In: pop culture

“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.


October 20, 2015

Beautifully Brainwashed

If you’re in tune with even a sliver of art culture, you know who Banksy is.  Mysterious and shadowy, the world is constantly trying to figure out who this visionary artist is, especially with the opening of his bemusement park, Dismaland, in the UK.  But we’re not here to talk about Banksy.  We’re here to talk about the rumored-to-actually-be-Banksy street-artist and filmmaker, Mr. Brainwash, specifically his pop-up exhibit, Life is Beautiful, that’s been making splashes in NYC.

Thierry Guetta a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash popped on the scene in 2010 when Banksy released his Academy Award-nominated documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop (and if you haven’t seen it I suggest you treat yourself to a night in with Netflix and this film).  It tells the supposedly true story of Guetta, a French immigrant who moves to Los Angeles, and I won’t spoil the ending except to say that in real life, Guetta turns into the brilliantly successful Mr. Brainwash.

Now, I love his name, especially when you know the context of his work.  Guetta’s signature work revolves around the clever rendering and altering of pop culture icons – so think of Andy Warhol except taking one step further.  His name reflects on how these figures impact society in such a way that people will change their lifestyle or beliefs based on whatever is socially acceptable on that day.  We are brainwashed by social media and other people’s opinions, and Mr. Brainwash confronts you with this idea through his work.


Life is Beautiful is located on West 13th Street near the entrance to the Highline in the Meatpacking District in New York City.  As you approach the gallery, all you can see are statues stacked up against one another, crowding the windows.  Prominent cultural figures are showcased in this pop-up and are given a humorous twist while creating a social commentary.  For instance, Mr. Brainwash takes Warhol’s tomato soup can and turns it into a tomato soup spray can, or creating a royal portrait of Caitlyn Jenner.  The space is packed with trashy-pop sculptures and re-adaptations, leaning items against the walls and creating mountains of old-school tech tools and toys like typewriters and grungy stuffed animals.  There’s plenty of seating, making the space feel like a weird residential or communal area, where you can reflect on the work towering over you while flipping through the pages of a Magritte book conveniently left on the coffee table in front of you.

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This exhibit shares the messages of how beautiful life and love are along with the major influence pop culture has on society.  I left the gallery with a smile across my face for the genius behind Mr. Brainwash’s work, with the reminder that everything relies on how you’d like to look at it.

It’s all about perspective.