Arts Magazine: Homo domesticus

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

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Melissa Stang creates complex, drawing-based installations that broker three-dimensional ideas. She plays with the relationship between the site and the art installed there, or the tension between an object and the image drawn or painted on it. Stang continually navigates new and unexpected territory, and in her search for drawing formats, anything is fair game.

For eighteen years Melissa Stang has lived in a long narrow studio that in a previous century formed the alley between two Minneapolis warehouses. Her workspace was once the site of a toy factory. It is still charged with the energy of replication, energy that resonates with Stang, who is rumored to have "compulsive representational tendencies."

An avid drawer and collector, Stang lives amid countless images from nature-seashells, butterflies, old black cats, a pet snake, and horses, always horses. Equestrian images surround her: her childhood collection of Breyer figurines, jewelry, dishes with decals, and photographs fill her studio space, as does a tack area jammed with saddles, bridles, ribbons, and riding equipment. Her profound appreciation for nature, developed when she was growing up in central New Jersey, grounds her scattered aesthetic, obsessive drawing habits, and frenetic artistic identity.

While Stang created multireferential installations-complex amalgamations of images and objects-she is a drawer, first and foremost-a drawer with an exquisite linear sensibility. Her precision and sensitivity are notable, especially given that she most often works with permanent media. Amid the seeming chaos, Stang makes a clear and singular commitment to the mark made.

Stang's projects often play off of the exhibition location, as did her recent installation at No Name Exhibitions. Knowing the gallery was once a soap factory, she responded to its history as a manufacturing site by drawing fake product order books and presenting a multitude of art products on palettes and other industrial surfaces. Stang also has a reputation for working with unusual materials, often playing with the meaning carried by the material in question. Such was the case with a series of fossil drawing she made on faux stone tablets.

In Homo domesticus, Stang presents two new works. The first, From the Real Life Drawing Co-OP: Still Life with Domestic Disarray, is a monumental, irregularly shaped and assembled painting that seeks to reconcile the often-unattainable cultural expectations that she experiences as a woman artist. The painting sports cartoon-style images from her real-life life, complete with a cubist sense of space that not only tips tables up, but gives a fresh look under her kitchen sink and inside a closet heaped with shoes and dirty laundry.

The second part of Stang's exhibit is titled Period Room for a Moist Temperate Environment (Or, A Natural History Guide for Interior Decorators). Here she depicts a domestic interior of a female herpetologist that is filled with furniture from yesteryear and assorted feminine domestic crafts bedecked with lizards and amphibians. Through this work Stang challenges museums' presentation and ideas of "high" and "low" art.

On a more serious note, Stang sets a table with three-legged frog-patterned china (all drawn, of course, by Stang). In doing so, she reminds us to heed nature's warnings and pay homage to the many small creatures that have sacrificed their lives for human "progress."

Still Stang is never didactic. In the end, her art is a tribute to the freedom that comes from reconciling the beauty and chaos of life.

Cynde Randall is an artist and the Senior Program Associate for the MAEP.

American Gothic (Saturday Night/Sunday Morning)and Homo domesticusare presented by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP), an artist-managed curatorial department of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. MAEP is made possible by generous support from the Jerome Foundation.

Melissa Stang's work is made possible by the generous support of Susan and Mark Lange, Stan Hubbard, Bob and Julie Weisberg, Heather Stang, Willie Willette, Paper by Proppe, Budget Paint and Wallpaper, Penco Graphic Supply, Inc., Art + Architecture, City Salvage, Youngblood Lumber, Ralph Ribble of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Christine Heykants Photography, Bernadette Dodge, SR Harris Fabric, the Biology Department of the Science Museum of Minnesota, and a Career Opportunity Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature.

Citation: Cynde Randall, Homo domesticus: New work by Melissa Stang, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2001.