Sarah McKenzie

My paintings capture architecture and the built environment in a state of flux. Past series have depicted suburban sprawl, construction sites, and abandoned, decaying homes and factories. My current body of work explores the architecture of exhibition space: art fair tents, minimalist gallery interiors, and video-screening rooms. These are spaces designed to accommodate the temporary, accepting change and transition as a constant state. These white-walled rooms are at once austere and lavish; makeshift and highly controlled; impersonal and sacred. I am interested in the notion of spectacle and the role that architecture plays in orienting the viewer's experience of a work of art. My paintings also bring up issues of access and audience. As with all my past work, human occupants are notably absent from the gallery spaces I depict; this forces the viewer to consider his or her own position relative to the image.

With an emphasis on geometry, pattern, and surface, my paintings hover in a zone between stark realism and abstraction. Playing with the materiality of paint, I apply both oils and acrylics to a single canvas and juxtapose various painting “styles,” deliberately undermining the illusion of depth and the unity of the completed image. My work often appears photo-realistic when seen in reproduction, but–seen in person–the painted surface asserts itself forcefully, and the viewer is able to determine the process by which the image was made. This is important to me. I care deeply about making paintings–physical objects with which the viewer will have a direct, visceral relationship and response.

Sarah McKenzie is a painter based in Boulder, Colorado. She holds a BA in film studies from Yale University and an MFA in painting from the University of Michigan. McKenzie’s paintings document our built landscape, exploring changes in our architecture (what we build) for evidence of social, economic, and cultural shifts (why we build). Over time, her work has focused on construction sites, abandoned buildings, hotel rooms, and (most recently) the white-walled interiors of museums and galleries. Since early 2020 she has been researching a new project exploring the architecture of prisons. McKenzie has exhibited her paintings nationally, including shows with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Yale School of Architecture, the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, the Aspen Art Museum, and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, among other venues. In 2012, McKenzie received a Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant, and in 2019, she was awarded the 10th Alexander Rutsch Award for Painting. In Spring 2021, McKenzie received the Marion International Fellowship for the Visual and Performing Arts to support her prison architecture series. When she is not in the studio, McKenzie helps to run Tilt West, a Denver- based arts and culture nonprofit, and she teaches visual art through the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI).

  • Sarah McKenzie Projection (James Cohan with Bill Viola, 2018) Sarah McKenzie
    Projection (James Cohan with…
  • Sarah McKenzie Landscape 4, Upper East Side (Met Breuer) Sarah McKenzie
    Landscape 4, Upper East…
  • Sarah McKenzie Suspension (Yale University Art Gallery with Sol Lewitt and Joel Shapiro, 2018) Sarah McKenzie
    Suspension (Yale University Art…
  • Sarah McKenzie Faceless, Armless Women (Yale University Art Gallery with Manuel Neri, 2018) Sarah McKenzie
    Faceless, Armless Women (Yale…
  • Sarah McKenzie Passage (MCA Denver) Sarah McKenzie
    Passage (MCA Denver)
  • Sarah McKenzie Exhibition Space (Whitney Museum with Laura Owens, 2018) Sarah McKenzie
    Exhibition Space (Whitney Museum…
  • Sarah McKenzie Inner Circle (Guggenheim Museum with Hilma af Klint, 2019) Sarah McKenzie
    Inner Circle (Guggenheim Museum…
  • Sarah McKenzie Equilibrium (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum with Piet Mondrian, 2019) Sarah McKenzie
    Equilibrium (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum with…
  • Sarah McKenzie Portal (Marianne Boesky with Hans Op de Beeck, 2019) Sarah McKenzie
    Portal (Marianne Boesky with…
  • Sarah McKenzie Windows (Nathalie Karg with Seth Cameron, 2019) Sarah McKenzie
    Windows (Nathalie Karg with…
  • Sarah McKenzie Cage (Whitney Museum with Brendan Fernandes) Sarah McKenzie
    Cage (Whitney Museum with…
  • Sarah McKenzie Sentinel (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum) Sarah McKenzie
    Sentinel (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum)
  • Sarah McKenzie Interim (Museum of Contemporary Art Denver) Sarah McKenzie
    Interim (Museum of Contemporary…
  • Sarah McKenzie Spectacle (Indianapolis Art Museum with William Lamson, 2016) Sarah McKenzie
    Spectacle (Indianapolis Art Museum…
  • Sarah McKenzie Frieze Sarah McKenzie
    Frieze
  • Sarah McKenzie Entry (Mitchell-Innes & Nash) Sarah McKenzie
    Entry (Mitchell-Innes & Nash)
  • Sarah McKenzie Vitrine (White Cube, Mason’s Yard with Haim Steinbach, 2013) Sarah McKenzie
    Vitrine (White Cube, Mason’s…
  • Sarah McKenzie Vacancy (lithograph) Sarah McKenzie
    Vacancy (lithograph)
  • Sarah McKenzie Study (L.E.S.) Sarah McKenzie
    Study (L.E.S.)
  • Sarah McKenzie Barrier (Frieze Masters, 2013) Sarah McKenzie
    Barrier (Frieze Masters, 2013)
  • Sarah McKenzie Exhibition Catalogue: White Walls Sarah McKenzie
    Exhibition Catalogue: White Walls
  • Sarah McKenzie Exhibition Catalogue: Transitional Sarah McKenzie
    Exhibition Catalogue: Transitional