Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fried Kitsch, Performance and Metaphor in American Art


On April 16, 2010, we visited the McColl Center for Visual Art (Charlotte, North Carolina) for the opening and reception of "Fried," an exhibit of some of the latest work of installation-performance-sculptor, ex-lawyer, gay-rights advocate, Catholic and consciousness-raised Latino aggregate, Franco Mondini-Ruiz (born Gino Francisco Morndini, 1961, of Italian and Tex-Mex parentage).

He offered the guests, pink champagne, doughnuts, his art pieces and a delightful book. Gallery attenders wolfed down the doughnuts, sipped pink, chatted about the art on the walls; it was sensual and social; it became performance art, and interactive performance at that!

Appropriately, the snacks arranged on tables at the edge of the action were enormous piles of colorfully decorated (think sprinkles) and gooey, but delicious doughnuts accompanied by strawberry-flavored bubbly.
To add to the atmosphere, Mr. Mondini-Ruiz (not exactly vertically challenged, but not tall either, his black hair slicked down and wearing a filmy scarf) swooped up a hand-mike and did his two-for-one snake oil pitch for his work on view: Realistic replications of American fried foods, often perched on clusters of Dresden-like porcelin figurines in the kitsch-baroque style. Doughnuts, dominated but bacon, burgers and buckets of KFC were on site as well.

He also fashioned plastic cocktail glasses with tiny rodents perched on top, simulated Chinese egg rolls, french fries and bacon with eggs, sunny-side-up. " 'Fried' becomes a metaphor for exploring our culture," he remarked.

I must add to this that it also evokes varied aspects of American popular culture and our national disease, obesity. Terms like fast and easy, but also spontaneity and happiness. And death.

I did not ask if he admires Alice Waters.

But his piece de resistance is his fantastic 2005 book, High Pink: Tex-Mex Fairy Tales (Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.) The title takes-off from the mostly-southern terms high yellow and high cotton as well as fairy, a once popular epithet, meaning gay. One page vignettes, each with photo of one of his ceramic and mixed-media works opposite. His text is entertaining honest, personal, sometimes self-deprecating or haughty but, best of all, honest. And funny.

My copy arrived last week and I love it. Excerpts:

She comes to me with her little white towel to clean my shrinking pee-pee and I fess up. I tell her I'm gay and the the friends I'm with don't know it. They're in the other rooms of the Papagallo, this pink neon, five-tiered pagoda-shaped brothel in the Nuevo Laredo.

I love people who seem like they're from another time. The gorgeous Mormon boys on bicycles. The Mennonite family with marzipan faces and startled powder-blue eyes.

There are two things that homosexual men absolutely cannot live without: air conditioning and ice. This explains why there were no homosexuals prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Ruiz also received recognition from the likes of Roberta Smith (NY Times) and for his Infinito Bontanica LA , 2001, a site-specific installation at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History in Los Angeles as part of the exhibit on Latino Popular Religious Art, a field usually covered in the work of folklorists and anthropologists.

Scott Fraser:

The pieces are eye-catching and then one remembers other current artists like the Colorado-based photo-realist painter Scott Fraser (Center of the Earth Gallery, Charlotte, NC), Oreo Stack, 2009.

as well as the predecessors, earlier pieces by Robert Marshall Watts (Iowa, 1923-1988) such as his Salami and Egg (n.d.) or Pork Chop (1965), which also took aim at American consumerism but from a different perspective and with no attempt at being whimsical.

Robert M.Watts, Eggs [Chrome from exhibition, The American Supermarket], 1964

Heather D.Freeman is an artist-in-residence at the McColl Center, 2010:

got her MFA at Rutgers University, my old alma mater (1954) and the hotbed of avant-garde art in the late 1950s with George Segal, Robert M. Watts, and several others who led the Pop Art charge in the following decade. I managed to have a delightful and informative few minutes with Heather (her studio was crowded with visitors) and we fed each other art history tidbits and laughed and she even told me about her piece hanging out in the hallway, She, too, worked in metaphorical messages, drawing upon her undergraduate research in German Studies, mythology and design.
Heather D. Freeman, Logo [fragment]

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