Opening on September 13, 2019, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania (ICA) will present the first major institutional exhibition of Assistant Professor of Fine Arts Michelle Lopez. Michelle Lopez: Ballast & Barricades (on view through May 10, 2020) employs a fragmented architectural language to critique systems of power and consumption through a large site-specific installation that builds a decrepit cityscape both reduced to and suspended by rubble. Marking her most ambitious work to date, the presentation builds on Lopez’s previous body of work House of Cards (2018), weaving together earlier works with new pieces that formally allude to protest, human migration, ecological crises, and the ongoingimpact of rampant gentrification. The resulting installation presents a sculptural terrain that harbors political discord, teetering on the brink of collapse.
Known for creating sculptural works that subvert histories of minimalism through a feminist lens and deconstruct symbols of nationalism, power, and identity through a process of formal reduction, alchemy, and violence, Lopez transforms the ICA gallery into a meditation on our fraught political moment through Ballast & Barricades. Blockades, borders, flags, and natural elements meticulously crafted by hand bleed together as distinct yet interconnected symbols within the space. Fragments of construction sites, scaffolding, large boulders and architectural structures are positioned within the wider work to create a delicate system of counterweights and counterbalances, permeating the immersive installation with a sense of precariousness. The aggressive sound of a flag and its rope hitting a flagpole from the artist’s earlier work Halyard (2014) enhances the sensory nature of the experience and heightens the sense of disorder presented through sculptural means.
“My practice has evolved to examine debris and the aftermath of violence, while my process continues to build inversions of cultural iconography in order to investigate notions of human failure,” reflects Lopez. “I’ve explored abject forms of violence and entropy through subcultures ranging from skateboards to epic-related action figures and models; monolithic Minimalism to national flags. I’m invested in the history of sculpture and what it means to make objects and figures in these uncertain times. My installations have become spare structures of which bodies may have traversed, so my work suggests the history of bodies and of violence in the absence of figuration.”
“Lopez imbues her formalistic approach with symbolism, creating visually striking works that are infused with multiple meanings,” said Alex Klein, the Dorothy and Stephen R. Weber (CHE ’60) Curator at ICA. “Ballast & Barricades offers a range of interpretations rooted in histories of sculptural practice to explore political and social issues within a built environment, drawing on the local Philadelphia landscape to raise questions around displacement, gentrification, urban decay, and the dangers implicit in the construction of borders, both physical and imagined, within our increasingly nationalistic context.”
Concurrent with the exhibition, ICA will present a series of programs that will draw upon the themes of the exhibition. These will include dialogues with contemporary artists working across film and performance around issues of race and representation in the museum; an intergenerational discussion on the legacies and politics of Minimalist sculpture; and an examination of gentrification and urbanism in the context of Lopez’s explorations of themes of displacement and borders. ICA is also producing the first publication devoted to the artist’s work in conjunction with the exhibition.
Michelle Lopez: Ballast & Barricades is organized by Alex Klein, Dorothy and Stephen R. Weber (CHE’60) Curator.