“Scavenge” a one person exhibition by Medrie MacPhee is the inaugural show for the Tibor De Nagy Gallery’s new space at 11/15 Rivington Street in New York. A small bench sits at the center for the viewer to sit, explore and rotate around on to see each of the works. Five large paintings nearly overcrowd the available wall space.
Deconstructed clothing feature prominently in the collection, but range dramatically in size—an entire canvas, zipper, pocket, one button—and marks a deviation for Macphee, whose previous work has focused on architectural elements to explore ideas of a dystopian future and past. Strong bold lines running through “Are We Green About This?” and “Out of Pocket” converge mellifluously, forming ancient streets and columns.
Between 2009 and 2014 Macphee was creating colorful and motion-like abstract paintings, and at one point she was compelled to include clothing artifacts. She had previously created a fake fashion line, RELAX, reassembling cheap clothing into comfort ware or, as she calls it, “Comfort clothing for a fraught time.” In an interview with Leslie Wayne for ArtCritical, she describes the decision to combine paintings and clothing as unintentional but of a “powerful urge” adding:
“At a certain moment I was convinced that the addition of the clothing provided that thing I was looking for. Even though [especially now] the paintings appear abstract, I still think of them as representations. For me, the clothing brings the paintings back into a context that tangibly refers to the world and to people.”
The paintings certainly do. Without bodily figures, the clothing alone implies human (non)existence. Featuring mostly comfort and working man’s clothing, Macphee manages to interweave her signature dystopian elements while remaining approachable to a wider audience. No silks, or expensive garments. She features only discounted wear that everyday people live and work in.
While the paintings feel abstract, and with a brief glance could only be so, they sew feminist undertones into rigid socio-political boundaries of male, female, and other. Though Macphee's “intention – in working with clothing – wasn’t overtly feminist,” “it definitely [feels] transgressive” in its defiance of fashion “as identity.” Why is it that our clothes often have the power to reveal personality, undercutting the importance of dialogue and social intercourse in a world so deeply in need of empathetic debate and understanding?