Tire Iron #29 10/12/01

Sharon Engelstein: Inflated
Glassell School of Art
September 20 - November 25, 2001

Conceived in the placeless, idealized world behind the screen of a computer monitor, Engelstein's works are closer in spirit to the harsh grid-based constructivism of Burgoyne Diller or Georges Vantongerloo than the hippy-dippy nature worship of Arp, Moore or Bourgeois. Like Lego blocks, each complex form is built out of simple geometric shapes chosen from a rigidly defined vocabulary of spheres, cylinders and ovoids without reference to the natural world. Having mastered this highly abstracted language, Engelstein uses it to make cuddly toy animals.

Engelstein's two giant balloons use Glassell's cavernous atrium as few shows do. Boya hangs ponderously overhead like the ancient Underdog balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, giving us an excellent view of its anus, Twins is splayed nearby in a helpless infant sprawl. Shiny plastic-coated nylon and the continuous whir of the fans that keep the pieces inflated reinforce the Glassell's hangar-like industrial decor. Despite their enormous size and flamboyant technique, the two inflatables are less interesting than the half dozen small prototypes clustered in the alcove nearby.

The best part of Engelstein's prototypes is their delicately nuanced, highly expressive gestures. Bumbry links mama and baby versions of a tubby alien. Mr. Tibs crouches like a wary cat. Scooter humps its rump in an obscene crawl, and Gila contorts itself into a comical and unlikely Kama Sutra pose involving a giraffe, a teddy bear and a snake.

One of the dangers in working with a new technique is that you might get better at it. Engelstein's latest 3D prints are better than similar pieces in her Boolean Unions show at the CAM last year; pure white, rather than doughy yellow, they are more about pure form and less about manufacturing technology. The elegant blending of shapes in the new pieces makes the older ones seem forced and over complex.

With the deadpan blandness of IKEA modernism, Engelstein presents a silly mishmash of toy imagery, suggesting stuffed animals, cartoon faces, and appliances. From the mechanical sexuality of Scooter to the toy robot futurism of Mr. Tibs, Engelstein unites a flair for precise caricature with unusual technique to create a collection of curious pieces poised between high abstraction and carnival prizes.

- Bill Davenport


Bill Davenport is an artist and writer from
Houston, whose quirky objects have appeared
in many shows everywhere. Visit his website at

All imges courtesy the artist and the Glassell School.


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Sharon Engelstein, Boya, 2001
vinyl coated nylon and forced air, 180 x 126 x 276"

Sharon Engelstein, Twins, 2001
vinyl coated nylon and forced air, 120 x 225 x 120"

Sharon Engelstein, Bumbry, 2001
stereolithography 3D print (photosensitive resin)
4.75 x 5.25 x 8"

Sharon Engelstein, Mr. Tibs, 2001
stereolithography 3D print (photosensitive resin)
45 x 5.5 x 8"

Sharon Engelstein, Scooter, 2001
stereolithography 3D print (photosensitive resin)
5 x 4.75 x 9.25"


Engelstein links:
Her own site!
"Boolean Unions"
Engelstein & Aaron Parazette in Galveston
pics of older works
Flying Saucer (1998)



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