Mike Lopez shares his own thrills and doubts about being an artist

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Stuck in Hydrocal plaster, a tiny balsa wood suspension pole was painted over and placed to the side in “Dealer’s Choice,” Mike Lopez’s latest exhibit at Material, Chicago. A lined red heart has also been drawn, and the colors – ascending in bands of cerulean, lime, and goldenrod yellow – make you dizzy amid the sculpture’s macabre implications. Nearby is a periwinkle sign that reads ‘CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE’, the home of Jason Voorhees in the Friday 13 slasher franchise (1980-ongoing), while dozens of component sculptures rest on makeshift scaffolding, the floor and window sills of the space. Taking the form of small plaster altars or offcuts wrapped in dyed canvas, the works of “Dealer’s Choice” come together like a poorly planned village. Tensions in taste, tone, and display abound, but Lopez’s cheerful sincerity is undeniably felt through it all.

Mike Lopez, ‘Dealer’s Choice’, 2021, exhibition view, Material Exhibitions, Chicago. Courtesy of: The Artist and Material, Chicago; photography: mboshphoto

This sense of chaos stems from the artist’s decision, in collaboration with curator Lauren Leving, to give carte blanche to a series of manipulators, who were paid to install the works over three performances. The opening iteration was a stressful affair: artists Issac Vazquez and Maggie Wong could be seen moving around a miniature construction of facing walls with images of burning candles and meandering vines. While the individual works are not specified and nothing is titled, the latter could be a sloppy homage to Gerhard Richter or Sonic Youth. Dream nation (1988), whose cover borrows the image of Richter’s painting Kerze (Candle, 1982). Glazed trinkets reminiscent of aquarium coral decorations or Hallmark cherub cards are scattered throughout the space and a strange vulgarity surfaces in two sculptures of an erect phallus and a sucker ejaculate. The first is parked behind raised planks and the second is given a canvas-wrapped block to hold, as if Vazquez and Wong were doing their best to hide the indelicacy of the works. Lopez’s ladle, the hand-made haste through these new works evokes the absurd charm of Peter Fischli & David Weiss, especially their Suddenly this insight (1981-in progress), a group of over 350 uncooked clay models curious about disparate events, words and ideas.

Mike Lopez, 'Dealer's Choice', 2021, exhibition view, Material, Chicago.  Courtesy: The Artist and Material, Chicago
Mike Lopez, ‘Dealer’s Choice’, 2021, exhibition view, Material Exhibitions, Chicago. Courtesy of: The Artist and Material, Chicago; photography: mboshphoto

Leaning against the back wall is a range of canvas wrapped wall studs of varying lengths. These minimal building blocks have become a sort of signature for the artist. Almost always, the base is meticulously cross stitched with a leather boot and each block is stamped, sometimes on a hanging zipper, with the date of its realization. One piece is just over three feet tall, sheathed in a tie-dye burnt orange about to appear weathered green. Placed like utensils on a platform, similar works in miniature, the thread bulging under the pinched canvas – a serious attempt at consistency.

In ‘Dealer’s Choice’, Lopez essentially shows off his good work, bad work and everything in between, cluttering up the sparse and tasteful catchphrase. He also frequently donates his art on Instagram to the first Chicago resident who sends him a DM – fifteen works in the past year alone. Perhaps there is a slight cynicism towards the market or the so-called arbiter of taste in the art world, which begs the question: Is Lopez shooting himself in the foot? But here he shares with us the uncertainty of what it’s like to be an artist: these cycles of thrill and doubt in artistic creation and the pressure to monetize your craft are very real. Lopez once told me that he couldn’t “speak the language” of professionalism in the art world. He craves the excitement of making art so much that he hardly aggressively cares about the rest. And the result is always toned even if it is also irregular.

Michael Lopez’sChoice of dealer‘is on view at Material Exhibitions, Chicago, until November 7.

Main image: Mike Lopez, ‘Dealer’s Choice’, 2021, exhibition view, Material Exhibitions, Chicago. Courtesy of: The Artist and Material, Chicago; photography: mboshphoto

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