Shari Mendelson: The Beauty of Objects Left Behind

First Look: Shari Mendelson: Glasslike at UrbanGlass

Shari Mendelson, Walking Animal with Vessel in Net, 12″ x 6″ x 9″, Repurposed plastic, hot glue, acrylic polymer, metal, resin, paint, mica, 2018, photo credit: Polite Photographic

The glasslike sculptures in Shari Mendelson’s current exhibition at UrbanGlass conjure mythical narrative with an urgent sense of the present. Based on rigorous study, the artist draws upon primarily glass artifacts from ancient Rome and early Islam, to form imaginative, witty, and playful sculptures made of throwaway plastic bottles. While avoiding simple mimicking of ancient artifacts, Mendelson’s vases, urns, animals, and figures alike create forms and forge narratives that link present to past in fresh and multilayered ways, as the show curator Elizabeth Essner puts it – “the previous lives of her [Mendelson’s] materials emerge: the bottoms of bottles are reborn as faceted ornament, a milk jug becomes an animal, the visage of a figure appears, formed from the tiniest bits of plastic.”

Shari Mendelson, Four Vessels with Exoskeleton (Pink and Gold), Repurposed plastic, hot glue, resin, acrylic polymer, paint, found metal, mica, 37″x10″x9″, 2017, photo credit: Polite Photographic

Mendelson’s process starts with repurposed containers – Pom-Wonderful™, V8™, Sierra Mist™, mostly embellished with a wide range of material. For instance, After William (2012), based on the unofficial mascot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is decorated with tea bags, acrylic polymer, and paint; Deity with Pointy Shoes (2018) utilizes hot glue, acrylic polymer, resin, and mica (used for eye make-up).  The resulting sculptural objects – vases, urns, animals, figures, altogether recall archaeological artifacts which reveal their contemporary origin by their materiality as well as by an occasional impressed logo or a “sell-by” date.

Unlike the intimate-scale of ancient artifacts, Mendelson’s renditions range in scale from small to floor size.  For instance, Four Vessels with Exoskeleton (blue) (2017), pay homage to elaborate small cosmetic flasks made in Rome or Syria from roughly the 4th to 6th centuries. Mendelson’s forms have scaled-up in ornament and blown up into vessels three and half feet high. Yet, the formal correlations are clear throughout all the objects. In Pig with Classical Vessel (2018), for example, the ancient iridescent surface of a late Roman Flask of the 3rd to 4th Centuries is recreated with applied glitter and powdered mica, and in Animal with Green Head and Cage Cup (2015) the artist re-imagines animal flasks of the 5th to 8th centuries which were used as containers for perfume or kohl.

Shari Mendelson, Deity with Pointy Shoes, 16″ x 4.5″ x 6″, Repurposed plastic, hot glue, acrylic polymer, resin, mica, 2018, photo credit: Polite Photographic

Mendelson is not a glassblower herself but she is a consistently curious observer and a rigorous student of ancient objects. A 2014 residency at UrbanGlass led her to work with technicians to remake her objects into the medium. She has continued to develop in this vain later on throughout several museum-based residencies, where she has partnered with gaffers to create new work responsive to each institution’s ancient glass collection. A Guggenheim Foundation grant enabled her to  research in the museums of London and Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. Consequently her works from 2018 lean more towards the figurative and the narrative. For example, she has been fascinated by terracotta figures – Cypriot fertility figures and mythical creatures of ancient Greece.

The artist says that as she started this work about 10 years ago, she was thinking about the rise and fall of civilizations, and how the objects that remain illustrate that cycle. “Over the two millennia between the glass of the ancients and the plastic of today, the arc of time has been filled with countless histories of creation and destruction, and the heartbreaking beauty of the objects left behind” says Elizabeth Essner.

Throughout the body of work in this exhibition Mendelson makes us aware that we have quite a lot in common with those before us – past and present civilizations alike are part of a larger cycle of change.

Shari Mendelson, The Offering, 9.5″ x 4″ x 6.5″, Repurposed plastic, hot glue, acrylic polymer, resin, mica, 2018, photo credit: Polite Photographic

Shari Mendelson: Glasslike
On view: September 12th – November 3rd  at UrbanGlass
Curated by Elizabeth Essner 
The exhibition opens on September 12, 2018
Gallery Hours:  Monday – Friday: 12-7:30;  Saturday: 11-7:30;  Sunday: 11-6