A/Part: Constructions by Jeremy Mayer
There are those rare moments when you come across something extraordinary where you least expect it. This is how I felt when I first encountered the work of Jeremy Mayer in Tahoe City some four years ago.
Quietly, tirelessly, obsessively, Mayer creates finely detailed, intricate pieces of art. Though he has worked in a variety of media, he is best known for his typewriter sculpture. Three such pieces are on exhibition in A/Part: Constructions by Jeremy Mayer at the Nevada Museum of Art through Dec. 3. And though all are a treat to experience, the most recent work, “Nude III (Olympia), 2007"—a reclining life-size female nude—shows, more so than his earlier works, further mastery of the medium to sensuous effect.
To experience Jeremy’s Mayer’s work is almost the opposite of what one would expect having heard a description of it. Mayer assembles the parts of defunct manual typewriters into figures, mostly human though he has previously created cats, crickets and the like. The three pieces on exhibit are a droopy-eyed male bust, full-size male nude, and “Olympia.” The common logical impression such a medium gives is that these sculptures must be mechanical, robotic. Au contraire, the pieces are surprisingly soft and sensuous, especially in the case of the female.
Mayer’s detailed knowledge of anatomy is evident as well as his depth of experience with all the many parts of various models of typewriters; Mayer doesn’t alter or solder the parts—he tries to not even bend them—they are all assembled. The lifelike appearance is therefore a result of putting the exact correct part in the correct place. Such attention to detail does not come quickly—the full human forms take up to 1,200 hours of delicate labor to complete.
It is Mayer’s intention that his work not appear cold. His references and influences are more art historical than mechanical. This is obviously the case with “Olympia,” the title a reference to both the typewriter manufacturer as well as Manet’s famously shocking nude by the same name. In 1865, Manet unveiled his work at the Paris Salon to the outrage of viewers. (So controversial was it, two policemen were assigned to protect the painting from harm.) The canvas featured a naked woman, full-facing the viewer, lounging on a couch in front of some curtains.
The uproar was a result of such an unabashedly realistic portrayal of nudity heretofore not seen in the art world. By comparison, though Mayer’s work is not, due to our (somewhat) changed cultural climate, so shocking, it does share a similar regal, unapologetic sensuousness. The curve of her spine, the delicate rib structure, the evocative facial expression … Mayer’s “Olympia” is alluring and actually very sexy.
Beyond such admittedly heady comparisons, it’s difficult to place Mayer’s work in the context of the larger art world. There simply isn’t anyone doing quite what he does and with such dogged obsession. Beyond the art world however, it does readily relate to our times.
The repurposing of such antiquated junk—remember, these typewriters no longer function—to works of art falls in line with the current eco-mania. Further, such machines strike an emotional chord of nostalgia.
Treat yourself. Go look at these three gems. They are truly unique, astonishing in both detail and beauty. They are truly works of art, with soul and personality coaxed out of a jumble of old metal parts.