Emerging Artist Pick: Margaret Lee (b. 1980, New York)
Margaret Lee’s work explores the nuances of simulacra in the digital age. Moving between
photography and sculpture, Lee’s work attempts to close the divide between image and object.
Appropriating banal everyday items, Lee creates hand-painted, plaster-casted copies that have
a striking and uncanny verisimilitude to their original counterparts. The artist calls these
sculptures “handmade ready-mades,” an acknowledged contradiction that references systems
of mass production as well as the irony of incorporating the hand into art making and then
painstakingly removing its trace. Lee photographs her sculptures, often arranging them in a
tableau so that the resultant images reference the language of advertising. Moving deftly
among media, Lee mines the possibilities and limitations of representation, as the original, the
copy, and the image of the copy move from real space to the page to the screen. She is
interested in the mediated experience of online viewing, and her work seeks to destabilize the
hierarchies between modes of representation, or at least narrow the gap between them.
Fruits and vegetables are frequent subjects of Lee’s work, which signals her larger interest in the
mechanisms of desire. Her attractive replicas draw both the eye and the camera. Of these
convincing fakes, Lee has said “I want to give you exactly what you want and not give you
anything at all.” Eggplant (phone) is a hybrid object in which a cast of an eggplant has been
fitted with the mechanisms of a rotary phone dial, cord, and handset. It is simultaneously a
phone and not a phone, an eggplant and not an eggplant. The title becomes a promise
unfulfilled as it fails in its function as either food or technology. In the related photograph
Eggplant (hello), the sculpture sits atop a marble table while a hand holds out the receiver as if
expectantly proffering it toward the desired party.