Wendy Maruyama - Design New York Tuesday, December 5, 2023 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Wendy Maruyama had initially set out to study jewelry design before she discovered woodworking. Recalling this pivot in her artistic and educational career, she noted, “It was a revelation for me to discover, at that time, that working in wood was not men’s work after all…and as I took more classes, I realized that making one-of-a-kind furniture, not just woodworking, was a primary interest for me.” One of the first two women to receive a Masters of Fine Arts in Furniture Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Maruyama had to carve out space for herself in a world of American woodworking that was still dominated by traditionalism. Conceptual or decorative considerations were considered frivolous by many of her peers and mentors.


    “It was a revelation for me to discover, at that time, that working in wood was not men’s work after all.”
    —Wendy Maruyama


    Maruyama’s differences from her peers were almost immediately noticed. Just after completing her MFA work in 1980, she was approached by the editor of Fine Woodworking to contribute to an article titled Decoration or Desecration? The topic was a writing desk Maruyama had taken a crayon to, adding a free-hand decorative “scribble” to the top in order to, as the article notes, “graphically express its function: a writing table.” As Maruyama remembers, the reaction to this small conceptual gesture was fierce. She recalls, “the next issue came out and the letters to the editor were scathing – in fact, the next two issues were full of letters complaining.” One reader’s letter in the next issue read, “Shame on you for taking your back cover to promote such adolescent nonsense. To ruin a piece of furniture with crayon or nails and render it unsellable only displays egotistical immaturity on the part of the craftsman.” It’s hard now to see the transgression in this work, but the reaction speaks to Maruyama’s pioneering vision. After reading the letters in response to her table, she recollects, “I suddenly felt sort of a weight off my shoulders and a sense of freedom and confirmation that I was headed in the right direction with my work.”



    This freedom to explore form, color, and conceptual play was further emboldened by Maruyama’s discovery of the Milanese group Studio Alchemia. She recalls seeing an article in Progressive Architecture on new furniture produced by this group, thinking, “This is what I’ve been looking for all this time.” The approach of this radical post-modern movement was practically in opposition to Maruyama’s education, steeped in the American craft tradition. However, it was the unique combination of these dueling influences which set Maruyama’s work apart from her peers.


    Alessandro Mendini, Unique “Spaziale” table, 1978

     The present chair comes from what the designer calls her "post-nuclear primitive" series. The year that she devoted to this material marked a departure from the color and surface decoration of her earlier work. The works imagine a “post-nuclear” landscape wherein mass destruction had left a world devoid of color. Without color, the form of the chair becomes the focal point. The arched back is over-exaggerated to the point of being cartoonish. The chair, however, maintains a sense of proportionality and levity despite the thick wood slabs used in its construction. The present work demonstrates Maruyama’s ability to carry the weight of two values which seem diametrically opposed: skillful craft and exaggerated conceptual play.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, circa 1984

Property from a Private Collection


Lot offered with No Reserve

Unique "Chair's Chair"

Bleached mahogany.
28 1/4 x 18 x 18 1/4 in. (71.8 x 45.7 x 46.4 cm)
Underside signed in marker MARUYAMA 1984.

Full Cataloguing

$3,000 - 5,000 

Sold for $1,143

Contact Specialist

Benjamin Green
Associate Specialist
Associate Head of Sale
+1 917 207 9090


New York Auction 5 December 2023