Monday, May 1st, 2006

Lucy Williams: The Day the Earth Stood Still

McKee Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue
New York NY 10151

March 31 to May 6

Lucy Williams The Glass-Walled House in Summer 2005 mixed media, 28-1/2 x 28-1/2 x 1-1/2 inches Courtesy McKee Gallery
Lucy Williams, The Glass-Walled House in Summer 2005 mixed media, 28-1/2 x 28-1/2 x 1-1/2 inches Courtesy McKee Gallery

Lucy Williams’ constructions meld the traditionally-considered “feminine” handmade object with architectural models rendered in bas-relief. The thirteen works on display, in the artist’s exhibition entitled “The Day the Earth Stood Still” at David McKee Gallery, focus on materials that typically appear in Modernist styled public and private interiors and exteriors. Absent the occupants of these spaces, the work evokes an unsettling emptiness that is as tactile as it is sterile.

The subject matter of these works is based on images from magazines and books. Williams’ creations, all roughly two feet wide, extend outwards as much as three inches through the layering of architectural model materials — mat board, foam core, and sheets of acrylic — as well as arts and craft supplies such as needlepoint, thread, and yarn and pillow stuffing. She also uses many other unnamed materials.

Frankfurt Airport (2005) is at once delicate and dour, combining a mat board airport terminal with a yarn-stitched sky. This piece, like Bus-Stop (2006) andPurfina (2006), is compositionally indebted to Ruscha’s dramatic diagonal compositions of gas stations from the 1960s. Stacked and skewed on diagonals, the shallow yet protruding grey walls composed of matt board are no longer flattened images, but objects creating subtle shadow, disrupting conventional illusion and perspective. Concrete walkways in the foreground made of foam establish a playful irony. Sometimes in Williams’ work materials relate to the surfaces they represent, at other times though the artist’s materials lie in contradistinction to the materials or surfaces they are meant to represent.

Each piece uses materials specific to the image, developing its own vocabulary. Frosted sheets of acrylic, mat board, colored paper, felt and thread comprise the public interior Shopping Centre (2006).  A frosted sheet of acrylic is placed over an orange grid to create a radiant mall atrium floor. Mat board benches, as well as a tree and plants depicted by silhouettes populate the foreground. Meticulously cut, the tree and plants’ leaves dangle on clear adhesive backing in a vacuum-sealed world of Plexiglas casing. On the wall behind, colorful irregular shapes of felt are anchored by starbursts of thread, depicting a mural. The sewing offers a faint human presence, softening the otherwise stark image.

Williams’ current exhibition shows an increased emphasis on geometry. While her past exhibition favored a diversity of both sweeping curves and slicing diagonals, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” favors the hard edges of the dominant material mat board. Organic elements serve as accents, except in the case of The Glass-Walled House in Summer (2005). Most impressive is the intricacy of the allover web of leaves, connected and propped up on paper branches by segments of nylon thread. Rich shadows fall behind the raised branches; patches of lights and darks echo this passage in the woven-wool lawn. There is also something remarkably eerie in the precision of craft in Williams’ organic elements.

Most unsettling in their sterility are the bleached public interiors made of white mat board, such as The Peoples’ Palace (2005). This construction depicts a food court in the foreground and behind a high frame of windows several flights of open staircases.  One of the flattest reliefs measuring half an inch outwards, this piece depicts lines that are primarily made by thin shadows of overlapping layers of board. Segments of thread distinguish individual stairs and hand-cut grey paper becomes a patterned tile floor. In Office of the Dean (2005), a smaller 16 by 20 inch piece, a lone colored paper plant, perhaps a surrogate for human presence, is the only accent in the otherwise white interior of the Yale Art and Architecture building. These stark interiors become monochrome blueprints of otherworldly scenes, spaces bleached of all color and bereft of any human presence.

A foreboding sense of vacancy and absence permeates Lucy Williams’ depiction of mid-20th-century architecture. The title of her exhibition, also referencing the eponymous 1951 science fiction film, is a reminder of the post-World War II fear of nuclear devastation. Williams suggests that this fear remains in our contemporary consciousness. As objects reduced in scale, the Modernist structures Williams bases these art works on serve as abandoned aesthetic models, miniature monuments to the future ruins of contemporary civilization.