Beyond the Pearl
Standpoint Gallery, London, 2012

Rebecca Geldard, London, 2012
Lizi Sanchez, Shared Gifts

Think of the word ‘packaging’ and others, such as ‘product’, ‘manufacture’,
market’, immediately follow suit. Traditionally, these are words artists have
shied away from when describing what they do. In recent times, however, such
terms have come to liberally season conversations about art: from the school,
to the studio and the biennial conference. Lizi Sánchez appears to positively
embrace them. With her exuberant, meticulously observed sculptures and
art/fash-mag collages she acknowledges this shift, pointing out the odd and
uncomfortable areas of overlap that occur during the collision of very
different value systems. Post ‘Brit Art’, fine art’s cultural caché has continued
to grow, its stock value driven – by a global market with means – to ludicrous
levels during the Noughties boom. Sánchez’s sculptures might be described
as the super-sized children of this time, now grown up and critical of their
heritage. For while many contemporary makers – certainly in London where
Sánchez is now based – have since responded cautiously, thriftily to life in a
shifting economic landscape, the Peruvian artist appears to have salvaged
items and ideas left bobbing in the recent wreckage of excess, and had a
party, albeit one closer in mood and tone to the final scenes of ‘The Great

Defiantly decorative and often dramatically scaled, Sánchez’s work is born of
time-intensive material processes that ape, but essentially contrast with, those
of the mass market and the glossy high-end manufacture of boom-time art
production. The artist is concerned with the economy of the artwork in terms
of its material and contextual wrapping: the artistic devices and external
forces that might influence production, reception and comprehension of it.
Sánchez’s appropriation of iconic forms, motifs and modes of presentation
(from the classical sculpture court to Minimalist painting; theatre and retail
dioramas), often skirts the line between homage and critique in exploring the
complex provenance of our desire for them.

Her recent sculptural practice, the focus of this solo exhibition at Standpoint,
is comprised of towers and piles of shiny and colourful forms that resemble
gifts or offerings. Their obvious accessibility as objects is all part of the ruse,
for essentially we are being presented with the appearances of things that,
materially speaking, are often not what they seem. Sánchez’s sculptural
stratagem is Trojan-like in delivery: the gift is not ours to open, but to admire
and wonder at what, if anything, might be inside. The overblown cartoon
scaling of these works brings to mind the prop-like potential and doubleedged
nature of the gift as part of social ritual. One can imagine the
concealment of mobster devices and singing telegrams, equally, the sense of
anticipationand expectation on both sides of the gift/art encounter. The idea
of secret spaces, rather than treats or dangers, existing within these
structures serves to remind that artifice is in itself a form of protection: from
the war paint origins of makeup, to the host vessel and its many cultural
incarnations. The fact that these sculptures look like things we are unable to
unwrap reconnects them with their cultural heritage: processes of borrowing
in the art and financial worlds that, over time, become near impossible to plot.
Here, style is the substance. Fashion, or the idea of being wonderfully overdressed
in a vogueishly muted world, is ever-present, yet every outlandish
aesthetic association is kept in check by the formality of the spectacle: like
the curly white paper frills adorning the limbs of a butcher’s cuts.
Sánchez meddles with the proportions of stereotypical notions of femaleness
and art to acknowledge the collapsible associative distance between firlefanz,
the non-essential, and that perceived as conceptually rigorous or of a higher
order. A pyramid of outsized pearlescent balls, for example, is at once
reminiscent of ancient architecture or precious gems, as shop-window
dressing and ‘tchotchkes’. Sanchez expertly mimics the everyday creases
and crumples of paper wrapping, via hand-painting sheet metal, to confound
sensory response, while candy stripe-painted boxes give rise to the idea of
locating Agnes Martin via Paperchase, or Donald Judd in IKEA.

However hands-on the artist’s crafting of materials, Sanchez’s custodial
approach to the aesthetic strategies and structural forms at her disposal
situate these works amongst contrasting modes of appropriation. The at
points, Hesse-ian suggestion of the Minimal, for example, is cut by the
Pop-like, almost Koons-esque nature of the works’ scale and display. Louise
Lawler is an artist who shares Sanchez’s interest in the life of an art object
and how it might come to embody a particular cultural perspective, or
period of time. Within her presentation at Standpoint, Sanchez incorporates
two works from the influential American artist’s ongoing photographic series
depicting artworks as displayed in museums and collectors’ houses. Where
Sanchez takes familiar art ingredients and reconfigures them in object form,
Lawler frames her encounters with famous artworks in situ, in the manner of
a highly invested documentarian. While reflecting upon the nature of art itself
and its fate as a public or private object, both artists reveal much about the
art world – what it chooses to display, why and how – but also, the personal
poetry of the art experience. Through image and assembly they make it
possible to conceive of this contextual mix: the artwork as a shopping list of
matter and a maker’s proposition perpetually reshaped by its surroundings
and audience interpretation. It’s interesting to think of these different practices
as part of the same exhibition, given that (going back to the idea of art as
ideological stand-in) works from either artist might at this moment have been
called upon by curators to represent an array of other concerns. The work
of art, both artists seem to agree, has its own cultural trajectory and, like a
tourist subconsciously assuming accents, comes to be known, in a sense, by
the company it keeps.