Press Release

First Major Institutional Exhibition of Michelle Lopez Opens Fall 2019 at Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA
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Site-Specific Installation Ballast & Barricades Reduces a City to Ruin in Artist’s Most Ambitious Work to Date

Opening on September 13, 2019, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania (ICA) will present the first major institutional exhibition of Philadelphia-based artist 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 ongoing impact of rampant gentrification. The resulting installation presents a sculptural terrain that harbors political discord, teetering on the brink of collapse. 

“We are thrilled to present bold, new, and recent work conceived by local interdisciplinary sculptor and installation artist Michelle Lopez. Her experimental approach to processes, intricately reimagined use of industrial materials, and deft craftmanship will create a space inside ICA that interrogates the human condition, challenging our audiences to think critically about pressing social issues, including gentrification, race, and representation” said Amy Sadao, ICA Director. “In Philadelphia, these very concerns, along with questions examining the impact of displacement, are particularly relevant. Through this ambitious program we invite the local community to engage in dialogue and be inspired.”

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 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.

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Michelle Lopez, Barricade, 2018, Courtesy the artist and Simon Preston, New York

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