Sarah Meyers Brent’s solo exhibition at Kelley Stelling Contemporary in Manchester, New Hampshire has as its center-piece several installation artworks which are master strokes of controlled chaos. Basketfuls of clothing pour out of a neatly encircled oval wall molding and others seemingly tumble and drip and push through a tall, monolith of sheetrock which has delicate Tiffany-blue coloration on one side. The monolith echoes an iconic Anne Truitt square column sculpture but with artifacts of raw “real life” literally bursting out of such an austere form.
These pieces composed primarily with a mess of clothes, which the artist says explore the ups and downs of motherhood, also conjure up a certain fraught domesticity of middle America where many a messy household deploys the cellar stairs as a laundry chute. Another confection of clothes and gooey foam insulation defies gravity by arcing at a seemingly impossible angle from a pedestal. Are the clothes joyful and celebratory or are they like the scattered clothes of disaster victims? Both interpretations seem plausible.
There are also some slight tinges of sexuality and childhood loss of innocence inherent in the clothes items and how they are painstakingly arrayed. Prominently draped tights and a large black bra betray explicit femininity while carefully crumpled and arranged latex gloves look—upon Freudian first glance—to be male prophylactics. With relief, the viewer soon figures out they are not. But the momentary flash of recognition is unsettling and does its provocative work. One small hole in the sheetrock of A Beautiful Mess II has the tiniest little bit of cloth pushing out—is it meant to be distantly sexual; or just an innocent finger pushing clothes through? This ambiguity in some of the installation work is edgy and makes the pieces more arresting than the sum of their banal, every-day-clothing parts.
While the show is ostensibly a presentation of site-specific installation art, Brent’s paintings are not to be neglected. The jumble of clothing in the installations gives way to a productive angularity of line and form and color in paintings of massed, botanical forms. Several especially large canvases harken to the works of abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell. Another painting, and a series of works on paper, have pleasing, controlled lines rendered in crisp charcoal which call to mind the spiky draftsmanship of Egon Schiele and the patterned colors of Gustav Klimt’s landscapes or Edouard Vuillard interiors where floral wall-paper motifs are common.
A Beautiful Mess is an exquisite mess, like life itself, and well worth your time.
The exhibition is on view until June 17th
Kelley Stelling Contemporary
221 Hanover Street, Manchester, New Hampshire
Photo credit: Matthew Lomanno