Melanie Bilenker | In Bed
May 18 – June 10, 2012
A recent recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Melanie Bilenker’s work is an exciting mix of technical ingenuity and profoundly intimate concept. Translating the historic art of Victorian hair jewelry into work that reflects upon the contemporary era her delicate pendants and brooches are wearable art objects, depicting ordinary moments of everyday life—making lunch, bathing, washing dishes—with “drawings” made from resin, gold, silver, and the artist’s own hair. “I am looking for ways to conjure a sense of home for the viewer,” Bilenker states, referring to both her subject matter and the medium of human hair. “I see hair as proof of existence, a souvenir.” Often cited as a leader in the movement to return to craftsmanship in jewelry making, Bilenker has received commissions from the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the National Museum of Scotland, among others. Her work is in numerous public and private collections and in 2012 she was in museum exhibitions around the world including: The Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s 40 Under 40 and Unexpected Pleasures at the Design Museum in London. Bilenker’s work also be will feature prominently in an exhibition at the Designmuseo in Helsinki and New York’s Metropolitan Musuem of Art in 2014.
The Victorians kept lockets of hair and miniature portraits painted with ground hair and pigment to secure the memory of a lost love. In much the same way, I secure my memories through photographic images rendered in lines of my own hair, the physical remnants. I do not reproduce events, but quiet minutes, the mundane, the domestic, the ordinary moments.
I expect artists to be self-absorbed; and I expect young people to be similarly so in this day and age. When one of these artists is also highly attuned to the emotional emanations of the past, and can translate them into something both evocative and fresh, it is a memorable moment in a curator’s life. – Ulysses Dietz