Santa Fe

Heather McGill

Dwight Hackett Projects

Heather McGill’s sculptures flaunt an essential flatness. While the forms at first appear to make specific allusions to recognizable objects, from toasters to guitars, they resist completing those thoughts but instead suggest, with a lipstick-slick seductiveness. Enacting a tightly controlled giddiness, McGill employs up to thirty layers of acrylic lacquer (commonly known as “candies”) sprayed onto laser-cut aluminum or stainless steel skeletons, which are covered with fiberglass and layers of epoxy-coated urethane foam, then cold-molded using a vacuum bagging process. The five sculptures and nine laser-cut “drawings” that McGill showed at Dwight Hackett Projects recently, while sleek, thus also represent intense concentrations of energy.

The high-low wizardry of these lean, lavish forms—part Carl Andre, part Alice in Wonderland—is highly kinesthetic, an effect underscored by the relentlessness of McGill’s application: She sprays color onto their surfaces every day for up to six weeks, ultimately achieving a result that evokes Raymond Loewy’s streamlined silhouettes patterned like a set of satin sheets. McGill’s is a maximalist’s take on Minimalism, a transformation of Michael Fried’s oft-repeated maxim, “art degenerates when it approaches the condition of theater.” The sheen of her finish is as much fun, optically, as that of the “kustom kar kommandos” (Kelsey Martin in particular), who influenced a generation of West Coast artists, including Billy Al Bengston and John McCracken.

Yet for all McGill’s serial commentary on surface, in designs that hint at sources as divergent as Formica countertops, automatic writing, or magenta ’70s prom bouquets, a grid usually runs beneath. Further, the work alludes to Duchamp’s idea/ideal of the “infrathin,” by which an object—such as the two-dimensional bride in the Large Glass—may theoretically pass into a higher dimension. McGill, in her gold candy over purple-and-red-checked sculpture, The Hem of Her Coulottes, 2006, interrupts the integral flatness of the sculptural plane by giving the object’s perimeter a curling lip. This integration of a baroque-styled line hints at a representation of flesh beneath the culotte hem and suggests the artist is patterning the passing bride’s (infrathin) trousseau. Mindful of Hannah Wilke’s performances in front of the Large Glass in the ’70s, this engaging of art history by an assertively feminine body is highly significant.

The laser-cut drawings, which are described by McGill as the thinnest of the sculptures, look like doilies or sewing patterns and make further reference to those sources by sketching a series of idiosyncratic nonnarrative scenes. These depict farm animals and Weber grills, as well as muscle boys flexing their abs and hitching rides on butterflies that suck nectar from datura blooms. To engage with these works on paper is to get very small and very psychedelic, gazing into a rickrack frieze from which forms scissor up.

It’s clear that the work’s obsessiveness is a by-product or form of sampling (meaning both embroidery and music making). McGill uses drawings such as an untitled study of cats and gems to investigate formal problems while addressing a history of cultural misogyny. Specifically, the objects that this drawing presents—a diabolical kitty, lapidary diamonds, Erté-style pearls ringing the edge—may cause some to deride her imagery as mere women’s work. But to do this would be to forget about, say, James Rosenquist and his spaghetti pots and hairdryers. McGill’s project is a radical statement on feminine labor, a manicured but paint-stained finger wagged at the sculptural boys’ club.

Ellen Berkovitch