One of the most reliable communication materials for centuries, paper historically has served as a vessel, a container for notes or the foundation of an artwork. An upcoming group exhibition at Heron Arts, though, focuses on the humble medium itself and highlights 14 contemporary artists expanding its creative potential. Paper Show features an array of styles, structures, and techniques from the whimsical mobiles of Yuko Nishikawa and Roberto Benavidez’s piñatas to Julia Ibbini’s laser-cut motifs and typographic messages from Judith + Rolfe. Opening July 9, the exhibition will be up through August at the San Francisco gallery. You also might enjoy this book that looks at the artists defining the medium.
Share this story
Paper Sculptures by Roberto Benavidez Reenvision Common Birds and Fantastical Creatures as Metallic Piñatas
At once fantastically imaginative and embedded in tradition, the shimmering piñatas that comprise Roberto Benavidez’s body of work expand the boundaries of the conventionally festive object. The Los Angeles-based artist (previously) cuts skinny, triangular strips of material that he attaches to paper mache forms in the shape of birds, hybrid animals, and otherworldly creatures. His metallic works often address questions of identity—the artist speaks about this further in a Colossal interview—particularly considerations of gender and sexuality through the lens of his layered forms.
Benavidez’s gynandromorphs series, for example, reenvisions the phenomenon in common bird species by splicing male and female bodies together into a mirrored sculpture—three of these pieces will be on view through June 14 at The Loft at Liz’s in Los Angeles. He’s also continuing his renditions of Hieronymous Bosch characters and illuminated manuscripts, the latter of which includes the polka-dotted wildcat and portly, tusked “Javelina Girl” shown above. While drawing on centuries-old works, narratives, and myths in these series, each piñata is the artist’s reinterpretation of the classic iconography and themes into an inventive, contemporary form.
In the coming months, a few of Benavidez’s birds will be on view at Heron Arts, and the group exhibition devoted to piñatas that opened last fall at Craft in America will be traveling to the Mingei International Museum in San Diego. Follow news about upcoming opportunities to see his sculptures in person on Instagram.
Share this story
A ubiquitous decoration at birthdays and family celebrations, piñatas are conventionally associated with fun, festivity, and of course, their potential to split open and release candy and other treats. Now on view at Craft in America, a group exhibition re-envisions the party staple by connecting it with contemporary practices that extend the playful artform’s capacity for social and political commentary.
Piñatas: The High Art of Celebration features approximately 50 works from Mexico- and U.S.-based artists and collectives, who explore the evolution of traditional construction techniques and the object’s broad cultural significance that reaches beyond its Mexican heritage. The fantastical creatures of Roberto Benavidez’s illuminated manuscript series, for example, encapsulate questions about race and sin, while Justin Favela (previously) translates the confrontation between American pop culture and Latinx experiences into fringed, abstract landscapes. Other works include a massive COVID-19 vaccine bottle by Lisbeth Palacios, Diana Benavidez’s motorized cars that speak to issues at the San Diego/Tijuana border, and a swarm of tiny suspended monarchs by Isaias Rodriguez.
Share this story
An eclectic array of installations recently popped up at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, transforming the historic neighborhood into a temporary wonderland teeming with quirky characters, large-scale interventions, and optimism. A life-size piñata shaped like a 1984 Thunderbird is parked on 12th Street, cross-stitched roses trail across the brick facade of Building 99, and a typographic message casts shadows on a pavilion in a call for hope.
Officially titled Mystery Island and the Marvelous Occurrence of Spontaneous Art, or MIMOSA, the entirely outdoor exhibition includes work from seven artists DAKU (previously), Justin Favela (previously), Kid Hazo with South Fellini, Reed Bmore, Liesbet Bussche, and Raquel Rodrigo (previously). It’s a collaboration between the anonymous collective Group X and the Navy Yard, which was overrun in 2018 by a gargantuan sea monster. MIMOSA‘s six site-specific installations are spread across 1,200 acres.
Activated by sunlight, DAKU’s installation “Rays of Hope” casts shadows in 25 different languages on a brick terrace in Crescent Park. Throughout the day as the light shifts, so do the silhouettes on the ground. “The sun has always been associated as a symbol of energy and so is hope,” DAKU says. Rays of light metaphorically serve as “a symbol of positivity and optimism.”
By translating the word “hope” into dozens of languages, the anonymous Indian street artist puts forth a welcoming vision. “When we see a native language, we have a sense of belonging and familiarity with the space. Especially in a foreign land or a place, it makes it more relatable,” DAKU writes. “Languages have been a part of every culture and (have their) own visual aesthetic… Culture is common ground for any language or a form of visual art, and if one comes to think of it, language plays an essential role. It binds the culture in forming into a community.”
A nod to his mother’s first purchase after immigrating from Guatemala to the United States in the 1980s, Favela’s paper-fringed car expands on the myth of “The American Dream.” “The promise that if you keep your head down, work really hard and save your money… you, too, can own a home with a two-car garage, get married, have kids, build an empire, and live an abundant and dignified life,” he says. Through his large-scale piñatas, Favela conveys stories like his mother’s, particularly in relation to her longing to return to Central America. “What about the immigrants that come here and realize that they moved to a country that does not want them here? Their stories are also important,” he says.
Questions about identity, including his own as a first-generation, queer, Latinx American, and the experiences of people who have immigrated to the U.S. face inform Favela’s artworks. He subverts common narratives by offering a revised way of thinking centered on joy:
What are we when we are not viewed as just a labor force? What if we stopped taking pride in suffering and the sacrifices that we had to make? What if we valued joy? Mental health? What if we could take a couple of days of…just because!? What would happen if could just be ourselves? When will we all be free?
Share this story
Robert Benavidez looks to famous paintings and literature for source material for his metallic piñatas, such as Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (previously). The Los Angeles-based artist’s most recent series Illuminated Piñata pulls characters from the Luttrell Psalter (c. 1325-1335), a famous medieval manuscripts. The book contains illustrations of fantastical hybrid creatures, which Benavidez further explores by creating three-dimensional sculptures using traditional piñata motifs.
Works from his Bosch series will be on view at the Riverside Art Museum in Riverside, CA in the group exhibition BEAST, opening February 2, 2019. You can see more of his sculptural piñatas on his Instagram and website.
Share this story
Mexican Paintings, Lowriders, and Nachos Transformed into Piñata-Inspired Sculptures by Justin Favela
Justin Favela creates colorful artworks that center around his identity as a queer Latinx artist living in the Southwestern United States. The artist’s piñata-inspired pieces reference his Mexican and Guatemalan heritage and explore elements associated with his family, pop culture, food dishes, and the art world. Each life-size installation or colorful nature-based “painting” is constructed by layering multi-colored cut paper or using the papier-mâché technique seen on the popular party object.
“I have been making a lot of work using the piñata as a medium because I see it as the perfect symbol that stands for my identity and by using it, I am reclaiming the piñata and the culture it represents,” Favela tells Colossal.
One of his large-scale lowrider piñatas was recently included in the Peterson Automotive Museum‘s exhibition The High Art of Riding Low: Ranflas, Corazón e Inspiración. You can see more of the artist’s work on Instagram.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Photography
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.