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Angels, Flags, and Bangs

Michelle Lopez

A three-part exhibition of the work of Michelle Lopez: a public art commission at Art Public, Bass Museum of Art; a solo museum show at the Aldrich Museum; a solo gallery exhibition at Simon Preston Gallery. A catalogue of Michelle Lopez’ work will be produced by the Aldrich Museum.

Details
A note from the artist:
“My work builds inversions of cultural iconography in order to investigate notions of human failure. My recent sculptures and installations have explored abject forms of violence and entropy through sub-cultures ranging from Asian anime, lynchings, prosthetics, floral arrangements, cars, debris from plane crashes, long female tresses, and pelts as way to expose oxymorons of society and self. I try and exploit the material and imagery of a chosen source. 

I’ve been studying the morphology of crashing/crushing/leaning/ limping/wilting/diving/dying "moments" as ruptures that resonate on a timely level of our current post-9/11 landscape. I am trying to create these moments in sculptures.

This three-part project aims to show the range of my work in scale and context and share the work with a broader cultural audience through varied venues and an accompanying catalogue. The retrospective of sorts would serve to contextualize the history of my sculptural forms with our present relationship to objects/commodities/technology, and even our relationship to nature. The show will mark an evolution of themes that I’ve continued to investigate: the human condition and how iconography is transformed through current incidents of cultural collisions.”  

Part 1: Michelle Lopez: Angels, Flags, and Bangs, Aldrich Museum, April-September 2014

From Amy Smith-Stewart, curator, Aldrich Museum: Michelle Lopez: Angels, Flags, and Bangs: 
“The practice of Brooklyn-based sculptor Michelle Lopez (b. 1970) explores the contested yet generative place where minimalism and feminism converge, diverge, and ultimately reunite. The languages she employs—material, form, and space—seek to “corrupt minimalism,” as she describes it, by making “macho sculpture feminine.” Her interest lies in exploring the fragility of pop culture icons, notably “boy’s toys” like skateboards, cars, and action figures, by bending, folding and manipulating materials to make them “wilt,” “melt,” “crease,” “crush” or “crash.” Lopez often submits this fetish culture, with its smooth lines, soft curves, and polished finish, to violent acts and “allegorical inversions” in order to unravel latent meaning. In doing so, Lopez looks to (re)cover, (de)code, and (re)generate the methodologies of (un)making sculpture in order to find a language that looks beyond minimalism and feminism by collapsing, expanding, and ultimately releasing it from itself. Angels, Flags, and Bangs will present new and recent sculptures that span four bodies of work.
 
Three approximately nine-foot-tall sculptures from the Blue Angels series (2011) lean precariously—as if about to collapse—against the walls in the Screening Room. Made from folded mirror aluminum with interiors painted in broad bands of automotive paint, their primary colors are evocative of commercial airlines (Korean Air blue, Delta red). Here, their larger-than-life size and reflective surfaces mimic minimalism, but being feather light and devoid of bravado, reject its industrial fabrication and monolithic might. These crumpled forms, referencing crashed airplane fuselages, recall the trauma of 9/11 and also our looming fear of new technology (as a deadly weapon). These “hand-formed” gestures carry the weight of a mourning figure. The title of the series refers to the US Navy’s flight demonstration planes, used for acrobatic aerial displays to commemorate old aerospace technology. To make the Blue Angels, Lopez physically wrestles with the material on the ground in her studio, maneuvering these massive aluminum sheets through an exhaustive system of folding exercises.

The Flags series (2013), features flags hung in a line on the long wall of The Aldrich’s sloping corridor, transforming symbols most often associated with victory and patriotism into wilted, delicate, frail objects, painted in a fluorescent palette to appear child-like. Evocative of an “SOS” flag—the universal image of surrender—the cragginess of their finish reads like a gnarled hand, heightening a sense of something that is tattered and defeated.

Bangs
, a site-specific sculptural installation for the Box Gallery, is made from elevator blankets. Merging the soft felt sculptures of Robert Morris with the stylized hyperbolic female characters of Japanese anime, Lopez reflects back on her 2009 sculpture, Akira revisited. Her starting point was the celebrated Murakami sculpture, Hiropon (1997), a life-size fiberglass sculpture of a hyper-sexualized female figure with milk spewing from engorged breasts to form a lasso. Lopez animated a black anime wig and then placed it on the floor, casting it in soot. For Bangs (2013), she transforms a small room in the Museum into an elevator-like space with metallic blankets that have been hand-sewn and hand-quilted to frame all three interior walls. The stitched lines of the blankets’ seams follow the lines of an anime wig. The cuts and folds of the metallic fabric, assertive in scale, but suggestive of a highly stylized cartoon wig, give it a bodiless presence, as if a female ghost is emerging from the blankets’ curves and folds.

The Leir Atrium showcases Lopez’s Flare II (2013), a freestanding, single iridescent tendril cast in bronze. The work derives from an earlier wall piece, Flare, taken from a John McCracken title and work of the same name. Its form, like the Flags series, is anthropomorphic, in the spirit of a stylized line drawing, a single elegant plant form, like a survivor (re)emerging alone, but triumphant.”
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Part II: Blue Angel II, Art Public, Bass Museum of Art, December 2013

Nicholas Baume, curator of 2013 Art Public at Miami Basel will present a large-scale (40-foot) outdoor sculpture by artist Michelle Lopez titled Blue Angel II. Conceived for the front exterior wall of the Bass Museum, the sculpture is an adaptation of her indoor Blue Angels that exploits Minimalist vocabulary into abject form. The proposal for the Bass Museum of Art consists of industrial sheets of mirrored aluminum and powder-coated steel, joined together by rivets into one long sheet - the size of an airplane wing. The artist, on-site, will fold and crumple the piece and install the 40-foot sculpture on the front façade of the museum to make it appear as if this shimmering mirrored collection of metal has crashed onto the site.  

The title of the work references the Navy's flight demonstration squadron called The Blue Angels - a popular display of United States military prowess meant for acrobatic aerial display. Without the bravado or cruelty of war this display creates both a spectacle and a spectatorship sport of flying technology. Lopez 'folds' this fetished contradiction of object into her forms. The mirrored surface of the exterior implicates the viewer through its reflective distortions. The interior of the work is finished with powder-coated paint, selected through the lens of airline colors.  

What appears as formal exercises: folded mirrored aluminum and broad bands of primary colors -  gestures that mimic Minimalism - are also antithetical acts to the industrial application of its masculine reference. These crumpled pieces that reference crashed airplane parts are “thrashed” by the performance of the artist’s body, and made fragile and slight. The remains of such acts respond to the crisis and contradictions of the present “sculptural” object.  

Part III: Rite, Michelle Lopez, Simon Preston Gallery, September 2014  

This show serves as the finale of the three acts and spins around the idea of “crowds and power”, in contrast to the solitary figure. The physical portrayal of the crowd or the mass in relationship to the individual serves to reveal that they are one in the same. The anonymous figure exists in a crowd but in gear, masks, show garb—Lopez manipulates the brown paper bag, the KKK white pillow case, a wheelbarrow painted in tiffany blue in an attempt to devastate the pretense of power. In this idea too, is the notion of identity as a definition of gestures. We define ourselves through our physical movements of reaching out or in retreat- either alone in acts of violence. Or in a crowd, in bolder acts of violence. The color we wear serves as a gesture. The “crowd” works are all freestanding on a single platform, grouped in the center of the gallery.  

A single-channel video, Legs, shows anonymous legs of women striking poses in a dressing room, with empty effect but in a familiar, popular stance of desire. This projected onto a small part of room, one-to-one in human scale, and close to floor, works in contrast to hooded, 10-foot-tall wilted paper figures.

A single freestanding Flare acts as a counterpoint, much as it serves the Aldrich show in a similar manner. Alone in a separate room, a thin tendril painted in metallic, automotive greys, acts as a humane cyborg, as tender technology, impossibly standing, larger than life, and yet a rite of passage to something else.