December 1, 2023

Perfect Sense: Jonathan Muecke’s Objects in Sculpture Rise Above Furniture and Architectural Design

3 min read
Perfect Sense: Jonathan Muecke’s Objects in Sculpture Rise Above Furniture and Architectural Design

“CTS (Concave Textile Shape),” 2019. Courtesy Maniera Gallery

Wonderfully intriguing, Jonathan Muecke’s objects blur the lines between art, design and architecture; what is and what isn’t. Considering scale, form and function only to defy and redefine them, Muecke challenges what normal looks like. “There’s something about them that makes perfect sense and something about them that doesn’t make any sense at all,” he has said about the objects that include an enormous rock with holes, a solid wood block, a carbon tube bench, a dark green textile box and a wooden zigzag shape. In his work, furniture design meets sculpture, natural materials (rock, wood) meet carbon and Kevlar fiber, steel and epoxy resin, and functionality becomes obsolete. But Muecke is right. Somehow it all makes perfect sense.

“Scrambler,” 2009. Courtesy of Dr. Brian Stonehocker.

After a decade of an innovative creative practice, Muecke’s work lands in a major museum for the first time: his solo exhibition “Objects in Sculpture” opens at the Art Institute of Chicago this May. Featuring a selection of what he describes as “open objects,” the artist, designer and architect invites us to rethink common objects and household items (stools, tables, benches), as well as their function and place within the home, the museum, and the world at-large. As he masterfully commands positive and negative space, his academic and professional background in architecture is evident.

“Stabilizer (STAB),” 2013, Jonathan Muecke. Gift of Michael Jefferson and Heidi Mucha/Image: courtesy Jonathan Muecke

Hailing from Laramie, Wyoming and based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Muecke’s background includes an undergraduate degree in architecture from Iowa State University, and an internship at the architectural office of Herzog & de Meuron in Basel, Switzerland, followed by a graduate degree in design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. He was commissioned to create the Pavilion for the tenth anniversary of Design Miami. He was awarded a USA Knight Fellowship in 2015 to fund his creative practice. His work appears in museum collections nationally and internationally, as well as in shows at Chicago’s Volume Gallery. All the work has informed his ever-evolving trajectory, fed his natural curiosity and helped establish him as one of the most prominent designers of our time.

“RWH (Rock With Holes),” 2021/Image: Courtesy Jonathan Muecke and Volume Gallery

Playing around with perception and expectation, Muecke’s ongoing “open objects” research practice is thought-provoking, puzzling, even disturbing at times. But we cannot help but wonder if fighting the artist’s unorthodox approach is even worth it—maybe instead we should unlearn and un-define. Maybe embracing the work for what it is—a daring exploration that rises above the norms of architecture and design—will help us unlock a higher level of understanding of aesthetics, design and the world around us. And maybe, just maybe, that’s where things start to get really interesting.

“Jonathan Muecke: Objects in Sculpture,” Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan. Opens May 26.

Perfect Sense: Jonathan Muecke’s Objects in Sculpture Rise Above Furniture and Architectural Design