The Flag Series (2014) features three flags, each comprised of a steel rod armature wrapped by Lopez using malleable pure lead sheets. As a unit, they form a line on the long wall of The Aldrich’s Ramp Gallery. Lopez reshapes symbols most often associated with victory and patriotism into diminished, delicate, frail objects that appear almost crude. Evocative of a surrender signal or a child’s bike security pennant—universal images of truce and safety—the cragginess of their finish reads like a gnarled hand, heightening a sense of something that has been worn down or defeated. The muted matte black of the hand-pressed lead gives the sculptures a somber quality, while also amplifying their appearance as drawings in space. Their interactive engagement with the architectural niche of the slanting wall of the gallery recalls the magical illusionism of Fred Sandback’s colorful yarn sculptures. Sandback speaks about the performative aspect of making sculpture in space: “More and more, working seems to be like performance; not in the sense of presenting a process, but in the conditions required to complete a piece.” Lopez’s sculptures are activated by their placement—their relationship to the wall from which they hang, and the floor to which they are anchored—plus their dialogue with the exterior world, cast back through the windows that look beyond. Moreover, they act as a catalyst, triggering a relational experience, connecting us to ourselves through the marriage of sculpture and site. Although they maybe perceived as anti-heroic, deflated, and perhaps even ragged, the visibility of their maker’s hand enlivens them, so as to transcend their forlornness, and although they droop, they still stand, survivors. Survival is a vein that cuts deep across Lopez’s work, evident in a practice spanning more than fifteen years, from the bent but not broken Blue Angels, to the spectral branch of a cantilevered sycamore tree in Southern Trees/Black September (2009), to the flaccid leather skin draping a 1971 Honda 600 in Boy (1999).
Amy Smith-Stewart Curator of Michelle Lopez: Angels, Flags, Bangs, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, April 6 to September 21, 2014 excerpts from the press release.