In Sanctum, Sarah McKenzie’s third solo exhibition with David B. Smith Gallery, the artist presents the newest works in her ongoing White Walls series. Through her paintings of museum and gallery interiors, McKenzie examines the architecture of exhibition space and the role it plays in framing and orienting our experience of art. The rooms and corridors depicted in these works are at once austere and opulent; makeshift and highly controlled; impersonal and sacred. McKenzie celebrates these pristine rooms and the specific works of art they feature, but her paintings also raise issues of access and inclusion, both for artists and for viewers.
While art galleries and museums may offer a sense of sanctuary to some, others may feel marginalized or shut out entirely. Historically, these rooms have been highly exclusive, promoting a narrow, dominant art narrative while omitting alternative perspectives. Although the art world has begun to reconsider that narrative, as demonstrated by the 2019 Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Guggenheim, captured in McKenzie’s painting, Inner Circle, the sense of exclusivity nonetheless persists. As all the works in Sanctum reveal, these spaces have the power to confer status and meaning on the art contained within and the individuals who gain entry.
With an emphasis on geometry, pattern, and surface, McKenzie's paintings hover in a zone between stark realism and abstraction. Playing with the materiality of paint, she works with both oils and acrylics and juxtaposes various painting “styles” on each canvas, deliberately undermining the illusion of depth and the overall unity of the completed image. McKenzie’s work often appears photo-realistic when seen in reproduction, but, seen in person, the painted surface asserts itself forcefully, enabling the viewer to discover the process by which the image was constructed.