Compression and refinement


The density that Arthur Mednick’s small welded steel objects imply, mounted on the walls of the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery at University of the Arts, is a lie, yet not a lie (left, “Number One #3,” 2004).

The small (mostly about 9″ x 9″) shapes are hollow–a fact belied by their appearance. Yet they are built of layers of steel plates, stacked and welded–the not-a-lie density.

At first I wavered back and forth between whether they were made of steel or wood. Their black, transluscent patina barely reveals strata that turn out to be the ground welds, cold to the touch.

But whatever their facture, they made me think of tiny, precisely cast widgets for which my brother-the-metalurgist refined a process of manufacture. The widgets were for high-tech machinery and fire arms, as I recall (I could be wrong here), but they were shiny little objects with the weight of jacks, articulate with unexpected tiny variations.

mednickunnamed1Mednick’s shapes are elegant, many of them pillow- or Chiclet-like, so pared down and Zen that I thought of Japanese ink blocks and Japanese “pillows.” I also thought about fingerprints. But then some of them are so very sexy, in a pared down Modernist way, that Zen doesn’t quite fit the bill. I’m thinking here specifically of “Unnamed #1” (right) and the legs below left.

mednicklegsThese works have nothing in common with the drawing line of welded-metal sculpture making that began in Spain and came through Picasso. They are closer to the reductive marble and cast shapes of Brancusi.

But they have a subtle tooth that I don’t associate with Brancusi’s sleek objects, and therein lies their humor and their friendliness.

Their scale–10-pounders you can hang on a small wall puts them in the realm of household objects and well-worn tools and wall buttons.


The show also includes a series of drawings of bound pillows, extremely sexy and not necessarily about bondage but really about shape and squeezing volumes (sorry about this less-than-professional image with light and shadow reflections in the glass).


It also includes a single scupture of bricks and mortar ground into a smooth, edgeless shape called “Wall Piece.” All of these pieces were sensuous with a touch of dry humor.

Mednick, a Philadelphia native whose education includes time spent at UArts predecessor Philadelphia College of Art, as well as the Academy, has had a number of one-person shows, including in Berlin and at Margaret Thatcher Projects in New York. This is his first Philadelphia solo exhibit.

mednickstarMednick will be speaking Wednesday at 6 p.m. at UArts, and I’ve been assured that brownies will be served (that’s because guess who’s speaking at the ICA at exactly the same time–Lisa Yuscavage; so get out your daisy and start plucking the petals. Hmmmm. Mednick and dense brownies; Yuscavage and nothing –unlesss you’re a member and are invited to the 5 p.m. wine event. Mednick and brownies; Yuscavage and nothing. Mednick; Yuscavage…)