Honestly, I stopped by the Ann Arbor Art Center to rule out the current exhibit, Mid-West Furniture Zoku, as a review subject. Furniture? As art? I left two hours later, tripped out, my art heart pierced. I’d taken 109 photos of the thirty or so pieces, just so I could pore over them later.

Smartly curated by Ray Wetzel and John DeHoog, the exhibit gathers a spectrum of pieces from the utterly practical to the utterly whimsical, from utilitarian to elegiac to frightening to funny. And, yes, it’s art, Real Art. That’s not surprising considering that this zoku (a Japanese word meaning a regional clan) comprises professors and graduates of respected art enclaves like EMU, U-M, and the College of Creative Studies.

And yet I was surprised. I expected to see furniture that was just “part of the furniture”–admirable for its craft, useful but mundane. Instead, I was greeted with art play: at the entrance of the 117 Gallery are several pieces of upended and deconstructed chairs that fool with planes, space, and purpose.

Then I was struck square in the chest by “Curlicue.” I heard an inner gasp when I saw this sensual couch-chair-nest concoction by Melissa Judd. Narrow strips of wood circle freely from the center and form a seating area, which is draped in lush sheepskin. Half Tarzan and Jane, half Odalisque, it’s wild and wily–and woolly.

The second strike was delivered more gently by an artist’s sketchbooks. On display under plastic, they gamboled through her planning process. What fun to glimpse the artist’s mind as she sifted through ideas, discarding, reworking, doodling–even rating her pen’s nib–and then see her written “BOOM!” next to the idea she chose. I turned and BOOM, there was Katie Hudnall’s “Shark Fin Cabinet.” More fanciful than practical, it places two small shark-fin-shaped cabinets made of reclaimed wood, one atop the other, on stilt-like supports. The cabinets’ insides are decorated with designs made with the same delicate hatching as in her sketchbook.

The third and fourth strikes, both glass pieces, are wisely placed near a window. The outside light streaming onto Maxwell Davis’s “Chair #13” gives this electric-chair shape a menacing glitter and a gorgeous cold brilliance. Especially shivery is the cut through the chair’s back, outlined in bright blue. Next to it was Davis’s “Curiosity Cabinet #3.” A wooden frame holds a triangular cast-glass form with two hand shapes pressed into it. Stunning and curiously sad.

So many other pieces were fun or fascinating for their exploration, workmanship, and ideas. Word must be getting around because traffic at the show was brisk–on a Sunday, no less. The exhibit is open until March 5.