Michelle Lopez is an interdisciplinary sculptor and installation artist. As a builder, conceptualist, and manipulator of materials, Lopez inventively explores cultural phenomena, stretching to their limits the industrial processes that craft consumerism in its many forms. Lopez’s gimlet eye examines collapsed political and social structures by inverting cultural tropes through the process of building. Her installations—precarious assemblages of humble yet labor-intensive materials such as hand-twisted steel rope, pulled glass, bent wood, and street rubble—draw from the aesthetic languages and histories of industrialization, art movements, and the built environment to critique the ways in which dominant narratives, power, and authority shape space. Tracing her work alongside queer and feminist lineages of abstraction, as well as a rigorous research process into her materials, Lopez makes a case for the formal and political stakes of a present-day sculptural practice.

Lopez examines art-historical Minimalist forms by building abject spare structures out of debris and industrial materials. In fully encasing a 1971 Honda 600 automobile in skin-colored leather, early works such as Boy, 1999, offered commentary on contemporary society's relationship to consumer products by combining disparate forms of capitalism.  Constructed of crumpled aluminum and stainless-steel, Blue Angels, 2011, exemplifies post-9/11 technological failure while also considering the performative element of the artist’s body via sculpture. The sound and kinetic installation, Halyard, 2013, probes structures of power and the phenomenon of violence using structures of silence and disappearance. In the elegiac Smoke Clouds, 2013, clouds of silver-nitrate on immense sheets of reflective glass evoke the billowing aftermath of a violent explosion even as the glass acts as a mirror reflecting the viewer’s own image back to them.

Lopez turns the traditional sculptural approach of inhabiting space on its head, focusing as much on the volume created around an object as the object itself, making the work almost disappear as a reflection of our cultural moment.  The work Fictitious Pivot, 2017, strategically deployed a squad of actors and musicians(flutists) to both mimic and amplify an architectural space in order to activate phantom gestures and diffuse forms of figuration. The gravity-defying House of Cards, a 2019 installation, suspended a fragile scaffolding system with artist-fabricated steel rope and found rubble. 

In the series GHOST, Lopez further explores evacuations of form modeled from her own hair and other stylized Asian tresses (adapted from an earlier body of work, Akira Revisited). These deflective, mirrored scalps disavow the gaze and the politics of identity—a refusal, and concurrent reiteration of, the violence of disembodiment. Strands of hair, like thick locks of steel rope, crystallize to refute their place within the pantheon of fetishism.

Lasso Reprieve, a 2023 installation, warps the historical monumentality of sculpture, reducing volume to suggest presence through a single line of gravity-defying rope. Forms hover and rise independently, held upright through a careful balance of tension and counterweight. Lopez contradicts the rope’s materiality and weight by restructuring its core and torching the steel to make impossible movements and bends.  Lopez’s interest in rope is rooted in building a morphology of defiance (what she calls“hyper-rope”) through the process of flocking, in which nylon fibers are electro-statically fused onto the medium’s substrate. In its tactility of reinforcement and contradiction, the velvet-like “hyper-rope” breaks from its attendant associations of limpness and restraint to manifest an unfettered support for its own tenuous formation.

Recent solo exhibitions include: ‘Lasso Reprieve’ (Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles, 2023); ‘Ballast & Barricades’ (ICA Philadelphia, 2019); ‘House of Cards' (Simon Preston, Gallery, 2018); ‘Halyard’(Alt/Protocinema, Istanbul, 2016); ‘Angels, Flags, Bangs’ (The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Connecticut, 2014); shows at Simon Preston, New York in 2009, 2011, and 2015; and ‘The Year We Made Contact’ (LA><art, Los Angeles, 2008).

Notable group exhibitions include ‘Scratching at the Moon’ (ICA Los Angeles, 2024); ‘STEADY: Michelle Lopez & Ester Partegas’ (Ballroom Marfa, 2024); ‘Process Lab’ (Fabric Workshop Museum, Philadelphia, 2023); ‘A Few in Many Places’ (Protocinema, Montreal/Istanbul/Philadelphia/Beirut/Antalya, 2021); ‘Re-Enactments’ (Museum of Contemporary Art & Design, Manila, Philippines, 2017); ‘OCMA’ (California Biennial, Orange County, CA, 2004); and ‘Greater New York’ (MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY, 2000).

Lopez holds an M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts, New York and a B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University, New York. She was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019 and a Pew fellowship in 2023. She has taught at University of California Berkeley, Yale School of Art, the School of Visual Arts, and is Associate Professor of Sculpture & Installation in the Fine Arts Program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.