Hudson, New York
Ancient, quasi-mystical artifacts—those once lively objects from the distant past that have survived—come to us as unknowable, fundamentally opaque, and foreign, displayed in the highly charged confines of museums. Though they may be muted by over-categorization and stifling curation, we still sense vestiges of their power, valuing them for their difference, their age and rarity, their technical distinction, as well as their emotional resonance and formal beauty—because, despite whatever other meanings they offer, they are also objects of desire.
Shari Mendelson’s work, recently on view in her solo exhibition “Greetings and Offerings,” is about those unique, desirable things, taking the point of view not of a historian or archaeologist but of an artist who makes objects that are also ultimately quasi-mystical. She explains that her influences include “ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern votive figures, tomb models, animal sculptures, vessels, and hybrid animal/vessel sculptures.” She is drawn to the intense life force, immediacy, and aura of such objects, their artistry, layered density, and evocative beauty. Conceptually, Mendelson is “interested in our understanding of ancient works and cultures and our shifting notions of value.” She is equally aware of the deadening effect of reproduction and does not aim for replication; instead, her work engages with and reimagines these often humble funerary or domestic goods, reinvesting them with the feelings of wonder they evoke in her.
With admiration and humor, Mendelson reinterprets ancient objects using recycled plastic bottles. The irony lies in the notion of re-creating things that have withstood the test of time in materials from our throwaway culture. Plastic interests her not so much out of a concern for recycling (a side issue), but for its similarity to glass and other translucent or transparent materials. Initially trained as a jeweler, Mendelson painstakingly cuts and glues convex and concave segments from the plastic bottles, part of a very slow fabrication process during which she seeks fragments that come closest to reflecting the surfaces of the original object. Some finished pieces are near facsimiles, while others evolve during the making process and take on their own forms. At first glance, the plastic looks quite a bit like glass, but closer inspection reveals logos, standard embossed patterns, and even expiration dates. Once she has fabricated the object, she coats it with various substances including mica powders and resins that change or obscure the transparency of the plastic.
These surface treatments endow Mendelson’s objects with an oddly lunar glow that elevates the plastic into some different material realm. Her titles reveal the ritual and functional origins of her recast objects: Greetings and Offerings, Breathing Vessel, Double Deer with Cup, Seated Sphinx—naming without elucidating. Although Mendelson’s works are warmed by her humor, a cool distance lurks within them, and in their frozen gestures, there’s a deep, unbroken tie to the ancient world, one of sublimated sexuality and magical thinking that lies far removed from the bookish catalogues and aesthetic canons of art history.