A 20 Year Retrospective Proves Melissa Stern Is Stronger Than Dirt

Bring yourself into the odd and sentimental world of artist Melissa Stern, now being presented in the Hudson Valley at The Lockwood Gallery. Melissa Stern: Stronger Than Dirt, is on view now through July 11, 2021. Curated by Alan Goolman, Stronger Than Dirt is Stern’s first retrospective, featuring clay sculptures, assemblages, and drawings highlighting the past twenty years of her artmaking, “mess-making,” experimentation, and social commentary.

Guilt, Mixed Media on Paper, 22.5x30in, 2012.

Guilt, Mixed Media on Paper, 22.5x30in, 2012.

Stronger Than Dirt is not only a record of Melissa Stern’s zig-zagging, gutsy career, but a time capsule of pop culture, advertising fads, and visual icons hailing back from the artist’s youth.

“When I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV. I loved the ads as much as the shows. There are jingles still stuck in my head. I’ll always remember Ajax because it was “Stronger Than Dirt!” I loved and hated these commercials that featured hardscrabble gals at war with household grease, grime and soap scum, the wrongdoing of their filthy, feral children and their hapless, slob husbands. Women were workhorses who lived to make the world clean. I wanted to make a mess, not spend my life cleaning them up.”
– Melissa Stern

Inside the Gallery Show. Foreground left: Guston’s Radio, 6 x 24 x 4 inches, Clay, Oil Paint, Radio, 2017.

Inside the Gallery Show. Foreground left: Guston’s Radio, 6 x 24 x 4 inches, Clay, Oil Paint, Radio, 2017.

Upon entering the gallery, you are met with a myriad of surreal, yet somewhat familiar forms, caricatures and symbolism. Grinning figures stand tall, some with feet nailed to the ground, which merge seamlessly with vintage magazine clippings and layered drawings. Melissa Stern’s world is populated with beings who exhibit a stubborn resilience in the face of obstacles of a world unseen.

Bark, 16 x 15 x 1.75 in, oil stick, charcoal, wood, 2019.

Bark, 16 x 15 x 1.75 in, oil stick, charcoal, wood, 2019.

With Stern’s work utilizing a variety of mixed materials, she puts on display complex emotions through seemingly simplified forms. This ambivalence of the human experience is truly what the work speaks about, but you must decipher it first. Whether these forms make direct commentary on a narrative of Stern’s own life, or the lives of the viewers, the message still remains relatable; as universal emotions like joy, fear, friendship, and confusion are easily recognized through her use of clay, wood, found objects, and drawing.

Beehive, 30 x 10 x 10 in, Clay, Oil Paint, Paper, Oil Stick, Papier-Mâché. 2018.

Beehive, 30 x 10 x 10 in, Clay, Oil Paint, Paper, Oil Stick, Papier-Mâché. 2018.

There is an ongoing sense of dark humor that resides in the works in this show. Never slapstick, never a cheap shot; rather the works embody a deeply felt sense of the absurdity in the world all around us.

Stronger Than Dirt is audacious and defiant, challenging its viewer to parse through layers of wordplay and cultural references; shadows of lost memories and bright bursts of jubilation; and react, finding for themselves a new home in this fantastical space.

Inside the Gallery Show.

Inside the Gallery Show.

A feat of mess and glory, Stern writes, Stronger Than Dirt is “A dust-busting, back-breaking battle of wits between me, a blank sheet of paper and a bucket of wet clay. I’ve made a home for my people, real and created. The push and pull of relationships. The beauty, flotsam and jetsam of culture writ small. This is two decades of work from the mean streets of Manhattan to the dusty dirt roads of the Catskills.”

Visit Melissa Stern’s Stronger Than Dirt 20-Year Retrospective at The Lockwood Gallery
On view from now until July 11th, 2021.
747 NY-28, Kingston NY 12401. Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit www.thelockwoodgallery.com.
For press inquiries, contact andrew@andrewjosephpr.com


About The Artist | Born in 1958, Melissa Stern grew up in Philadelphia. She received a BA in 1980 from Wesleyan University in both Anthropology and Studio Art, and an MFA in Ceramics from SUNY New Paltz in 1984. Her work is exhibited internationally, including nine solo shows in NYC. Her multi-media installation, The Talking Cure, was introduced in 2012 and continues its nationwide tour to museums throughout the US. Stern lives and works in New York City and Shokan, NY.

Melissa Stern’s work is in numerous museum and corporate collections including Museum of Art and Design, New York; American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, California; The Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis; The Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock; Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, Connecticut; International Collage Center, Pennsylvania; Library of Congress: Rare Books and Special Collections, Washington DC; the Stavanger Museum, Norway; Bear Stearns & Co., New York; Designtex, New York; The Kohler Company Collection, Sheboygan, Wisconsin; The Metropolitan Home Magazine Design Collection, New York; News Corp Inc., New York; and JP Morgan, New York to name a few.


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