New York

View of “Lucy McKenzie,” 2016. From left: Breche Abstract, 2015; Quodlibet LXI (Cerfontaine Coiffeuse), 2015; Map of the Dutch East Indies, 2015; Quodlibet LX (Violet Breche Desk), 2015. Photo: Thomas Müller.

View of “Lucy McKenzie,” 2016. From left: Breche Abstract, 2015; Quodlibet LXI (Cerfontaine Coiffeuse), 2015; Map of the Dutch East Indies, 2015; Quodlibet LX (Violet Breche Desk), 2015. Photo: Thomas Müller.

Lucy McKenzie

Galerie Buchholz | New York

View of “Lucy McKenzie,” 2016. From left: Breche Abstract, 2015; Quodlibet LXI (Cerfontaine Coiffeuse), 2015; Map of the Dutch East Indies, 2015; Quodlibet LX (Violet Breche Desk), 2015. Photo: Thomas Müller.

Lucy McKenzie enters the lofty or demoted discourse of oil painting through a little-used side entrance—trompe l’oeil effects. In 2007–2008 she attended a school for decorative painting in Brussels. The educational detour was an unusual one for an already exhibiting artist, and it served her well: The skills she gained brought the allure of vocational virtuosity to her conceptual practice, an air of expert make-believe. But that’s not to say her work is lighthearted. “Inspired by Inspired by,” her show at Galerie Buchholz this past spring, felt like the almost-real scene of a chilling narrative. Walking through the garden-apartment layout of the ground-floor gallery, observing the opaque precision of her spare, styled vignettes—showroom-like abbreviations of a bizarre, expensive interior—I noted that there was more than one place to hide a body.

Two deep and statuesque storage solutions, titled Cipolino Filing Cabinet I and II (all works 2015), appeared to be made of Cipolino granite, cream stone veined with dark green. Their finish is fake, though; the luxe surfaces of the show’s strange furniture were achieved with oil-painted canvas stretched over MDF forms. Pushed into a corner, the twin filing cabinets shared a platform with a tomb-like modern desk made of—or rather, wrapped in—purple and gold-faux marble. Two people could have sat there, facing each other across the desktop in semi-ridiculous chairs with wavy copper-tube frames. Another gleaming tube pierced the tiered desk and held aloft an illuminated seashell, resembling a ceremonial weapon more than a lamp. The look was Art Deco grandeur mixed with New Wave quirkiness, or maybe Heywood-Wakefield for Versailles.

The title of the mammoth workstation, Quodlibet LX (Violet Breche Desk), refers to a form of nineteenth-century architectural trompe l’oeil in which clever paintings of household items, naturalistically arranged, prompt double takes. Traditionally, quodlibet is meant to amuse; McKenzie’s use of it contributes to the uncanny, puzzling quality of her installation. On the desk’s marbleized surface, she leaves two-dimensional traces of her absent characters, including a tirelessly detailed espresso in a china cup, and a pair of orange, cryptically hand-labeled Esselte-brand notebooks. Other works, such as Quodlibet LVIII (Cathedral Pinboard), which seems swiped from a church’s didactic display for visitors, and Quodlibet XLVII, a painted copy of a royal-blue bulletin board featuring printed and partially redacted businessy e-mails associated with Atelier E. B. (McKenzie’s real-life collaboration with designer Beca Lipscombe), suggested conflicting interpretive directions. Were these works random appropriations? Did they have personal significance? I assumed these deliberately made and arranged objects were clues to a story, but maybe there wasn’t one—or just one.

Built on the shifting ground of real and fake, plausible and fantastic, original and copy, McKenzie’s network of mysterious allusions was both far-reaching and self-referential. The amazing furniture—which also included a charming vanity and a twin bed with a marble-slab mattress—was paired with evocatively generic paintings in styles of early European abstraction (and in tones to complement the decor), as well as meticulously painted colonial maps accented in gold leaf. The imposing, almost mural-size Map of the Dutch East Indies underscored the show’s suggestions of sinister opulence, wealth transparently derived from the exploitation of people and the natural world. Yet McKenzie, by making recourse to beautiful and prankish illusionism, can leverage the aura of seductive materials and fraught artifacts while keeping her hands clean. At least, relatively: In so skillfully smudging the line between representation and replication, so dispassionately rendering the backdrop of an overstyled life, she drew attention to the brutality of the quotidian in a new way.

Johanna Fateman