Wood if I Could: How SAMBRE Uses Wood to Transform the Urban Environment

New York gallerist Catherine Ahnell has made it her mission to give young international artists—many with a slick, urban street art sensibility—a chance to show their work in New York. This August, she turned over her gallery to SAMBRE, a member of the French underground art collective 1984, who creates sophisticated, three-dimensional installations in public spaces and abandoned buildings around the world. The result of his residency, “The Box,” opens at Catherine Ahnell Gallery on September 10th.

SAMBRE has previously created elaborate wooden installations in locations like Paris’s Bains Douches and a burnt-down Norwegian embassy in Siberia, taking dilapidated buildings and turning them into awe-inspiring artistic showcases. Like a 21st-century Gordon Matta-Clark, he transforms these derelict spaces by cutting directly into walls and ceilings or adding complex wooden structures that seem to emerge as if from the buildings’ material itself. The raw wood makes a particularly poignant statement against the urban environments in which he usually works.

“The question of the place of an individual in society is something I really care about. Nowadays, humans have become an urban animal. We’re getting closer to the machine and the machine is getting closer to us,” SAMBRE has said of his motivations. The artist attributes his interest in such relationships in part to his youth. Raised in the French countryside by farmer parents and trained as a carpenter, he finds inspiration for his creations in traditional half-timbered houses and the architecture of Orleans. 

For his exhibition at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, SAMBRE has created three-dimensional wooden reliefs—collages of cutout plywood and wooden palettes—which will be layered throughout the space, highlighting the natural richness of color and texture in his chosen material. Though these particular materials undeniably have industrial uses, they still retain organic irregularities, which allow the artist to bring a bit of nature’s unpredictability and warmth into the controlled urban environment of the gallery.

 —Heather Corcoran

Images of SAMBRE's installation in progress at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, August 2014. Courtesy of Catherine Ahnell Gallery.

SAMBRE: The Box” is on view at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, New York, Sept. 10 – Oct. 31, 2014.  

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