Whitehot Magazine

October 2008. Lucy McKenzie @ MoMA

October 2008. Lucy McKenzie @ MoMA
Lucy McKenzie, Installation View, Projects 88, © 2008 Lucy McKenzie, courtesy Museum of Modern Art, NY
Lucy McKenzie
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Through December 1, 2008

Walk into the two-room debut of Lucy McKenzie’s “Projects 88” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and you’ll find yourself standing on a carpet painted on the floor. The “poor man’s” rug—stenciled simplistically based on a Gothic revivalist motif featuring a cross at its center—causes one to step back immediately, as if accidentally found standing atop a sacred grave: What have I done, stepping on the central piece of art in this room? Desecrating what is on display proves to be thematic.

Brussels-based, Scottish-born artist McKenzie collaborates with illustrator Bernie Reid and fashion & textile designer Beca Lipscombe to create two rooms exploring the design of public and social spaces. Together, they make up the interior decorating company “Atelier.” The most interesting pieces are screenprints “defiled” by red graffiti, giving rise to new levels of meaning: An otherwise straight-laced blond-haired man wearing a blue sweater is mocked by a pair of red glasses, buck teeth and breasts drawn hastily over his body; a large oil painting of a worker drawing the word “BRAIN” on a wall is “ruined” by a red scribbled drawing of a penis ejaculating and a bubble exclaiming “mmm!”

One room’s walls are covered in murals emulating a turn-of-the-century drawing room complete with decorative stone fireplace, woodgrain wainscoting and burgundy “wallpaper.” The result is one-dimensional and Disney-esque. Another room features a wall covered in brown burlap fabric and decorated with a swath of curtain and a hanging geometric tapestry. A blue suede drape with white stenciled patterns hangs in a corner.

The concept of authority is at play here, the question of who is given the ultimate say in creating meaning: the artist of the original work or the defiler of the piece? the original room, or the opulent room we are to believe exists? While playful and interactive, the ultimate result is not always decorative in the traditional sense. The screenprints are the jewels in this exhibit, but the hidden gem is a 1970’s Olympics-inspired poster featuring women in varying athletic poses and the message “Your Body Is A Playground.” One woman holds an Olympic torch while topless. Another woman wearing leggings, wristbands and headband does stretches otherwise completely nude. A woman bends down to get in a running start position, baring her buttocks to the camera. Otherwise completely serious, the poster cannot be taken seriously. So one asks what the elements are that cause a viewer to take a piece at face value. Is it the artist’s intent or the viewer’s interpretation? The politics of representation are up for debate.

Viewed in this prestigious institution, the exhibit is imbued with a whole other layer of authority: the authority of the space in which the art is displayed, the gravity we are forced to direct. What makes this simulated drawing room a piece of artwork over a play room found in a children’s museum? But watching guests first walking into the room and finding themselves standing on the stenciled rug and quickly and embarrassingly making their way to the corners of the room is an amusement that is wholly part of this experience. Defilement becomes part of the artwork. The art itself straddles the lewd.

This site-specific installation is Atelier’s first commission for MOMA and will be on view until December 1.
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Taha Ebrahimi

Taha Ebrahimi's award-winning writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Seattle Times, RIVET Magazine, Elan Magazine, and is forthcoming in "Love and Pomegranates: New Voices Celebrating Iran." She received her M.F.A. from the University of Pittsburgh where she also taught writing for three years. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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