Mike Lopez Shares His Own Thrills and Doubts on Being an Artist

The artist’s installation at Material Exhibitions, Chicago, is both cynical and deferential towards the art world

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BY Alex Jen in Exhibition Reviews , US Reviews | 27 OCT 21

Mired in Hydrocal plaster, a tiny balsa-wood hanging post has been slathered with paint and placed off to the side in ‘Dealer’s Choice’, Mike Lopez’s latest exhibition at Material, Chicago. A doubled red heart has been drawn on, too, and the colours – ascending in bands of cerulean, lime and goldenrod yellow – feel giddy amid the sculpture’s macabre implications. Nearby is a periwinkle sign that reads ‘CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE’, home of Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th slasher franchise (1980–ongoing), while dozens of component sculptures lie across makeshift scaffolds, the floor and windowsills of the space. Taking the form of little plaster altars or lumber offcuts wrapped in dyed canvas, the works in ‘Dealer’s Choice’ come together like a poorly planned village. Tensions in taste, tone and display abound, but Lopez’s blithe sincerity is unmistakably felt through it all.

Mike Lopez, 'Dealer's Choice', 2021, exhibition view, Material, Chicago. Courtesy: the artist and Material, Chicago
Mike Lopez, ‘Dealer's Choice’, 2021, exhibition view, Material Exhibitions, Chicago. Courtesy: the artist and Material, Chicago; photography: mboshphoto

This sense of chaos stems from the artist’s decision, in tandem with curator Lauren Leving, to give carte blanche to a series of handlers, who were paid to install the works over the course of three performances. The opening iteration was a stressful affair: artists Issac Vazquez and Maggie Wong could be seen moving around a miniature construction of facing walls with images of burning candles and snaking vines. While individual works are not specified and nothing is titled, this last could be a sloppy tribute to Gerhard Richter or to Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation (1988), whose cover art borrows the image of Richter’s painting Kerze (Candle, 1982). Glazed trinkets that recall aquarium coral or cherubic Hallmark card decorations are scattered around the space and a strange vulgarity surfaces in two sculptures of an erect phallus and a hand cupping ejaculate. The former is corralled behind raised planks and the latter is given a canvas-wrapped block to hold, as if Vazquez and Wong tried their best to obscure the works’ indelicacy. Lopez’s louche, handmade haste across these new works evokes the absurd charm of Peter Fischli & David Weiss, particularly their Suddenly this Overview (1981–ongoing), a group of over 350 inquisitive, unfired clay models of disparate events, words and ideas.

Mike Lopez, 'Dealer's Choice', 2021, exhibition view, Material, Chicago. Courtesy: the artist and Material, Chicago
Mike Lopez, ‘Dealer's Choice’, 2021, exhibition view, Material Exhibitions, Chicago. Courtesy: the artist and Material, Chicago; photography: mboshphoto

Leaning against the far wall is a lineup of canvas-wrapped wall studs of various lengths. These minimal building blocks have become something of a signature for the artist. Almost always, the base is meticulously cross-stitched with a leather boot and each block is stamped, sometimes on a dangling pull tab, with the date of its completion. One piece is just above a metre tall, sheathed in a tie-dye burnt orange on the verge of looking patina green. Laid like utensils on a platform are similar works in miniature, thread bulging under pinched canvas – an earnest attempt at consistency.

In ‘Dealer’s Choice’, Lopez is essentially showing his good work, bad work and everything in between, crowding the sparse, tasteful hang. He also frequently gives away his art on Instagram to the first Chicago resident that DMs him – fifteen works in the last year alone. Perhaps there’s a light cynicism towards the market or so-called arbiters of taste in the art world, which raises the question: is Lopez shooting himself in the foot? But here he shares with us the uncertainty of what it’s like to be an artist: those cycles of thrill and doubt in artmaking and the pressure to monetize your craft are very real. Lopez once told me he can’t ‘speak the language’ of art-world professionalism. He’s so after the excitement of making art that he almost aggressively does not care about the rest of it. And the result is always bracing if also erratic.

Michael Lopez’s ‘Dealer’s Choice’ is on view at Material Exhibitions, Chicago, until 7 November.

Main image: Mike Lopez, ‘Dealer's Choice’, 2021, exhibition view, Material Exhibitions, Chicago. Courtesy: the artist and Material, Chicago; photography: mboshphoto

Alex Jen is a writer and curator based in Chicago. 

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