Review: Lucy McKenzie, “Inspired by an Atlas of Leprosy”

Galerie Buchholz, Berlin.

What happens when a little girl grows up and realizes that the world around her is a rotting illusion? In a biting critique of the creative upper class, Lucy McKenzie has converted the upstairs rooms of this gallery into the live-work quarters of an anonymous entrepreneurial woman. Each room, including a maid’s bedroom, a secretary’s office, and a waiting room, is filled with dark and cynical riddles that parallel elements of the artist’s own circumstances.

In the secretary’s office, the artist uses her characteristic trompe l’oeil techniques, creating detailed paintings of neatly arranged bulletin boards for Quodlibet XLVII, Quodlibet LII, andQuodlibet XLIX (all works 2015). These exhibit actual correspondence with banking and tax offices from her collaborative project with designer Beca Lipscombe, calledAtelier E.B., whose wares are available for purchase in a temporary shop downstairs.

Other “Quodlibet” oil paintings situate unsparingly realistic images of hole punchers, magazines, coffee cups, and cell phones as flat tabletops where such objects would hypothetically sit. Office and bedroom furniture built from MDF and metal, such as Cipolino Filing Cabinet I or Serrancolin Bed, are covered in painted canvases that mimic marble surfaces or wood grain, giving the effect of a life-size dollhouse. Qualitative differences between cheap and valuable materials are also flattened, becoming interchangeably vain and functionless. Cryptic messages can be discovered throughout, like in the large oil painting Bathroomarticulating a fragment of the fictive proprietor’s bathroom and hallway. A loosely painted scarlet line runs along the bottom of the painting, as if the floor’s foundations were bleeding. It sends chills up the spine, as does the exhibition’s title, “Inspired by an Atlas of Leprosy.” Is the comparison of the disease to creative entrepreneurs meant to be ironic? Didactic? Or, like McKenzie’s painting style, is it merely an observation true to life?

First published on, December 11th, 2015.

arielle bier