"Recent Sculpture: Self-Portrait as Mermaid"
December 4, 1999 - January 22, 2000

The Marsha Mateyka Gallery will conclude its fall season with its second solo exhibition for French sculptor Michele Blondel. This exhibition combines installations of glass sculptures with wall hung pieces of glass and textiles in a celebration of color and luminous surfaces. Opening on December 4, the exhibition continues through January 22. Please note that the gallery will be closed from December 23 through January 1 for the holidays.
Michele Blondel's work was first seen in Washington, DC, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in 1992, in the exhibition, "Reverberations". Recent solo exhibitions for the artist in the U.S. have included those at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign-Urbana, IL, the University of Massachusetts Gallery of Fine Arts in Amherst and the Contemporary Art Forum in Santa Barbara. She has had a residency at the Baccarat Crystal factory in France and, in 1989, she was an artist-in-residence at Pilchuck in Seattle, WA.
Michele Blondel is well known in Europe for installations in museums and churches which probe the mysteries of the scared and the profane. Totally modern in its visual humor and candor, her glass sculpture intertwines spirituality and eroticism. The beauty of the glass is a vehicle for powerful self expression.
On view in this exhibition are new works which are inspired by two legendary figures - the mermaid and the unicorn. According to some folk tales, the mermaid gives up her fish tail in a painful exchange for legs, in order to be with her prince. She leaves the aquatic world of her childhood for an uncertain future on land. Among other things, she symbolizes the sacrifices an individual can make for a union with another person. In medieval tapestries and literature, the unicorn is a mythological animal who appears only to a maiden. This union has long been a symbol for platonic love. The installation of glass sculptures in the front room merges these two legends.
Primarily known for her hand blown glass sculpture, Michele Blondel is now extending her investigation into textiles. This activity is a direct result of ongoing studies in India, funded by a grant from the French government. The artist is currently in the midst of this residency and, in fact, traveled from New Delhi to Washington for the opening of this exhibition.
The applique work in the front room of the gallery uses an image found on Kashmir wedding dresses that mirrors the shape of the mermaid tail.. The artist created the large colorful throw in the corner of the front room from swatches of Indian silk. It is this object which is the source for the "Silk Drawings" above, which are made from threads pulled from the material used in the throw. The threads are held to a vertical surface by static charge. A mirror shelf below catches the threads as the charge dissipates. The fragile quality of this work represents, for the artist, the ephemeral nature of existence.
In the year 2000, Michele Blondel will participate in the Biennial in Seoul, Korea. Her sculptures will also be on view at the Bergen Museum of Art, Bergen, Norway, and will be the subject of a solo exhibition in the Musee d'Agen, Agen, France.

For further information: contact Marsha Mateyka Gallery
phone: 202 328-0088; fax: 202 332-0520


Review: The Washington Post, Thursday, January 6, 2000
by Ferdinand Protzman
"Mermaids in a Crystal Sea of Allusions"
Boiling down Michele Blondel's art to a few simple sentences is an impossible task. Whether she is working with colored glass or textiles, the French sculptor weaves so many metaphors, allegories and allusions into her work that it would take a doctoral dissertation to track them all down.

A scholarly investigation could explore the religion, history, mystery, biology, sexuality and duality that infuses every piece in "Recent Sculpture: Self-Portrait as Mermaid", Blondel's captivating show at Marsha Mateyka Gallery. But no study could ever capture her work's remarkably vivid and very French mix of strength, sensuousness and vulnerability. Her art is utterly unique.
For much of her career, the 51-year-old artist has explored the sacred and the profane, and those notions are the focus of her latest work. At first glance, Blondel's exhibition can seem like an unholy mess of disparate parts just lying around the gallery. But when one considers the titles of the various pieces, they begin to make sense.
"Legend of the Mermaid and the Unicorn", which consists of 26 glass sculptures arranged on the floor by the gallery's front window, is an excellent example. To evoke the mermaid, Blondel begins by creating an amphora shape made from rich red glass tinged with gold. That simple, transparent shape with its lustrous surface calls to mind single-celled organisms, the human womb, ancient Greece, wine and blood.
Blondel then begins to alter that shape by flattening the bottom to resemble fins. In another piece, the fin is split in the middle and starts to look like feet and legs. That effect is heightened by the presence of an ornately embroidered slipper placed near the sculptures.
Through this evolution of mermaid-related shapes, all made from the same red glass, the viewer is pulled into mythology. In folk legends and even contemporary movies such as "Splash", the mermaid is able to take human form to be with her true love. But the transformation into a legged creature is a painful sacrifice. Yet another sculpture, of a pair of spindly legs wearing what look to be hideously uncomfortable shoes, hints that the mermaid has chosen love and aching legs over life as a sea creature.
Interspersed among the mermaid sculptures are works based on the myth of the unicorn, a creature with the body and head of a horse, the hind legs of a stag, the tail of a lion and a single horn in the middle of its forehead. According to legend, the unicorn appeared only to maidens.
Using a kind of spring green glass that also seems to have a high gold content, Blondel creates another metamorphosis of shapes based on the unicorn's horn. The sculptures range from a kind of sluglike blob and green breasts to a tightly twisted braid that can be regarded as phallic. That shape, paired with the mermaid's lower torso is an obvious reference to sexual union.
If it all sounds a bit weird, that's because it is. But amazingly, it works. The mermaid myth serves as an allegory for the choices and sacrifices we make for love, while the unicorn becomes a metaphor for longing, desire and frustration. Both remind the viewer of the very real pain that love can bring.
The glass, which Blondel formulated and worked herself, makes the sculpures come alive. Because they are transparent, they mirror every subtle change in the ambient light. In late afternoon sunlight, they glow, sparkle and take on a molten quality, as if Blondel had just pulled them from the furnace. When the sky is cloudy, the sparkle is muted and the pieces seem cold and solid, as if they were made of perfectly clear colored ice.
Through all those transformations, which reinforce the allegorical shape-shifting, one is always aware that glass is highly breakable and must be handled with care. That vulnerability, that impermanence, defies even the transforming power of love and speaks to the very essence of the human condition.
Other pieces, such as "Holy Water Green", a pair of delicate, ornately wrought glass vessels that look like they would be more at home in a bordello than a cathedral, are more direct explorations of the sacred and the profane. French Catholicism, which produced an ultraconservative aspiring pope in Avignon not so long ago, can be as strange and psychologically charged as any folk tale, and Blondel doesn't shy away from combining religious and erotic imagery. But that's another dissertation.