March 9 – 31, 2018
Remember that magical automobile from Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, the one that whisks a stuttering Owen Wilson back to the 1920s to party with Gertrude Stein and company? I like to imagine that was just one cab in a fleet of cosmic taxis, each with its own art historical destination. There’s a wooden, winged one that will land you in Da Vinci’s Florence, a gaudy stretch limo (complete with a mini disco ball) for a New York weekend with Warhol, and a customized Model-A Ford that travels the rocky trail to O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch house.
If my theory is true, then Lucy Maki surely caught a round trip voyage in the fleet’s most angular vehicle: the Constructivist cab. This one swings through Russia in 1913, when the avant-garde painter and architect Vladimir Tatlin was dreaming up a movement that would eschew “autonomous” art in favor of a highly collaborative, politically socialist practice.
The cab stops in Germany not long after for a hangout with Kurt Schwitters as he cut a path from Dada collages to Constructivist assemblages and installation art. With a host of their European contemporaries, Tatlin and Schwitters built a spiny, swooping bridge between the slightly earlier aesthetics of Cubism and Futurism and later social experiments by movements like Bauhaus and De Stijl.
Setting aside the political thrust of early Constructivism, Maki’s work hits all of the proper touchpoints. The Albuquerque artist sculpts canvas stretchers and panels with overlapping and skewed geometries and paints their broken surfaces using slightly grayish or muddied pigments (mostly oils). Wooden sculptural elements spear through the compositions and past the edges of the paintings, casting shadows on the walls that boost the dimensionality of the works.
Two paintings from a series called Lines of Direction are the show’s strongest entries. They appear to document phases of a picture plane’s explosive demise: a two-dimensional splintering and then a violent, three-dimensional splitting. Flat, painted forms in one piece become jagged sculptural elements in the other, threatening to float from the wall. It’s a spot-on visual allegory for the cultural and political rupture of Modernism—one that could’ve been made a century ago but that still carries a surprising amount of kinetic energy.
There’s strong visual appeal to these paintings, though the style Maki has chosen seems to keep her on a relatively short tether. While the sharp edges of Constructivism successfully punctured art history, Maki’s pointy creations simply tickle the contemporary eye. Once upon a time, this was radical stuff; now it’s a lively reminder of a distant revolution.
Critics have tied Maki’s work to more recent aesthetic troublemakers such as Cy Twombly, Eva Hesse, and David Smith. Those artists certainly fit into a conversation about Maki’s work, but their innovations all land long after the moment with which she is so strongly engaging. Their chosen paths could serve as guides for her future practice, though one imagines that she’d quickly climb past their layered foundations and begin to build her own.
Hesse’s artistic evolution seems particularly relevant in this regard: she studied under the abstract painter Josef Albers, who counted Constructivism as a strong influence, but pushed far past his teachings in her mature work. Her pivotal piece, Hang Up, an empty frame with a long, looped wire projecting from it into the viewer’s space, could serve as a good springboard. Maki’s work is often at a large scale, but it could reach so much farther—in both a physical and a conceptual sense. In our current cultural milieu, I’d suggest she significantly sharpen her spikes and make the viewer a little afraid to trip.