Eight recent glazed and fired ceramic tiles by Michaela Meise are like ancient accounting tokens merged with modern sculpture. At a time when the market dominates so much art conversation, these small clay reliefs, which she calls “Money Faces,” are eccentrically engaging.
For her second solo show at Richard Telles Fine Art, the Berlin-based Meise has carved crude individual faces into slabs of clay, none much larger than a foot per side and most smaller, each about an inch-and-a-half thick. Because the image is concave, with a deep indentation for the nose, it almost seems as if the currency were made by pressing a face into wet mud.
By contrast, small chunky disks and rectangles randomly protrude from each rough-hewn surface — shapes that, given the context, suggest coins and bills. The reliefs are glazed in one or two shiny colors — cherry red, turquoise, denim blue, crackled white, etc. — and the casualness with which they were made seems almost childlike. Their fragility is self-evident.
Art, not unlike that nickel or dollar bill in your pocket, is an object with an image on it that gains monetary value according to socially contrived consensus rather than intrinsic worth. Meise's “play money” at once embodies the omnipresent art market and spoofs it. That's no mean feat.