R & Company gallery assesses Wendell Castle’s early genius

Wunderkind Wisdom

Bright-eyed yet foolish, young people are often perceived as incapable of achieving great feats. Our professional culture is built on this assumption. But, as rare cases will prove, mastery can manifest at an early age. Not yet affected by the mounting pressures of life or the demotivating impact of critique, these prodigies can ideate and produce with unencumbered fervor.

Whether these exceptional individuals benefit from some innate force, sparely bestowed to a select few, or simply from being in the right place at the right time is hard to determine. What perhaps matters most is their ability to create truly original and honest work while also being able to draw-in an audience.

R & Company's White Street flagship in awash in amoebic forms and sculpted wood. (Courtesy R & Company)

Works by Isamu Noguchi, Jean Arp, Wharton Esherick, and George Sugarman are part of a clear lineage with Castle's early work. (Courtesy R & Company)

For the late, great designer Wendell Castle, such a fortuitous coalescence was the driving force behind one of his most prolific periods. Between 1958 and 1980 (his mid 20s to late 40s), the unofficial “father of art furniture” crafted some of his most iconic pieces. During this time, he developed a sculptural and organic approach that would leave an indelible mark on the industry.

Tent of Holofernes for Martha Graham's Judith by Isamu Noguchi (1950) (Courtesy R & Company)

Untitled No. 9 by Wendell Castle (1962) (Courtesy R & Company)

Bringing together fifteen of these emblematic works—some not seen in two decades—is the Wendell Castle and the Quiet Revolution retrospective, on view at New York’s R & Company gallery till February 26th.

Unique floor lamp in hand-shaped and stack-laminated walnut with glass globe (1970), Baker Two-Seater in white oak (1966), and Unique dining table in carved and stack laminated oak (1969)

Juxtaposed alongside appropriately positioned sculptures by Castle’s unsurprising forbearers Isamu Noguchi, Jean Arp, Wharton Esherick, and George Sugarman, are pieces like the 1962 Chest of Drawers. A perfect transcendence of natural influence and modern rationalism, the work demonstrates his intuitive mastery of sculpted wood. A similar hand-formed articulation is evident in the iconic 1980 Music Rack.

Unique desk with chair in stack-laminated and hand carved stained walnut with an oil finish (1969) with Neon Wall Lamp" prototype in blue metallic auto-body paint on gel-coated, fiberglass-reinforced plastic and neon (1969) (Courtesy R & Company)

Yellow Arch sculpture in hand-worked gel-coated fiberglass (1971) (Courtesy R & Company)

Through other key works on view—the 1967 Baker arm chair and the 1969 Unique Desk with Chair—visitors are able to witness how Castle transitioned from a primarily art-based practice into one that could challenge the limits of furniture design. Later works like the 1971 Yellow Arch reveal his exploration of material beyond natural wood. Also exhibited, a series of framed drawings provide insight into the virtuosos’ study of organic shape.