from harness as the suspended work; expansive in reach, it's filled with movement and almost whimsy, as also are the "Plates" designs.
Underlying Briggs' work, and providing its unique and firm skeletal base, is adherence to a theoretical concern called chirality or handedness, wherein pieces are composed of only two basic elements, the left- and right-handed versions of the same maneuver, such as the lean of a curve.
The elegance of her work, then, arises from the complexity of its underpinnings as well as the simplicity of its exterior.
The exhibitions continue through Oct. 28. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free. For information, call 412-268-3618 or visit www.cmu.edu/millergallery.
The PG reported Friday that Steven Kurtz codefendant and University of Pittsburgh professor Robert Ferrell pleaded guilty in federal court in Buffalo to a misdemeanor charge of "mailing an injurious article," a legal action his family says "health reasons" prompted.
Keep on truckin'
Look in tomorrow's PG food section for my article on "What's for Dinner? Photographs by Diana Shearwood," a Silver Eye Center for Photography exhibition. The Canadian artist -- influenced by the likes of British photographer Martin Parr, whose images draw attention to the globalization of Western consumer culture -- explores the aesthetic and variety of the oversized food ads that wrap the sides of trucks, while also calling attention to the environmental and social implications of becoming dependent upon a long-distance food delivery system. The result is both smart and playful. (Through Nov. 24; 412-431-1810.)
At 10 a.m. Friday the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts will break ground for the Ira H. Gordon Pavilion, which will house performance, film screenings, outdoor classes and raku clay firings. The public is invited (412-361-0873).
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas may be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1925.