Issue 63 November-December 2001 RSS

Lucy McKenzie

Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne, Germany


Lucy McKenzie is a painter whose exhibitions are inspired by history and influenced by design and Modernism: from Scottish Art Deco to Vorticism, Constructivism and various schools of Realism. The way she handles paint is casual, and her appropriation of pictures from the media (often from Eastern European sporting events) looks somehow improvised.

In this exhibition, entitled ‘Global Joy’, McKenzie mined neglected aesthetic reservoirs. A series of snapshots, presented like evidence in a glass cabinet, documented the artist meeting her friend Paulina Olowska in Poland (Plastyczna Integracja, all works 2001). On a wall at the edge of the Danziger Solidarnosc shipyard, the two artists installed paintings that recalled the public art of the former Eastern Bloc mixed with the naivety and spontaneity of McKenzie’s own motifs. Her images are full of romantic representations of girls and idealistic youth culture created from opposition and self-sufficiency.

Two sets of pictures were hung opposite each other. One included an image describing the position of the artist and her friends on the map of the art world. The shadow of her sister reading deferentially in a classroom at twilight, falls on the eastern part of the European map on the wall in Kerry. Opposite this realistic but not completely resolved picture, is a portrait of the artist’s friend Keith Farqhuar, his Napoleonic shadow falling over the map of England (Keith). The stylistic approach here bypasses the Modern, which McKenzie and Olowska label as ‘parochialism’. This empathy for the local, bizarre and petit bourgeois recalls the ‘Germanness’ and abstruse humour of Martin Kippenberger, although McKenzie’s work lacks Kippenberger’s pointed rhetoric.

For the group of pictures ‘Global Joy I’, McKenzie adapted the famous GDR-murals on the façade of the ‘Haus des Lehrers’ in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Yet what the artist really seems interested in is the typical delicate pastel colours of the GDR designs, which she makes even more pale and lightweight. Her images include a girl aiming a revolver out across the frame, and a reference to Gerhard Richter.

The third element of the exhibition suggested an almost educational perspective in McKenzie’s obscure world. On the cover of a Russian 1991 bootleg of Sonic Youth’s DayDream Nation (1988), is a photograph of a candle, a substitute for the reproduction of Gerhard Richter’s painting Candle (1982), which appeared on the original. In the context of this exhibition the image functioned as a reminder of Richter’s own East German past. McKenzie juxtaposed the Russian bootleg with an invented record sleeve, a reproduction of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom to Worship (1943), one of the most frequently reproduced art works in the United States, whose monochrome colour scheme was intended to minimize the ethnic differences between the praying people represented. Here McKenzie uncovers a complex system of references about legitimate and illegitimate culture, and about the politically ambivalent effects of public and popular art. Although her gesture filters resistance through a well-lit art gallery, and despite her over-casual approach to such ideologically spent, dusty material, a soulful and socially aware imagination is evident in her work.

Anke Kempkes

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Issue 63, November-December 2001

by Anke Kempkes

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