It would be a misnomer to label Maggie Lee’s solo show, “Vintage Paintings,” at Jenny’s Gallery as an exhibition of paintings. The gallery thrusts you into a fun and lovingly crafted space that explores the artist’s affinity for vintage and analog materials along with her ability to collage them onto hysterical and heartfelt canvases. We encounter references to MTV and VH1, Chinatown stationery stores and Federico Fellini, all are blended together in Lee’s seamless and wholly original aesthetic.
The 14 multimedia collage paintings on view are relatively small, each about one foot square, and made from found materials like fabric, cutouts from books and magazines, glitter, ribbon, studs and stickers. Still more materials wrap and cover the paintings: cut-up vintage dresses, bubble-gum pink polka-dot wrapping paper and kaleidoscopic decorative film. Each work feels like its own special gift, a colorful package whose playful surface invites you to enjoy its idiosyncrasies.
As with her canvases and materials, Lee refashioned Jenny’s one-room Chinatown space. The walls and ceiling are covered in a dense and glossy red paint that the artist had custom made and comically named “Maggie Pink.” Lee tinted the gallery’s lone window yellow and added a mullion with diamond shapes based on Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits (1965) to create an artwork titled Goth Window (all works 2021). She also inserted a ceiling-high column of yellow, red and blue lights into the gallery, which resembles a traffic-light totem pole. These interventions color your interactions with the work like a trippy atmospheric camera filter.
The cosmic background of Lifelong Friendship Society drew me towards two hearts pasted on the center. A cute, neon-yellow heart-shaped outline pierces through and around a solid red heart. Lava pours out in a spectacular act of molten heartbreak. I’m From NJ is one of the show’s most stunning and overtly biographical pieces. Made of thin and irregular slices of textured PVC puzzled together and layered atop a canvas covered in blue glitter, the phrase “I’m From New Jersey” references the artist’s suburban upbringing. The painting is funny but also totally beautiful in its sincerity. You can feel Lee’s reflections on her background through the PVC’s texture, evoking memories of suburban houses and diners, alongside the amusingly literal assertion in the text.
Ultimately, Lee’s DIY exhibition gives us an authentic and joyful sample of the artist’s singular dedication to her materials. Every detail is so closely attached to the maker that the work feels conversant—the more time you spend around them, the quirkier and sweeter the conversation gets. The frenetic placement of the glitter, a crooked phrase cut out of a magazine or a too-small plaid shirt transfigured onto a painting—all are done so coolly that they seem effortless. However, there’s nothing hasty here; only wonderfully composed art, exquisite in its immediacy, humor and sincerity. —Bryan Martin
Maggie Lee, Important Sampler CD, 2021. Acrylic, tape, ribbon, sticker on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Images courtesy the artist and Jenny’s, New York.