Liz Magor

Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland

As with the most perceptive of short-story writers – Lucia Berlin, for instance, or Lydia Davis – Canadian artist Liz Magor is able to mine the commonplace to find drama in life’s minutiae. ‘you you you’, Magor’s most extensive exhibition in Switzerland to date, follows closely on the heels of a major survey show at Montreal’s Musée d’art contemporain and, while not on the same scale, offers a broad and very welcome introduction to her work.

At one end of the large, single exhibition space are objects with a homely mien, including blankets and decorative knickknacks; towards the other are larger, more dispassionate offerings such as Near Clear (2005): a lone mop abandoned against a wall. But, despite this slight division, there is continual seepage between these two notional areas. Pedestals are eschewed, with most sculptures either placed on the ground or propped against walls, while the recurrent motifs-cum-materials of cardboard, silicone covers and blankets regularly intermingle. Nowhere is this clearer than in the freestanding installation One Bedroom Apartment (1996), a circular fortress remade here (in part) with local paraphernalia: packing boxes, wrapped mattresses, potted plants, books, crockery and bric-à-brac. Collectively, these elements might make a home but, grouped here, in seeming anticipation of removal, they are distinctly unwelcoming.

migros_museum_magor_good-shepherd_3.jpg

Liz Magor, Good Shepherd (detail), 2016, polymerized gypsum, wool, plastic bags, plastic sheet, cardboard 133 x 262 x 31 cm. Courtesy: Sammlung Migros Museum für Gegenwartskuns; photograph: SITE Photography

Liz Magor, Good Shepherd (detail), 2016, polymerized gypsum, wool, plastic bags, plastic sheet, cardboard 133 x 262 x 31 cm. Courtesy: Sammlung Migros Museum für Gegenwartskuns; photograph: SITE Photography

Elsewhere, as if to further emphasize this alienation of the familiar, Magor imitates more commonplace materials such as fabric or metal with polymerized gypsum: were it not for a pearly sheen or an abnormal physical imperfection, they would be entirely credible. Chee-to (2000), for example, looks odd but plausible: a heap of stones under which the titular orange snacks can be seen peeping through. However, examine the sculpture closely and it will become clear that the stones are not stones at all, but gypsum imitations: once again, the artist challenges us to question our presumptions.

migros_museum_magor_stack_of_trays_1.jpg

Liz Magor, Stack of Trays, 2008, polymerized gypsum, chewing gum, found objects, 25 x 45 x 47 cm. Courtesy of Private Collection, Calgary Canada; photograph: SITE Photography

Liz Magor, Stack of Trays, 2008, polymerized gypsum, chewing gum, found objects, 25 x 45 x 47 cm. Courtesy of Private Collection, Calgary Canada; photograph: SITE Photography

Magor frequently constructs an opposition between the idealized pursuit of an outdoor life and indoor domesticity, only to then playfully undermine it through the vernacular of North American frontierism. Tent (1999), for example, is a sleeping bag-shaped form of rubber and nylon propped against the wall, its dark surface textured like tree bark with a knothole where a head might be. Such barbed, black humour often seems to be Magor’s means of countering a pessimistic view of humanity’s frailties. In Carton II (2006), a block-like pile of folded clothes (deceitful gypsum, again) is sawn in half to reveal a case filled with countless packs of cigarettes, matchboxes and chewing gum. Similarly, Tweed (Kidney) (2008) comprises a cast of a woven jacket, out of which pokes a herniated tequila bottle (the kidney). Time and again in the artist’s sculptures we find this push-pull of reassurance and violence, domesticity and wildness, which enfolds care and warmth with (self-)destruction.

migros_museum_magor_2.jpg

Liz Magor: ‘you you you’, installation view, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, 2017. Photograph: FBM Studio

Liz Magor: ‘you you you’, installation view, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, 2017. Photograph: FBM Studio

In the centre of the space, three swaddled, baby-like forms with protruding hair (Sleeper #2, #6 and #9, all 1999) creep like stranded seal cubs across the floor, mournful little beings and grace notes to the larger works. Several found and repaired woollen blankets dangle from the walls on dry cleaners’ hangers, stains remarked, moth-holes sutured. This is Magor at her searing best, when her imagery suggests that nurture is a double-edged concept; that care can manifest vulnerability. But her manipulations of the specific
and the quotidian work on a broader level too, with the near-perfect imitations of materials eventually circling back on themselves and forcing us to question exactly what the terms ‘natural’ or ‘real’ mean to us.

Aoife Rosenmeyer is a critic, translator and occasional curator based in Zurich, Switzerland.

Issue 187

First published in Issue 187

May 2017

Most Read

From Linder at the Women’s Library to rare paintings by Serge Charchoune, the exhibitions to see outside of the main...
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
Ahead of the 52nd edition of Art Cologne, your guide to the best shows to see in the city
‘I'm interested in the voice as author, as witness, as conduit, as ventriloquist’ – the artist speaks...
In further news: a report shows significant class divide in the arts; and Helen Cammock wins Max Mara art prize
A genre more associated with painting, an interest in the environment grounds a number of recent artists’ films 
A new report suggests that women, people from working-class backgrounds and BAME workers all face significant...
The divisive director out after less than six months by mutual consent
In further news: Gillian Ayres (1930-2018); Met appoints Max Hollein as director; Cannes announces official selection
With miart in town, the best art to see across the city – from ghostly apparitions to the many performances across the...
From Grave of the Fireflies to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the visionary director grounded fantasy with...
In further news: art dealer and Warhol friend killed in Trump Tower fire; UK arts organizations’s gender pay gap...
Emin threatened ‘to punch her lights out’, she claimed in a recent interview
As the Man Booker Prize debates whether to nix US writers, the ‘homogenized future’ some novelists fear for British...
‘Very often, the answer to why not would be: because you’re a girl’ – for this series, writer Fran Lebowitz speaks...
The artist is also planning a glass fountain of herself spouting her own blood
‘The difficulties are those which remain invisible’: for a new series, writer and curator Andrianna Campbell speaks...
With ‘David Bowie Is’ at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Glenn Adamson on the evolution of the music video – a genre Bowie...
Under a metahistorical guise, the filmmaking duo enact hidden tyrannies of the contemporary age
The area’s development boom isn’t just in luxury property – the art scene is determined to keep its place too
In further news: Laura Owens’s 356 Mission space closes; John Baldessari guest-stars in The Simpsons
With his fourth plinth commission unveiled in London, the artist talks archaeological magic tricks and ...
When dealing with abuse in the art industry, is it possible to separate the noun ‘work’ from the verb?

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018