Melissa Stern in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center

In Dialogue with Melissa Stern

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NYC Studio, with the sculpture WIG SHOP

Melissa Stern is an artist, working in mixed materials and across genres. She is interested in ideas that are simultaneously funny and dark- that is, “work that might make you smile or laugh, but with a wee bit of discomfort,” as she puts it. Much of her work of recent years focuses on home and childhood and the ways in which our childhoods and our memories haunt our lives. She works in clay, found objects, wood, metal collage and various drawing materials. Her goal is that the materials she uses are at the service of the ideas. On a different note she says, “I am an only child, raised by older parents who were first generation Americans. My mother desperately wanted to be ‘American’. My father was very connected to his European heritage. This push and pull; between belonging and being an outsider has profoundly influenced my life as an artist.” Melissa Stern is participating in Domestic Brutes at Pelham Art Center.

AS: How do you see your work in context of Domestic Brutes feminist perspective?

MS: The pieces chosen by the curators for this exhibition all share one common element- feet. I love that they found this thread through my work and chose to group the pieces together. Three of the pieces are from a series entitled Women Whose Shoes don’t Fit and it stemmed from my fascination with watching women in NYC stumble around in shoes that didn’t fit. Toes falling over the front of the shoe, impossibly high heels- I suppose it’s the “price of beauty” but to me it has always been a strange mystery as to why women wear the shoes they do. I was raised by a very forward thinking father who always told me, “never wear shoes that you can’t run in.” Wise words.

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BIG PINK SHOE, 2018-2020, 31.5 X 6 X 8.5, Clay, oil paint, oil stick, plastic, glaze

AS: Tell me about the work in this show – its genesis and process.

MS: The sculptures in this show were made over a range of years and reflect my ongoing interests in exploring form, material, and theme. Like handwriting, I think that you could look at any piece I made form any point in my career and know that it was mine. As someone who stands for hours at a time in the studio, I have always been interested in how the entire body is dependent on feet. We are mechanically a flawed species, so much is dependent on these appendages that are both powerful and fragile. The piece entitled TUG is a ceramic leg that is wearing fishnet tights. I wore fishnets as a kid in the 60’s and have always been fascinated by the double layered image- a woman wearing “fishnets” seems very funny and a little dark to me.

AS: How does the work in this show relate to your other work?

MS: I have been working with these same ideas for many years. My most recent exhibition STRANGE GIRLS (2018, Garvey Simon Gallery, NYC) explored the idea of girlhood, writ large. By “girlhood” I refer to the experiences that we all share growing up (including boys). Experiences of cliques, successes, embarrassments, and triumphs. The beauty and awkwardness of growing up. These experiences make us what we are today. The theme seemed to resonate deeply with both men and women. My goal, as it were is to make artwork that triggers stories and memories in everyone who views it. I want both children and adults to come away with their own stories about the work.


WEDGE SANDAL, 2017, 16 x 6.5 x 20, Clay, paint, object

AS: How do you hope viewers connect with your work in this show?

All photos courtesy of the artist

MS: I hope that those seeing the show will connect with the “shoe” thing. Women certainly will. I always want my work to draw forth stories from the viewer and enable them to connect both with each other and with the commonalities that we all share.


TUG, 2018, 26 x 16 x 1.6, Wood, clay, paint, plastic, paper, stocking

Domestic Brutes at the Pelham Art Center through Nov 7th.

Artists: Tirtzah Bassel, Aisha Tandiwe Bell, Ashley Norwood Cooper, Maria de Los Angeles, Nancy Elsamanoudi, Fay Ku, Sharon Madanes, Lacey McKinney, Joiri Minaya, Rose Nestler, Simonette Quamina, Diana Schmertz, Alisa Sikelianos-Carter, Manju Shandler, Melissa Stern; Curated by Christina Massey and Etty Yaniv

Thanks to Audrey Putman for helping with the interview.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: