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Martin Kersels

American, b. 1960


Motor, chain, epoxy, mirrored tiles, and plastic skeleton
72 x 6 x 7 in. (182.88 x 15.24 x 17.78 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

An oversized spine and skull encrusted with irregular rectilinear mirrored tiles and suspended upside down from a rotary motor, Martin Kersels’s Bracelet resembles nothing so much as a ghoulish disco ball—a perverse prop from a campy 1970s low-budget horror movie, or an uncompromisingly graphic memorial to the victims of the AIDS epidemic. Yet there’s no denying its beauty—the timeless appeal of its gold burnish, the ethereal floating illusion created by the swirling cubist petals of light, and the inherent elegance of the vertebral architecture add up to a disquietingly sweet gestalt.

Kersels’s work frequently references the human body, often his (very large) own. But the scale of this spine—sixty-seven inches where the human average is twenty-eight—is even larger. The skull, however, is conspicuously smaller, rendering it a mere charm dangling from the title’s hinged spinal “bracelet.”

Prior to modernism, sculpture was almost exclusively identified with three-dimensional renderings of the human figure. This form of representation is one with considerable art historical baggage, and Kersels rarely resorts to it. While distinctly of its postmodern time, Bracelet embodies unmistakable echoes from other eras and places, from mannerist distortions of scale and proportion to Byzantine mosaics, from Flemish vanitas still lifes to the aesthetics of a Home Shopping Network display.

Kersels’s Bracelet is a complex artwork, with layers of symbolic resonance, possessing sensationalism, dark humor, a critique of commodification, and savvy references to goth glam, the memento mori (reminder of death) tradition, and Mesoamerican funeral ornamentation. And it spins!

Doug Harvey

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