Review: Sarah McKenzie's White Walls 

An actual art experience or a meta one?

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If nothing else, Sarah McKenzie's White Walls will make you contemplate the experience of entering into a contemporary gallery or museum space. I mean, not just the pondering the work on the walls but the actual moment of entering; of opening doors and actually walking into the quintessential gallery with its white walls and minimal décor. Because these spaces are her subjects.

White Walls was an eerie experience for me, because most of the time the white-walled iMOCA gallery where her paintings are exhibited was empty as I was viewing it save for the gallery attendant at the desk. But in the painting "Entry" even the depicted desk at the entryway is devoid of human presence. And the exhibition spaces depicted in these paintings — all acrylic and oil on canvas save for a couple of prints — are likewise devoid of people. In "Door to the River" you see not just the entranceway lead into an exit: You see, in the right foreground, an abstract expressionist painting hanging on a wall — a painting within a painting. The wild abstract work is quite a contrast to the white walls of the depicted space. But in this depiction, you might notice this contrast while you might overlook it in an actual gallery.

Everything that you might find in one of these minimalist gallery spaces is here in these paintings, which really isn't all that much when you think about it: doorways, walls, floors, fluorescent lights, light streaming in from windows. There's an empty bench in "Still," presumably waiting for someone to sit on it. (This work depicts a gallery space in the Clyfford Still Museum.) One of the more intriguing pieces is "Landscape 1" where you see a stormy landscape painting on the wall. Yet you can see a similar mixtures of shade and sunlight in the light-reflecting black floor polished to perfection. It's as if the floor is reflecting the painting as much as the sunlight streaming through the adjacent window. In the painting "EXIT/SIGN", the exit sign is the same bright red as a color field painting displayed on a wall beyond. Maybe this is a wry commentary on the strange world of minimalist abstraction, where an exit sign can be more engaging than a painting.

I didn't rush to the exit with this exhibition. I lingered, all the while wondering whether I was having an actual art experience or a meta one.

iMOCA at the Murphy through July 30

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