Matthias Merkel Hess, "Hereafter"

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It’s easy to like the multitude of ceramics replicating household goods (gas cans, flashlights, coolers) that make up Matthias Merkel Hess’s New York solo debut. Older-looking appliances (’50s-style blenders) evoke nostalgia, while other banalities (a row of Speed Sticks) seem absurdly funny when rendered as fine art. Beautiful glazes, like the lively red and teal spots on a stoneware garbage can, lend otherwise unexalted items an enchanting strangeness.

Merkel Hess turns the assumption that pottery should be functional on its head: His casting process destroys practical eBay-bought stuff in order to realize objects of contemplation. As a result, striking designs that usually go unrecognized are revealed, in such works as a clamshell takeout container and a gorgeous, gold-lustered soda bottle.

The surfeit of merchandise recalls Warhol’s repeating Brillo Boxes, but Merkel Hess strips away brand markers; his sculptures transcend the ordinary by virtue of their unironic handcrafting. Arranged on low pedestals and a long, tall shelf in the middle of the gallery, the installation brings to mind the minimalist chic of sparsely stocked boutiques, as well as the makeshift crowding of garages packed with unused mixers, cassette players and DustBusters. The exhibit’s title, “Hereafter,” suggests pharaonic possessions accompanying the departed into the afterlife: a gentle send-up of the value we place on both art and everyday objects.—Merrily Kerr

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