Shelf Life / Mary "Mimi" Frank
August 5, 2010 - September 12, 2010

Mary “Mimi” Frank loves a variety of sculptural materials. But her first love is steel, the material she has chosen for the work in this exhibit. Frank took a light touch: The forms are space, outlined. Developing the forms was an unplanned, intuitive process. The scale is slight. These factors work against our usual expectations for steel—the material of structure, weight, and massive scale.

Frank enforced strict limits on her process (welding) and on her material (steel rod) to make this body of work. But she took a very different tack on the shapes she made, vigorously pursuing an “anything goes” attitude toward the forms. The row of houses is based on a precise geometric volume, a kind of icon, with which she’s worked often in the past. The wall of organic forms was a series of games she played with herself: What can I make now? What can’t I make? I’ll go for that! I don’t like this one—I’ll cut it apart and change it up. It was a loose flexible process, undertaken within a hard and serious medium, the purpose of which was to “see what happens.” These are steel sculptures with a sense of humor and fun. They have a relationship to the early pioneering steel work of David Smith, pushing his ideas of whimsy into a more open place. But, unlike Smith, Frank creates a powerful sense of three-dimensional volume out of—literally—thin air.

Many of Frank’s forms are containers—the iconic form of the house, a small pod, a vase-like structure. These refer to a positive sense of containment—security and safety, a holding—rather than the negative sense of restriction. All of these forms speak to a kind of softness and comfort antithetical to the material with which they are made. It’s significant that many of the small pieces were scaled down, rather than the more typical process of scaling up. The question that pushed the size of the forms was: How small can an object get, and still maintain its power?

This is powerful work indeed, containing contradictions, engaging us with its sense of whimsy, all the while maintaining its strong and evocative presence.

Beverly Ress

Beverly Ress is an artist/curator who serves as an adjunct professor of visual arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, and The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.