Collector's items: Mears gladly tarnishes her reputation

Lindsey Mears, "Abide."
Lindsey Mears, "Abide."

In the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi, which recognizes the beauty of imperfection, the word sabi refers specifically to a beauty acquired through age and wear. Think graceful curves of peeling paint or the varied patina of tarnished metal. One artist who venerates sabi is Lindsey Mears, whose exhibition, "Album: Winter into Spring," is currently on view at the McGuffey Art Center, and her artworks are like shrines created for its dusty altar.

The 51 pieces in Mears' show include hand-bound books, wall-mounted assemblages, freestanding sculptures, and shadow boxes. Although her pieces incorporate found objects–- threadbare velvet boxes, fragments of wasp's nests, faded photographs, and bedraggled feathers–- Mears also uses a wide range of skilled art-making techniques, ranging from printing to paper-making to electroform plating, to enhance her collected treasures.

Mears's aesthetic recalls Joseph Cornell's–- particularly in her piece, "The Temple of Costly Experience"–- but her approach is decidedly feminine. With a mix of nostalgia and wryness, she examines old-fashioned notions of womanhood. Themes of mending and sewing, as well as ornamentation and cosmetic beauty, run through her work.

In "Vanity for a conjurer," a fan-shaped box sits open, resembling a lady's dressing table. Mears has placed an ivory-handled mirror, embellished with feathers, against the worn satin upholstery of the upright lid. A matching ivory-edged comb lies next to a wisp of horsehair tied with grosgrain ribbon at the bottom of the box, surrounded by cloudy glass bottles, one containing a copper-plated wishbone, another old buttons. The effect is at once nostalgic, curious, and humorous.

The piece also highlights Mears' flair for theatricality. Many of her works involve stage-like settings, such as inĀ  "The Temple of Costly Experience," where Mears creates a proscenium arch with fabric swags and small bells. In "Tomorrow is Ours," viewers become actors, gazing into an illuminated mirror, its silver scratched away to reveal an interior where a dove soars upward in a blue, starry heaven.

Throughout "Album: Winter into Spring," Mears shows a dark sense of humor in the way she juxtaposes elements. For instance, a glass disk of gilded thorns sits at the center of a rose-filled jewelry box in "Learning about the Thorns." Her compositions have an intuitive energy, but Mears has carefully considered the impact of every detail.

In her devotion to sabi, Mears nudges viewers to bathe in nostalgia and consider anew the beauty of things forgotten and left behind.

Lindsey Mears' exhibition, "Album: Winter into Spring," is on view through March 31 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NE. 295-7973.

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