Ernst Gamperl The Houghton Oak Project
S94 Design presents The Houghton Oak Project, the first US solo exhibition of the German master craftsmen, Ernst Gamperl (b. 1965). The unique wood forms are produced by hand on a lathe using a secretive method. The twenty five vessels were created from the same 300-year-old English Oak selected on the grounds of Houghton Hall. Displayed simply on the parquet wood floor of the gallery, the vessels are bathed in natural light throughout the day as the sun crosses over the Manhattan sky.
The Houghton Oak Project began in 2018 when Gamperl visited the famed Houghton Hall in Norfolk, UK, a Palladian Mansion built in 1722 for the first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. It was on a walk through the grounds where Gamperl selected the dying English Oak tree to be felled and the wood—weighing over 24 tonnes—made its way to Gamperl’s Steingaden studio, in Germany, to be transformed into twenty five unique object forms.
After the wood is cut, carved, and turned, the forms are then further shaped to produce remarkable asymmetries and newly-torqued volumes prior to being scored and patinated. Any naturally-occurring fissures and breaks are considered compositionally and held together as they are with traditional joinery, namely the butterfly key.
The resultant, jaw-dropping forms, first brought back to Norfolk to be exhibited at Houghton Hall, proposed in practice a longue durée of site specificity, and the interaction of the highest caliber of craftsmanship to celebrate the history of venue—its second iteration now in the architect Ogden Codman’s historic building on 3 East 89th Street, overlooking the Guggenheim—another spiral form of high design.
The sculptural vessel’s inscriptions on the bottom contain three numbers; the catalog raisonné number, the year of finishing, and the age of the tree, identified by the rings of the trunk. Together the numbers provide multiple perspectives of time present in the work.
For over twenty years Gamperl continues to hone the craft while keeping in mind a conceptual relationship with trees. One prior project, the Tree of Life Project, began in 2008 with a 230-year-old oak tree uprooted in Eastern Bavaria. Gamperl set in motion an approach of identifying the sculptural vessels “already present” in the tree—not unlike a classical sculptor before quarried marble—prior to giving the mighty oak a series of new lives. One vessel work from The Tree of Life project went on to international acclaim as Gamperl was awarded the Loewe Craft Prize in 2017.
Gamperl’s work is in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Collection Issey Miyake, Tokyo; Amorepacific Museum of Art, Seoul; Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt; Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg; Fonds National d’art Contemporain, Paris; and Museé des Arts Décoratifs de la Ville de Lausanne.
The Houghton Oak Project is organized in association with Anthony Slayter-Ralph, Gamperl’s representative and also the curator of the exhibition’s presentation at Houghton Arts Foundation.
Ernst Gamperl on The Houghton Oak Project