In Conversation with Lucia Hierro: Class, Income, and Her Uptown Roots in New Solo Show
In conversation with Dominican-American, New York City native, contemporary artist Lucia Hierro on her current solo show, Mercado, curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery. The Latinx artist (and Yale MFA alum) speaks on exploring class and income in her latest show, her uptown roots, and her exciting residency with Red Bull House of Art.
ALL PORTRAITS BY AMANDA SAVINON
Gallery Gurls: I love the visual puns in Mercado, in the exhibit we see large sculptural 'shopping totes' that comment on class, income, and commerce. Can you expand?
Lucia Hierro: The bags came at a time when I was really struggling to bring together all these ideas (class, income, commerce) as both an artist and a consumer. To really contend with that icky feeling I get when I JUST LOVE a designer item and can't afford it and feel left out of enjoying something beautiful. Especially being aware of the larger political climate and my place in all that. What I consume in private is often times at odds with my belief systems. We never want to know what goes on behind the brands we’re loyal to -even when we find out- our relationship to that thing is so profound... it's hard to let it go and even harder to admit that fact.
The images I chose speak both to the arbitrary and yet systemically deliberate way that value and meaning are ascribed to objects. The lottery tickets in the bag, alongside a Juan Marichal baseball trading card, alongside a For Lease sign when singled out, speak to this idea of questioning chance or luck...as much as it is a visual poem about aspirations, failed, achieved, or taken right out of your hand.
I read this article on how conspicuous consumption (objects that show off one's economic power/status) has changed for the elite and it's now all about “intangibles”, things like education, health and culture. It's something I've been aware of for some time... and which I wanted to address in the works, while also making these objects personal.
"What I consume in private is often times at odds with my belief systems."
The items in the 'shopping totes' are everyday items (some are low end), items that are familiar within communities of color, specifically in Latinx households. Can you talk about their inclusion?
In, Sweet Beans, for example, I wanted to make a bag that felt like shopping for ingredients for a popular holiday treat “habichuela con dulce” (sweet beans)...if you don’t know the dish, each object is its own thing, just tossed in the bag as arbitrary as the (Philippe Rousseau) painting that's inside it... but the bag really comes to life when the viewer knows the dish. That moment, when I'm talking to a specific viewer, a Dominican viewer, a POC who relates to the imagery, is so special to me. The demographic of the museum and gallery visitors has changed and so has the art on the walls (slowly but surely), so it's important to me to address viewers like me.
"The demographic of the museum and gallery visitors has changed and so has the art on the walls (slowly but surely), so it's important to me to address viewers like me."
The shopping totes, really came from my fascination with still life paintings and the idea that within a pictorial space you could tell a story not just of an individual or a moment in history but a multi-layered story across histories. I also love Pop Art of the sixties, especially how artists like Tom Wesselmann, Claes Oldenburg, and Warhol, tackled the still life in a new and exciting way. I never felt represented in these images or the genre but related to them on a theoretical and aesthetic level. Including objects that I grew up seeing was as natural to me as Warhol bringing in the Campbell soup can that he grew up with into his work. I've always questioned what we categorize as high or low, we’re all guilty of categorizing, so I felt that throwing them all in a bag leveled the playing field.
"Including objects that I grew up seeing was as natural to me as Warhol bringing in the Campbell soup can that he grew up with into his work."
Talk to me about being an uptown native exhibiting in uptown spaces (Elizabeth Dee, Bronx Museum of Arts, Sugar Hill Children's Museum), especially when communities are grappling with authenticity versus gentrification.
It’s been a happy coincidence to have been offered the opportunity to work in uptown spaces. When I was younger, growing up in Inwood and Washington Heights, I wish I had access to a space like the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum. It’s really special to show within the space that shaped the work, it's more likely the viewer will encounter the reference. It’s also great when it offers friends and family, who wouldn’t normally have the time to make it downtown or out of state, the chance to stop in close to home.
I feel that when institutions can connect with the community but also maintain their own vision, that's a great place to start conversations, especially if the content of the shows brings in diverse audience members. Institutions have a real effect on how neighborhoods come together or divide/fall apart.
"I feel that when institutions can connect with the community but also maintain their own vision, that's a great place to start conversations, especially if the content of the shows brings in diverse audience members."
Thanks! Yeah, all Dominican women, watch out! Each residency is an opportunity to connect with another community. It's a blessing to be given the space and time to just make. I want to continue to explore all these ideas at the residency and make pieces that excite me. I have a long list of folks I'm planning to connect with in Detroit, so I'm looking forward to that.
What is next for you in 2018?
I'm looking forward to the opening at Red Bull House of Art Detroit in April, and an exhibition in the Dominican Republic at Casa Quien gallery that I’m super excited about that opens on May 3rd, 2018.
Follow Lucia Hierro on Instagram: @lucia_hierro_