Franco Mondini-Ruiz: ¡Qué Purdy!
New World Museum
Catherine D. Anspon
Qu Purdy!, Franco Mondini-Ruiz one-person debut in Houston, also marks this mid-career, New York-based artists first solo museum exhibition. The locationthe New World Museumis an apt venue for Mondini-Ruiz; the artist transformed its neutral, pristine interior into an elaborate mise-en-scne that is among his most successful installations to date. Qu Purdy! also concludes a series of Texas shows: Giant opened at Ballroom Marfa in July 2004 and 99 Dollar Show inaugurated the Alameda Gallery in San Antonio that same month. This series functioned as a protracted homecoming for this Whitney Biennial alumnus, who was also anointed by ARTnews as one of twenty-five global Trendsetters in November 2004.
With Qu Purdy! Mondini-Ruiz continues a distinctive synthesis of high and low culture, transforming tchotchkes that signify mundane moments from everyday lifemostly rituals involving dining or snackinginto an elaborate tableau composed of several hundred components that can also be read as individual artworks. Their arrangementorderly rows of sculptures set upon a white daissuggested an altar to the God of Porcelain and Sweets, dominated as it was by frosted donuts, brownies, cookies, cakes and pie slices, juxtaposed and combined with florid, rococo-inspired teacups, saucers and/or porcelain ladies and gents garbed in eighteenth-century finery.
Franco Mondini-Ruiz, Fancy Mojada, 2005
Procelain cup and saucer, translucent resin, spoon, fake cookies
Approximately 4 x 4 inches
Mondini-Ruiz has always excelled at confronting issues of race and cultural identity via the odd objects that drive his installations and Qu Purdy! continues the artists wryly humorous observations of contemporary Tejano culture. Significantly, though, Qu Purdy! occurred midway into Mondini-Ruiz 20042005 Prix de Rome residency, giving this San Antonio native an opportunity to reflect upon the Italian aspects of his roots. (Mondini-Ruiz mother is Mexican-American; his fathers side, Italian aristocrats). However, like most of the artists oeuvre, kitsch held sway in even the Italian-influenced scenes.
Mondini-Ruiz combines lowbrow elements, such as miniature models of the Coliseum and silver filigree music boxes, with a pastiche of pastries. Tongue-in-cheek titles hint at hidden content; pieces that at first glance appear slight are rendered as more than succulent parfaits of Pop art. Fancy Mojada (the Tejano slang equivalent to wetback) references the issue of illegal immigration. It features a woman in an eighteenth-century gown and bonnet, rising from a porcelain cup and saucer filled with translucent resin resembling tea; a silver spoon and fake cookies nestle nearby. The viewer is drawn in by the pieces droll naturean unexpected combination of decorative art and pop cultureonly to be tipped off later to its layered meaning.
Franco Mondini-Ruiz, Martini Swim, 2005
Porcelain figurine, resin, Martini galss
Approximately 6 x 3 inches
Border crossings are also the subject of works, such as Martini Swim and Juan Ton Soup. Precious porcelain torsos of ladies and dandies bob above resin-filled containers, ambiguously evoking the immigrant experience. In contrast, Charro a la Mode emits a hilarious take on Latino pride. A porcelain horse is perched, somewhat precariously, upon a mountainous scoop of plastic vanilla ice cream that rests upon a slice of resin apple pie.
More enigmatic offerings, such as Conversation with a Donut, edge into surrealism. The sculpture depicts a rococo porcelain dandy seated on a Louis XV-style china chair, gazing at a frosted pink donutan actual donut coated with a preservativeinstalled upon a gilded porcelain parlor table. Like all the works in this exhibition, the action takes place at the scale of a dolls house, casting the viewer in the role of Gulliver or Alice looking down upon a fantasy kingdom where a mans head becomes a baked good (Donut Face, Brownie Head) and scenes from the Nativity are reenacted on a wheel of cheese (Cheeses of Nazareth).
With Qu Purdy! the artist also introduces a performative element that melds art and daily ritual: he installed his mother, Estella, in a vintage yellow and white trailer in the gallery. Amidst holy candles she greeted the audience one by one (for a fee of $5) and dispensed donuts, cakes and other sugary confections from a table laden with an edible installation.
Just like the Tejano tunes blasting from an auto repair garage across the street from this museum, Mondini-Ruiz art connects the Latino experience to tangible elements of the everyday. He then transports the onlooker to a surreal, Pop kingdom of fantasy and surpriseone that is, however, rooted in the authentic.