Dienstag, 17. August 2010

Matthias Merkel Hess at Steve Turner Contemporary

By Simone Kussatz

Having a BA in environmental science from the University of Kansas and a MFA from the ceramics department at UCLA, it is not surprising that Iowa-born artist, Matthias Merkel Hess, would come up with an art project that would engage his viewers in a discussion about societal and environmental issues.

Therefore what would usually appear in the real world in plastic - Rubbermaid Brute trash cans and beer buckets – Merkel Hess turned into colorful glazed ceramics that are displayed in a group show “Wet Paint 2” along with the work of eight other artists at Steve Turner Contemporary, located in the Mid-Wilshire district across from LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

Merkel Hess' works, which are presented in either dark blues, light yellows and pinks, or a combination of dark blue on the outer and ocher or orange in the inner, remind one of the sculptures of Swedish-American pop artist, Claes Oldenburg, who also turned ordinary objects into art objects. Yet, Merkel Hess' work is much smaller in size and not been seen in public open spaces yet.

During an artist talk at the gallery that followed the day after the reception, Merkel Hess mentioned that his project is partly influenced by a book by Thomas Hine "I Want That", which made him think about American society and the relationship between people and objects, as well as his take on it. “I make objects, sometimes big, physical things, so I'm trying to understand both my own interest in objects and how we value them as humans,” he said.

The young artist also mentioned that being a potter made him always interested in vessels and their meaning and how people use them. However, instead of making bowls, coffee mugs and teapots, he wanted to make pottery that would be of interest to a contemporary art audience.

Furthermore, Merkel Hess, a former artist-in-residence at the 18th Streets Arts Center in Santa Monica, explained that since we live in a “hyper-consumer society”, where people are desensitized to the fact that the merchandise they find in current department stores were once luxury items, his work attempted to deal with this “by taking mundane, utilitarian objects and through a transformation of material, make them something for people to think about and consider more closely,” he explained.

Although Merkel Hess' art objects look as if they have a function that is to say to store our garbage and cool our beers, they are actually unsuitable for what they were designed to do as they are heavy and fragile. Therefore, instead of serving a literal function, they become a point of discussion. “I believe this is the main function of works of art,” he said.

Merkel Hess' work will be showcased at Steve Turner Contemporary till August 21, 2010, followed by a solo-exhibit “Devils Tower-LA” between September 4th until October 2nd, 2010 at Las Cienegas Projects.

For further information about the artist, please visit his website http://www.merkelhess.net/ or Steve Turner Contemporary's website http://www.steveturnercontemporary.com/

Photos by Simone Kussatz
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