– Autumn/Winter 2013

Lucy McKenzie: Manners

Isla Leaver-Yap

Tags: Lucy McKenzie

The work of art aims at shattering man’s comfortable complacency. A house must serve one’s comfort. The work of art is revolutionary, the house conservative. The work of art points man in the direction of new paths and thinks to the future. The house thinks of the present. Man loves everything that serves his comfort. He hates everything that wants to tear him away from his secure and safe position, and is burdensome. And so he loves the house and hates art. — Adolf Loos, ‘Architecture’, 19101

In the spring of 2013, Lucy McKenzie made a trompe l’oeil installation after Villa Müller, a house in Prague designed in 1930 by the Austrian architectural polemicist Adolf Loos. Head-height, makeshift wooden cubes substitute Loos’s monolithic concrete pillars, while the architect’s signature green Cipollino marble cladding is paraphrased by McKenzie’s approximately rendered trompe l’oeil canvases, stapled and glued into place over the tentative structures. Painted volumes abut one another or else stand loosely grouped. The central feature of her exhibition ‘Something They Have to Live With’ at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Loos House (2013) is basic in effect.2 Both arrangement and painting insinuate an opulent domestic space, rather than reconstructing it exactly. McKenzie’s roughness of delivery swiftly dispenses with the notion that her citation of Loos is one of cultural veneration or benevolent appropriation. ‘Something They Have to Live With’, much like McKenzie’s output as a whole,

  1. Adolf Loos, On Architecture (trans. Michael Mitchell), Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 2002, p.73.

  2. ‘Lucy McKenzie: Something They Have to Live With’, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 6 April—22 September 2013.

  3. Loos rejected the idea of himself as an architect, preferring to be described as a mason. His writing and work can be equally argued as misogynist — he diagnosed the degeneration of contemporary culture as a product of feminisation and ambiguous gender distinctions, and banned women from his Kärntner Bar in Vienna — and as proto-feminist. He argued for the public acceptance of women’s sexual drive, and against the need for women to dress according to society’s sexualised fashion: ‘A man who presumes to dictate [fashion] to women shows he regards women as bondslaves. He would be better occupied seeing to his own dress. Women are perfectly capable of looking after to theirs, thank you very much.’ A. Loos, ‘Short Hair: Short or Long — Masculine or Feminine?’ (1928), in Adolf Opel (ed.), Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (trans. M. Mitchell), Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1998, p.190. See also ‘Ladies Fashion’ (1898/1902), in ibid.; and Susan R. Henderson, ‘Bachelor Culture in the Work of Adolf Loos’, Journal of Architectural Education, vol.55, no.3, February 2002, pp.125—35.

  4. The architectural principles of Villa Müller can be located most notably in the following essays by Loos: ‘Interiors in the Rotunda’ (1898) and ‘Ornament and Crime’ (1908), both in A. Loos, Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays, op. cit.; and ‘Architecture’ (1910) in A. Loos, On Architecture, op. cit.

  5. A. Loos in conversation with Karel Lhota, Pilsen, 1930. Records kept in the Adolf Loos Study Centre in the Villa Müller, Prague.

  6. As Beatriz Colomina has argued, Loos’s architecture ‘is not simply a platform that accommodates the viewing subject. It is a viewing mechanism that produces the subject. It precedes and frames its occupant.’ B. Colomina, ‘Intimacy and Spectacle: The Interiors of Adolf Loos’, AA Files, no.20, Autumn 1990, p.8.

  7. A. Loos, quoted in Heinrich Kulka, Adolf Loos: Das Werk des Architekten, Vienna: Anton Schroll, 1931, p.18. Translation the author’s.

  8. A. Loos, ‘Ornament and Crime’ (1908), in Ulrich Conrads (ed.), Programs and Manifestoes on 20th Century Architecture (trans. Michael Bullock), Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1975, p.19.

  9. A. Loos, quoted in Kenneth Frampton, ‘Introduction: Adolf Loos and the Crisis of Culture 1896—1931’, in Yehuda Safran and Wilfried Wang (ed.), The Architecture of Adolf Loos: An Arts Council Exhibition, London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1985, p.11.

  10. A. Loos, ‘Ornament and Crime’, Programs and Manifestoes on 20th Century Architecture, op. cit., p.24.

  11. The enlargement and renovation of the Stedelijk Museum’s 1895 building, completed in the autumn of 2012, was designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects. The imposing new extension, built using Para-aramid (a white synthetic-fibre often used for aerospace construction), was quickly given the pejorative name ‘the bathtub’. The extension obscures the original façade of the museum and has significantly changed the historic views of the Museumplein, the public square onto which it faces.

  12. Lucy McKenzie, ‘500 Words’, Artforum.com [online magazine], 22 April 2013, available at http://artforum.com/words/id=40498 (last accessed on 15 July 2013).

  13. In Natural History (77—79 BCE), Pliny the Elder relates a competition between the two fifth-century BCE painters, Zeuxis and Parrhasius. Zeuxis is said to have painted grapes so realistically that birds would come to peck at them. However, he was tricked when he attempted to pull back the cloth covering Parrhasius’s work, which turned out to be the latter’s trompe l’oeil painting. See Pliny the Elder, Natural History (trans. Philemon Holland), London: George Barclay, 1847—48, available at http://archive.org/details/plinysnaturalhis00plinrich (last accessed on 15 July 2013).

  14. Hanneke Grootenboer, The Rhetoric of Perspective: Realism and Illusionism in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Still-Life Painting, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006, p.42.

  15. McKenzie surmises, ‘I still do not have a clear answer and instead realised that the question itself became more and more uninteresting to me because it gives too much credence to contemporary art thinking.’ L. McKenzie, ‘Canvases Stretched in a Studio Far Less Convenient than One’s Own’, in Chêne de Weekend (exh. cat.), Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2009, p.12.

  16. L. McKenzie, quoted in Michael Bracewell, ‘Adventures Close to Home: An Interview with Lucy McKenzie and Marc Camille Chaimowicz’, Mousse, no.29, May—June 2011, p.58.

  17. See Atelier E.B., The Inventors of Tradition Collection 2011, New York: Westreich/Wagner, 2011. Atelier E.B. is a collaboration between McKenzie and the designer Beca Lipscombe.

  18. See Mode Mühlbauer: Autumn/Winter Collection 2011 (fashion cat.); and Mousse, no.29, May—June 2011.

  19. ‘50 Shades’, Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp, 6 September—20 October 2012.

  20. Quodlibet XII (Steven Purvis) is titled after Atelier E.B.’s collaborating tailor, and depicts his tools, materials and other ephemera.

  21. ‘Atelier E.B.: Ost End Girls’, Magazijn, Amsterdam, 14—18 May 2013.

  22. ‘When I was in my late teens and early twenties I did soft pornographic modelling as a summer job, and I remember thinking at the time that it was somehow connected to deciding to be an artist, rather than having a proper job.’ L. McKenzie, quoted in M. Bracewell, ‘Adventures Close to Home’, op. cit., p.57.

  23. Conversation with the artist, 14 June 2013.

  24. McKenzie’s portrait paintings of real-life figures are rarely neutral: they not only reveal elements of the sitter’s persona or behaviour, but also use the sitter’s attitude as material. The complexity of Untitled (2005) owes much to the identity of the sitter, the artist Anita Di Bianco, as do McKenzie’s other portraits, such as a portrait of artist Keith Farquhar painted over a portrait of British Labour politician Peter Mandelson in Keith (2001); her sister Kerry McKenzie’s shadow over Europe in Kerry (2001); artist Lucy Skaer in the double brain/’Braun’ paintings, both Untitled (2002); and artist Simon Thompson as Tintin in the coloured pencil drawing series Tintin (2005).

  25. McKenzie’s exhibition titles ‘Slender Means’ (Galerie Buchholz, Cologne, 10 December 2010— 26 February 2011) and ‘Something They Have to Live With’ are variations on names of stories by Muriel Spark and Patricia Highsmith respectively. McKenzie painted a dust jacket titled ‘The Girl Who Followed Marple’ as a cover for E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) — a pun on Highsmith’s The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980) — for her exhibition ‘50 Shades’ (Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp, 6 September—20 October 2012).

  26. Agatha Christie’s unexplained ten-day disappearance on 3 December 1926 was interpreted by some as an attempt to frame her husband for her murder; Patricia Highsmith buried her fictitious bodies in her real-life lovers’ apartments; and Muriel Sparks’s relationship to Catholicism was worked out through various novels, including The Comforters (1957) and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), in which the character Sandy serves as a cipher for Spark herself.

  27. L. McKenzie, ‘Canvases Stretched in a Studio Far Less Convenient than One’s Own’, op. cit., p.12.

  28. McKenzie’s poster for the Stedelijk exhibition features a photograph of the artist encircled by her own artwork. The image appears to be a collage, but is in fact the result of a meticulously arranged photo shoot.