ODD CONNECTIONS: ‘Avarice’ at the Brooklyn Museum and ….

Brooklyn Museum "Avarice" Fernando Mastrangelo 2008IT’S A SHOW-STOPPING GRAND FINALE TO BROOKLYN MUSEUM’S GREAT-HALL EXHIBIT Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn, and no wonder, for the piece is spectacular. To Brooklyn Artisan’s surprise, it’s even more striking in situ than Gaston Lachaise’s monumental “Standing Woman” –  which we’d gone there to have another fond look at. (That, and the bronze foursome from Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais” who’re standing around in the covered courtyard.)

What stunned us – and won us –  is the disc-shaped piece almost ten feet in diameter that’s called “Avarice.” Part of the museum’s collection of contemporary art, it was made in 2008 by Fernando Mastrangelo, who was then 30. Mastrangelo is a Brooklyn-based artist (whose mom lives in Texas, one learns from his Facebook page). As the name suggests, “Avarice” combines art and politics. Its artistic basis is, of course, the circa-1500 Aztec Calendar Stone – which recorded the creation story of the Aztec world – with the face of Tonatiuh, the Sun God, at the center. The political statement is what it’s made of, a wry example of Marshall McCluhan’s dictum that “the medium is the message.” The media in this case are:  White corn, white and yellow corn meal, epoxy, fiberglass, wood, and metal. (And maybe just a small shovelful from the recycling bin?)

In adjacent panels, some cobs and a Coke. Sounds like a summer snack in Mississippi.

In nearby panels, some cobs and a Coke. Staples of an American summer diet.

Toothpaste, spark plug, sliced lunch meat, see anything else?

Toothpaste, spark plugs, deli sliced meat. (Photos: Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool.)

The museum sign also tells us, “The depiction of corn-based products draws attention to Mexico’s mass cultivation of corn to meet energy needs (via ethanol) and foreign consumer demands.” The Aztec visual reference brings up the whole sordid story of the Spanish Conquest; the devil in the details, however, is the “avarice” of North American agribusiness and consumer culture. Take a look at these close-ups and the large image at top, and you’ll find some telltale items.

Political art is nothing new for Mastrangelo; his 2010 TED Talk spoke of art as an evolving way to record history, to tell the story and capture the spirit of one’s times, including in today’s digital world. Last year he had a 3-month show in Miami at the Charest-Weinberg Gallery called Black Sculpture. The gallery write-up makes clear this is not about race. “After creating exact molds based on the work of Frank Stella and Ad Reinhardt, Mastrangelo casts his reliefs out of compacted gunpowder. The pieces teeter on the precipice of annihilation.” Yikes, talk about jimmy-crack-corn. “Yet the pieces are not simply bombastic,” the gallery says; “submerged beneath the tense potential for destruction is an elegiac calm. They give form to the Existential angst that inspired their Cold War-era predecessors….The black gunpowder, coupled with the Reinhardt’s cruciform and Stella’s teleological line work, firmly suggests an end of something.” Indeed. One hopes all future shows will be firmly No-Smoking zones.

Brooklyn Artisan came across what seemed to be a clear Brooklyn influence in Mastrangelo’s other discographic work from 2008 (click through to have a look). Though our favorite was composed of “Turquoise Sugar, Red Arbol Chili, Corn, Corn meal” and titled “Xochiquetzal,” we knew at a glance its visual vocabulary was from Brownstone Brooklyn’s   ornate plaster ceiling medallions, including the hole for the chandelier.

Meanwhile, back in the Great Hall: The stated purpose of the Brooklyn Museum exhibit is to “create new ways of looking at art by making connections between cultures as well as objects…. Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn was a joint effort of the Brooklyn Museum’s curators, organized by Kevin Stayton, Chief Curator. The installation was designed by Matthew Yokobosky, Chief Designer at the Brooklyn Museum” and financial support for the long-term installation came from Lisa and Dick Cashin. Brooklyn Artisan salutes them all, but as much as we enjoyed working the room, we do admire this comment shown on the museum’s own web site: “it’s a strange collection that doesn’t seem to sync with each other. reminds me more of a victorian living room than a museum exhibit.” — Posted by Tameka G.

From totally outside the museum scope, there was one more odd cultural connection we couldn’t help making. Last fall Brooklyn Artisan visited another great hall exhibit, “American Made,” put on in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Station by Martha Stewart. In our photos made at the time, take a look at the sign and its detail.

Painter's tape, sparkly braid and bating brush.

Painter tape, sequin braid, brush.

From the exhibit in Grand Central's Vanderbilt Hall.

From Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall.

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