Lucy McKenzie (5 stars)

Goodbye Ms McKenzie

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With every other artist rushing to Glasgow, Alexander Kennedy looks at the work of Lucy McKenzie who got out quick but cannot forget the city.

It surely wont be long until Scotland sees a major retrospective of Lucy McKenzie’s career so far. The work chosen for her exhibition, Ten Years of Robotic Mayhem (and sublet) acts as an excellent selection of recent work from an oeuvre that continues to develop in wit and confidence. McKenzie’s recent move to Belgium could have something to do with the emphasis this show places on Glasgow as a series of faded and fragmented memories, but the city has always played a pivotal role as subject matter in her paintings and drawings. That said, in the gallery upstairs at the Talbot Rice, her association with Edinburgh comes to the fore, with drawings of ‘well-kent faces’ previously reproduced in The One O’Clock Gun reduced to sinuous inky lines and darkly humorous jutting profiles.

In the main gallery downstairs, McKenzie has mocked up a small Mackintosh-esque room (designs by his contemporaries have also been used). This installation draws together three main themes: the continual fascination with Mackintosh as our only fin de siecle avant-gardist; the artistic relationship (and, sometimes, the lack of one) between Scotland and the rest of Europe; and the culminating sense that when these issues are bridged the relationship created is not too solid.

This is by far the most successful piece in the show, acting both as a protective play den and stage set, but with the corners missing, so that we can be watched from the outside. The deconstructed cuboid structure is placed perfectly yet awkwardly in the lower gallery space, giving the impression that the four enormous canvases that form it have been dragged off the gallery walls or have magically pulled themselves together. Art as an idea, a plan, as a flat-packed room has been expertly realised by letting the work follow its own truth content. Beside this ‘sculpture’ are two Mackintosh ladder-back chairs, pushed right up against the gallery walls. They have now become copies of earlier copies, their placement mimicking how they would be displayed within a museum as ‘originals’, and now, at the opposite extreme, they have become lowly bits of usually invisible gallery furniture for punters to park their arses in.

This theme of displaying that which usually aids the exhibition is continued in the felt screen beside the mocked-up room, which is covered with a screed of ‘hit and miss’ drawings. Some of these are about as successful as 6th form Higher Art sketches, but this is apparently the aesthetic they hope to invoke. The drawings are pined to the board like evidence of a school project on ‘Glasgow’s Architecture’, with pencil, pen and wash drawings, some loose and jagged, others as tight as architectural plans. In one successful watercolour, Mackintosh-like abstract forms grow up and over the walls, dripping down the façade like upside-down tears. Glasgow misses Ms McKenzie as much as she obviously misses us.

Ten Years of Robotic Mayhem (and sublet), Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh, until Sat 9 Dec

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