Provided are methods and compositions for the repair of articular cartilage defects in a mammal. Denuded chondrogenic cells are proliferated ex vivo as monolayer cultures in order to expand the pool of available chondrogenic cells. During proliferation the chondrogenic cells stop secreting the extracellular matrix components, type II collagen and sulfated proteoglycans. The proliferated cells then are seeded into a pre-shaped well having a cell contacting, cell abhesive surface. The cells cultured in the well redifferentiate and begin to secrete cartilage-specific extracellular matrix again. Accordingly, essentially unlimited amounts of synthetic cartilage may be prepared from small samples of biopsy tissue. Also provided are methods for surgically repairing articular cartilage defects in mammals using the synthetic cartilage prepared in accordance with the invention.