2000 Boy/Posy LACE/ MOMA PS1



"Michelle Lopez makes speed slow. As we move among the objects around us, more often than not, time and place zip by in a series of transparent, unnoticed moments. Maybe it's the preoccupations of the mind, or maybe it's our condi­tioning by the repetitiveness of everyday life, that causes physical elements around us to dissolve into a ubiquitous background — on ambient field that simply cradles whatever we're thinking, whatever transactions we're conducting. But none of this is ever true when it comes to Michelle Lopez's work. All those objects and images that might be allowed to pass on unremarkably and unfet­tered in the continuous gloss of daily encounters assume a different weight there, a renewed, saturated physicality where even the air has a kind of static presence, and is somehow more palpable.

In part, that's due to Lopez's materials, literally. Her exhi­bitions might include numbers of animal hides hanging side by side on the gallery wails, with their sagging proportions having the strange ability to conjure the sensation of weight by appearance alone. Her previous smaller sculptures of recognizable forms like automobiles or tractors are wrapped in such hides, with their contours submerged in sluggish folds. (The heavy odor of these hides amasses easily, trapped and stagnant in dosed rooms, and seems to assume an additional, unanticipated mass in your every breath.) Such materiality might seem readily associated with the work of others. Take, for example, the heavy piece of industrial felt that Robert Morris slit into heavy, drooping strips, which amplify the perception of mass — material presented as the simple fact of itself. But Lopez makes her mark by actually making marks: the animal hides she uses bear the cuts and scars, as well as smoothed and worn areas, of her figural tracings of form (often taken from cartoon and logo iconography) and the various workings into the surface by the tools of her leather trade. Her material, in a fashion, can be displaced and destabilized by the very detailed processes that are embedded in it, and the elements of time and memory that they might supply.

Still another reference might leap to mind. Lopez's figural tracings of form extend to those three-dimensional objects onto which her hides collapse — a move reminiscent of Jasper Johns, that artist who would make bronze casts of his ale cans and light bulbs that were in turn encased in paint. But the connection here is not quite right. While Johns reintroduced his audi­ence to the literal aspect of objects they could find in the refrigerator or clos­et, he kept to the codified utensils of fine art. A wash with paint, for example, these things could fee! right at home in the art gallery — and so they could, and would, disappear into their living context. It's true that Lopez shares the painterly sensibility, oddly enough, molding as she does a malleable materi­al around a sculptural surface. You could even say that she simply inverts the question: if looking for materiality in paint, why not make actual material painterly? But Lopez resists this kind of assimilation; as much as her sculptures disrupt the fabric of ordinary objects, they also rattle the cage of fine art with their folk art underpinnings of leather work.Consider Johns's friend Frank O'Hara and his banner statement 'harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins!...They do have meaning. They're as strong as rocks.' — meaning that everyday objects could be transformed into art, something understood by many artists long before the poet's declaration.Lopez's transformations, even when it comes to cars marked up with abstracted cartoon creatures, go a step further: in her work, the everyday object is transformed into a thing caught in a perpetual ebb and flow between art and the simple fact of its objecthood. If Lopez often uses vehicles as a foundation for her sculpture, it is only to make them travel back into themselves. By slipping in so many different ways — between functional object and sculpture, between the figu­rative and the abstract, between the fine and the folk, between the pop and the entropic — she dis­tills the sculptural experience. The gallery, the air in it, the materials, the objects swathed in those materials, all of them resist unnoticed assimilation, all of them compose a field of opaque, sensuous experience.

In The Untitled Thumb and Drape Project, Lopez both enlarges and expands her repertoire. Gone are the model-sized objects, as she instead takes on, in Boy (1999), a small Honda she found in a Mojave Desert junkyard — covering the vehicle inside and out, and creating an environment for viewers to experience with multiple senses. Somethings remain constant, as the hide maintains that incongruous folk-art value while hugging the comical, kitschy curves of the windshield, rear bumper, and Coupe logo. And again, on the car's interior ceiling, cartoon and logo imagery is cut into the leather hide, with Lopez's knife having traced and retraced the embellished curves of imaginary creatures and logo-like medical diagrams. It's in this realm that Lopez is so affecting, signaling as she does a kind of obsessive repetition that is only intensified by the dense, physical evidence of the time that activ­ity occupies. The optical encounters, which could be common to any scan of television channels, are seemingly branded into the hide's "cornea,' and then stay there in their morphic patternings. Even just to look at these images ends up evoking the dimension of time, as the eye could redirect the entwined script and resculpt their resultant forms for hours on end: to look at Lopez's imagery is to mimic her process in the mind's eye, to encounter the continuous reworkings and shifts in the directions and dynamics of line. The very action of vision is accumulated in compounded layers — like memories that are continuously revisited, reconstructed and changed by new events as they accrue, and new associations are made. It's Freud's magic pad, made for the senses. It's not unusual to hear a phrase like"the weight of memory," or "bearing the scars of memory," but it is unusual to find memory so manifested in physical form.

That psychological quality also permeates Posy (1999 ), a rowboat that Lopez with the collaboration of Sarah Bernbach transforms almost to the point of it seeming a figment of the imagination, covering it in marzipan sculpted to a wondrous forest of candied vegetation. A trace of Koons can be detected here, quoting as they do the overblown, kitsch vocabulary of wedding cakes and funeraries; but his cool, comical distance is slightly locking. The brightness, flash-in-the-pan of that sort of kitsch is offset by the involved process necessary to produce it. And his nod to the iconography of mass culture seems married to fleurs du mol, as the ornate, ceremonial flourishes droop under the oversaturated weight of flesh-like petals, drowsy and intoxicated with their own physicality. As in the work of another sculptor, Keith Edmier — who might allow personal childhood memories to bloom up into large-scale, white form —Posy obtains psychological value: the transient materializes before you.

And all this forces anyone visiting her exhibitions to travel far, just by being there — because all the material tied to "there," and which so often remains invisible, rushes up to the surface. Lopez brushes against the grain of experience in such a way that the most transient (and the most abstract) things are compressed into pure sensation:time, emotions, process, medium. They all become objects to explore a new."

-Tim Griffin, The Untitled Thumb & Drape Project exhibition essay, LACE, 1999

No items found.
Steel car chassis (Honda 600, 1971) covered with leather both inside and out. Leather heated and soaked with water and then wrapped over form. Originally realized at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) for solo exhibition, "The Untitled Thumb and Drape Project", April 1999. Also exhibited at "Greater New York", PS One/MOMA, March 2000. 180” x 54” x 60” 1999-2000
POSY (with pastry chef Sarah Bernbach)

Wood, marzipan, sugarpaste and aluminium, pigment
Wooden boat frame covered in sheets of marzipan, flowers and vines handmade out of sugar rolled fondant with collaborator, wedding cake specialist/pastry chef, Sarah Bernbach. Approach used another material that had physicality of skin,specifically in decay. The boat was coupled with the leather car for installation of "The Untitled Thumb and Drape Project" Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, April-May 1999. 84” x 48” x 30”

No items found.

My starting point began with an interest in how our manufactured objects express identity. How do our objects in space reflect us as a culture? How can I invert those objects to expose their absurdity? Or close the point of view to reveal parts of myself. I was interested in leather for its physical properties as skin/hide to create alternate bodies. I covered cars that were seen as associated with fetish male desire: women were often draped on cars to sell them. It was not politically correct, but it seemed the right material for akind of transformative process. Leather as a material stayed true to our consumer culture, our slaughter. The materiality of the work has been animportant component, often the content of the piece.

The act of Boy was massaging wet leather over a form: literal skin over industrial skin—naming the name to reveal a kind of absurdity. I was creating a mask that covered but also revealed. But to mess with it a little more, I chose an awkward cute car: a Honda 600 from 1971 for its size and its inversion of the fetish. It wasn’t sexy at all.

As a counterpart to the leather car titled Boy, I collaborated with Sarah Bernbach, a pastry chef and wedding cake designer, for Posy, a marzipan boat with sugar garlands and hand-rolled, edible flowers. Sarah taught me how to roll the rolled fondant in a way similar to the tendrils and petals of real flowers. We began with the morphology of the flower and worked outward from there. In the last week, we found a boat in the piers near Venice Beach and began covering it in rolled Marzipan. Over time, there were ant trails leading to the boat in the gallery. 

The inspiration for Posy was a Dickens’ aging character, Miss Havisham in "Great Expectations," a hermit still in her wedding dress. Posy was a portrait of a person frozen in time, yet simultaneously decaying. I was interested in her embodiment of loss, failure of the dream, pure eccentricity as a result of fear.


"I am first-generation American and my parents immigrated from the Philippines. My father came from a farming community in the northern province of Luzon and studied medicine and worked as a surgeon in the US. He remained connected to his agricultural roots by becoming an avid gardener, often connecting his orchids to medical IVs (intravenous glucose drips) for nourishment. This kind of cultural hybridity remained with me and was an important lens for my creative logic. Growing up in the American South (Virginia) in the 1970s and 80s as one of very few minorities in my school, I came to appropriate radically different cultures fluidly and assembled unconventional, hackneyed systems for reasoning and survival. Filipino culture also has a dizzying array of colonial hybridity, which in and of itself, forms part of its identity. I can’t emphasize enough how important this was to my formation as an artist.

By 1999, I’d had solo exhibitions in NYC [Feature, Inc.(1996), Deitch Projects (1998] and LA [Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions(1999)] and completed two artist residencies (MacDowell Colony and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts) that were productive spaces to develop my voice. I continued my material inquiry into leather as a material that could change the legibility of an object, and speak to figuration from a subversive angle via scarification and critique a cultural object in skin. In 1999, I worked in LA for 3 months under the support of Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. I located a Honda 600 in the San Fernando Valley and meticulously covered every surface in skin-colored leather. This work, Boy, would travel to PS1/MOMA for the first Greater New York show in 2000.

As a counterpart to the leather car titled Boy, I collaborated with Sarah Bernbach, a pastry chef and wedding cake designer, for Posy, a marzipan boat with sugar garlands and hand-rolled, edible flowers. Sarah taught me how to roll the rolled fondant in a way similar to the tendrils and petals of real flowers. We began with the morphology of the flower and worked outward from there. In the last week, we found a boat in the piers near Venice Beach and began covering it in rolled Marzipan. There were ant trails leading to the boat in the exhibition, The Untitled Thumb & Drape Project, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions."

-excerpt from Guggenheim application, 2019

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions press release, 1999