Fall 2011, Degree Critical

Thursday 12/08/2011

Michelle Lopez. Vertical Neck (2011); installation view. Courtesy Simon Preston Gallery, New York.

Monoliths and Minimalism

by Sara Christoph (Class of 2012)

Brooklyn-based sculptor Michelle Lopez leaves no surface untouched: she abuses them all. Her materials, which have ranged from tree trunks to wrecked car seats to robotic limbs, are prolifically scarred, usually wilting, buckling or drooping under the stress. For her second show at Simon Preston, Lopez has taken to an airbrushed aesthetic, even if only to let it crumple before our eyes.

Three narrow sculptures (Blue Angel series, 2011), all over ten feet tall, lean precariously against two opposing gallery walls. In each, a tall stretch of painted aluminum has been folded in half like a magazine. The front surface, like a car door salvaged after an accident, is pocked with dents and nicks. While one sculpture’s exterior is painted a flat, opaque white, the other two gleam in a highly reflective silver—like discarded tin foil thrown against the wall. Mirror images can be seen with funhouse distortions, face and body being stretched and magnified with each varying angle of inspection.

Despite the assembly-line materials (the only pigment used in the show is auto body paint), there is a strong impulse to anthropomorphize the work. Each sculpture seems to either be gaining the strength to stand, or collapsing in on itself after a great exertion. The title of the show, “Vertical Neck,” emphasizes this feeling, as if the sculptures themselves were craning their head upwards to witness something beyond the ceiling. In Your Board (2011), a piece of grip tape-lined plywood once held potential to be a skateboard, but after drastic warping it has practically folded in half. Her sculptures can’t sustain the upright gesture and flop over in failure, surrendering their forms to gravity.

Michelle Lopez. Your Board (2011); maple plywood and grip tape, 60 x 16 by 4 inches. Courtesy Simon Preston Gallery, New York.

After the badly-bruised monolith of Blue Angels, a work titled Flare (2011) seems strangely meek. Eight attenuated drips of clay are meticulously pinned to the wall, flaccid even in their iridescence. Here Lopez’s conversation with Minimalism becomes obvious: Flare is named after a 2008 work by John McCracken. But where McCracken’s row of rainbow-colored pilings confidently radiate a smooth sheen, Lopez’s tattered tails droop against the wall in colors a teenage girl might choose for nail polish.

This isn’t the first time Lopez has offered a critique-laden exploration of the pristine surface fetish; in 2001, she covered the entire exterior of a car in a lean layer of flesh-colored leather. But unlike the imposing structures of classic (i.e. macho) Minimalism, her surfaces are flamboyantly paper-thin. When looking at a Blue Angel from the side we can see the gaping nothingness within.