In: CAC Málaga

“Cámara de las Maravillas”, the first solo show in Europe by American artist and father of Pop Surrealism Mark Ryden (1963, Medford, Oregon), has brought thousands of people to the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) in Málaga, Spain, since it opened last December. It is no wonder that it has attracted so much attention, as it puts together 55 works covering 20 years of creation by the artist, including iconic pieces such Incarnation (2009) –the inspiration behind Lady Gaga’s 2010 meat dress-, most of which are kept in private collections.

The 2012 painting The Parlor – Allegory of Magic, Quintessence, and Divine Mystery opens the show, anticipating many of the elements that the visitor is going to encounter throughout the exhibition: a strange assortment of semi-human characters, a theatrical space populated by a myriad of symbols, odd creatures that are often both ridiculous and disturbing, a whole lot of irony and an exquisite technique that dissolves the brushstrokes into a continuous and delicate surface. His meticulous and detailed work brings to mind that of old Venetian masters like Vittore Carpaccio and Giovanni Bellini. While grounded in contemporary pop culture, Ryden’s works are reminiscent of many previous artistic periods and styles, from French Neoclassicism to the Pre-Raphaelites and, of course, also Surrealism.

The earliest work in the exhibition is the painting Saint Barbie (1994), while the most recent, the sculpture Wood Meat Dress (2016), was created especially for the Málaga show. From the young girl worshiping a goddess-like Barbie doll to the eerie, sad-eyed sculpted lady, we are able to observe the evolution of the physiognomy of Ryden’s peculiar female characters through the years.

All the different series that the artist has exhibited in the past –The Meat Show (1998), Bunnies & Bees (2001), Blood (2003), The Tree Show (2007), The Snow Yak Show (2009), The Gay 90’s (2010), The Gay 90’s West (2014), and Dodecahedron (2015)— are represented here, plus the original artwork for the cover of Michael Jacksons’ album Dangerous and three beautiful porcelain figures made in the last five years. However, the works are neither grouped in series nor displayed in chronological order, and this makes the artist’s ultimate concerns and interests, such as Science and the destruction of Nature, even more evident throughout the exhibition.

The big exhibition space of the CAC has been articulated in a way that allows the visitor to see many of the pieces at the same time, encouraging many dialogues and correspondences not also between the works, but also between their magnificent frames. These have never been a secondary element for the artist, who designs many of them himself so they perfectly match and complete each of the paintings.

Adjectives like kitsch, naïve, creepy or sentimental are often used to define Ryden’s aesthetic, but these labels don’t do any justice to the complexity of his work. The best way to approach this cabinet of curiosities is with the eyes of a child, leaving preconceived ideas at home and letting your imagination run free.

“Cámara de las Maravillas” is a real treat, well worth a trip to Málaga. Those who already love the work of Mark Ryden will be delighted to see together such a careful selection of old as well as new pieces, while those unfamiliar with the artist have here a wonderful opportunity to dive into his enigmatic universe, which is very much alive and still evolving.


Mark Ryden’s “Cámara de las Maravillas”, curated by Fernando Francés, is on view at CAC Málaga until March 5, 2017.

 

The Prado, the Reina Sofía, the Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you are travelling to Madrid, those are the museums you will most likely visit. They are, of course, a must-see.  But the city is packed with interesting museums and galleries outside this so-called Golden Triangle of Art. There are hundreds of things to see, but today I am focusing on a small exhibition in one of my favourite spots, the ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration.

The museum building, a former beer factory built in the nineteenth century, hosts the ABC Collection, which includes nearly 200,000 artworks that sum up a century of graphic art in Spain. One of their exhibition programmes, Connections, invites artists linked to the world of drawing to develop a project for the museum, taking as its starting point works from the ABC Collection and the Santander Collection.

Photo: Museo ABC.

Photo: Museo ABC.

The latest edition of Connections presents the work of Madrid-based artist Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980), who exhibits Fate Lines, a project inspired by a tarot session with a Cuban “Santera”. The artist reinterprets nine tarot figures in her very original and well-defined vocabulary, in which different referents –such as Baroque, Pop, Surrealism, and Symbolism— coexist.

Left: a. t. c. (Ángeles Torner Cervera) Blanco y Negro cover, 2th november, 1930 . Colección ABC. Right: Alcora Royal Factory vases. Second period (1749-1786). Colección Banco Santander.

Left: a. t. c. (Ángeles Torner Cervera) Blanco y Negro cover, 2th november, 1930 . Colección ABC. Right: Alcora Royal Factory vases. Second period (1749-1786). Colección Banco Santander.

The exhibition only occupies one small room at the museum, where Vargas’s giant tarot cards (they  are more than 2 metres tall) are the main attraction, capturing the viewer’s eye with their intricate details. The works the artist has taken for inspiration are a pair of eighteenth-century ornamental ceramic vases made in the Royal Factory of Alcora (Valencian Community) and a 1930 cover of the Spanish magazine Blanco y Negro. Both the vases and the cover are linked to the designs in the Spanish playing cards, which are mixed with those in the Tarot de Marseille in Vargas’s works.

Marina Vargas studied Fine Art at the University of Granada, and her work has been shown, among other places, in New York, Mexico, La Habana and Milan. She uses different media to explore her many interests, which include religion, symbolism, and identity. I am particularly fascinated by her sculptural work around the idea of classical beauty, such as the pieces featured in her 2015 exhibition Nor Animal Neither Angel, at CAC Málaga.

Marina Vargas, 'Nueve de copas' ['Nine of Cups'], 2016

Marina Vargas, ‘Nueve de copas’ [‘Nine of Cups’], 2016

In the case of her tarot cards, everything starts with a digital drawing where Vargas combines different images. She then transfers this to a wood panel using graphite and proceeds to apply paint. However, she returns to drawing over and over during the process, as can be seen in a couple of cards which the artist has left unfinished.

That is precisely the most interesting aspect of Fate Lines: that it offers the viewer the opportunity to learn more about the artist’s process. Besides the aforementioned works, the exhibition also includes a video of the tarot session that inspired the series, the images and documents that Vargas used during her research, and a collage that developed in her studio walls while she worked on the pieces.

Marina Vargas, ‘Siete de oros’ [‘Seven of Gold’], 2016.

Georges Braque, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and Leonora Carrington are some of the artists that were inspired by the Tarot de Marseille. For Marina Vargas it becomes the perfect medium to explore her interest in symbolism. But her own language is so powerful that it not only modifies, but completely transmutes the traditional images, while at the same time the signs of her destiny are assimilated into her own particular language.


Marina Vargas. Fate Lines. Museo ABC (Amaniel 29-31, Madrid). 17 Jun – 20 Nov 2016.