Meridith McNeal

Paper Dresses

Life sized and miniature dresses made of maps, sheet music and hand-made paper 

His Mother's Wedding Dress, 2004                                              Tiny Fringed Dress Under Bell Jar, 2007                                  1958 Best Barbie Dress, 2006

Meridith McNeal’s work appears, in the way it is made, closely akin to what might be termed craft-based or perhaps formerly as “women’s arts” such as sewing and crocheting, along with incorporating images of garments such as dresses, shoes and those accouterments closely associated with women’s identity. Along with that, it firmly roots itself in a sense of place, both literally and societally, with the use of old maps, images, sheet music, catalogs, etc.

So, what makes it better than work out there of a similar nature? I can answer that only by saying what it is not. It is not retro, or cute, or quaint or derivative or homespun. And for me, most importantly, I don’t find it pedagogical or laced with a corrective agenda. It can give the initial appearance of being “simple” but it holds your attention in ways that simple work often cannot. It is not only about who we are but the “where” and “how” of who we are. Its themes and messages are not weighted down but are lively and dance with great immediacy. It is rare to find work of this nature succeeding in that respect, let alone by an artist who serves partly in an educational capacity.

Though Ms. McNeal reaches back in time for much of the imagery she employs, I think that in the growing “globalness” of how we look at things and define ourselves today, at least in the art world and much of what it produces, it is surely important (perhaps vital?) for work to be seen that encourages viewers and provides them the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with their own sense of place, with the small things that shape us in big ways, both in how we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived by others. This her work accomplishes without being imbued with nostalgia or infused with the quick fix message provided by images pulled from popular culture so often employed today. Her site-specific creations often address this person-place-time idea very well. From her artistic response to 9/11 to her response to the city where women first got the right to vote, Ms. McNeal’s work feels lyrical, lesson free and deserving of our attention.

Steven Butz
Long Island City, NY

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