Franco Mondini-Ruiz’s whimsical installations mediate the disparate worlds of the street vendor and the fine art collector. The artist works with concepts of accessibility, portability, and spontaneity to transform the Mexican-American sale of ritual objects into context-specific social sculpture. Whether constructing an assemblage from kitschy knickknacks, distorting Helsinki glass to reference the less-finished Tijuana equivalent, or selling reproducible paintings for $99 a piece, Mondini-Ruiz humorously tips the balance-blurring the boundaries between high and low art.
Franco Mondini-Ruiz has had solo projects at Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey (2007); Light Box Gallery, Los Angeles, California (2006); and Frederieke Taylor Gallery, New York (2005). His work has been included in exhibitions such as Ulterior Motifs: A Celebratory Art Extravaganza, Arlington Museum of Art, Texas (2007); and Transitional Objects: Contemporary Still Life, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College (2006). Mondini-Ruiz recently released his first book: High Pink: Tex-Mex Fairy Tales (2007).
Several years ago, Franco Mondini Ruiz abandoned a career as a successful lawyer in San Antonio in order to devote himself full-time to the making of art. Acknowledging his identification as an assimilated Latino and maintaining connections across ethnic boundaries, Mondini-Ruiz purchased an old botanica, which he converted into Infinito Botanica and Gift Shop. Retaining much of the botanica’s original merchandise, such as candles, herbs, and milagros, Mondini-Ruiz contributed precious antiques, Mexican and pre-columbian artifacts, and some of the saddest, most forlorn junk you have ever seen. Into his constantly changing array are injected artworks by contemporary Mexicans and Texans, such as Alejandro Diaz, Cisco Jimenez, Michael Tracy, Chuck Ramirez, Jesse Amado, Mary Jesse Garza, Anne Wallace, Elizabeth McGrath and Mondini-Ruiz himself. The downbeat nature of the artwork matches the other merchandise it so inconspicuously accompanies to the point that the lines between art and non-art are effectively blurred. Everything is for sale at Infinito, and as one shops, desire is actively piqued by the tempting merchandise so that consumption, which fuels the art world as much as it does capitalist society, is all-consuming. Losing oneself in Mondini-Ruiz’s curiosities is akin to the aesthetic experience, in which practical considerations are replaced by atemporal, focused absorption.
In Infinito Botanica @ ArtPace, Mondini-Ruiz recreated the intriguing ambience of his store in the context of a non-commercial art space. Inspired by the gleaming white interiors of elegant pastry and candy stores in Mexico City and equally evocative of the “bid white cube” of the modernist art gallery, Infinito Botanica @ ArtPace has bright white walls and a shiny white floor, which supports a multitude of pedestals and platforms. Hundreds of items, from trinkets to antiquities, are displayed for sale. The concept of Infinito is reminiscent of Claes Oldenburg’s Store on the Lower East Side of New York in 1961, where the artist offered his own plaster food items for reasonable prices, although Mondini-Ruiz ascribes his predisposition toward salesmanship to his childhood and adolescent experience of working in his parents’ electronic store. Replenishing his stock as it is purchased by ArtPace visitors, Mondini-Ruiz creates a fluid exchange of cultural objects-historical, ethnic, sexual, and religious-played out against the sleek chic of the space’s decor. Elegant to behold, Infinito sets up a confluence of worlds mirroring one another into infinity.
by Maaretta Jaukkuri
My unorthodox advice to the visitor of this exhibition, which includes the work of Esko Männikkö, Xu Bing and Franco Mondini-Ruiz, is to forget cultural differences and just concentrate on one’s own reaction to the art. The question to ask oneself is, “How does this work address me, how do I understand it on the basis of my own life experiences and my culture?” The fact is that this art already transgresses the differences created by cultures. The artists have taken into consideration the context of the exhibition by consciously making these works for an American audience, so that the first act of cultural translation has already taken place. Thus, it is beside the point to focus excessively on the artist’s culture of origin. That can come later, after an encounter with the artwork, when one is able to reflect upon the nuances of presentation.
An interesting aspect of contemporary art is the use of metonymy, instead of traditional metaphor, as the dominant trope. Meaning accrues through the recognition of the similarities in dissimilarities, as a result of the viewer’s encounter with the artwork. This is the subjective moment in art: a reaching of a level of experience not necessarily communicable to others, the domain that previously was the sole right of the artist. In these cases, the art project individuates experiences, things and contemporary ideas rather than the artist’s self. Does the artist’s utterance resonate in our experience? What is new in art is its field of references and its way of addressing people. Artists seem to wish to speak straight to their viewers about the life that we share here and now. In a unique way, this is a utopian site, where real dialogue occurs in the trivial everyday lives that we all lead.
This does not, however, mean that the site of communication is devoid of conceptual structure or is less than well formulated. On the contrary, to reach people’s interest outside of the confines of the specialists one has to be both eloquent and precise, to evoke both visual traditions and the temporal dialect. The much-talked-about globalization is perhaps more a question of identifying the issues underlying cultures than the merging of different cultures. Unless one has acquired specific knowledge, cultures are often as opaque as languages. When something is said, we often understand it better by tones and pitches of voice, mimicry and bodily expressions than by language proper. What is spoken of in this exhibition is the time we are living in with its abundance of intrinsic manifestations and fields of experience. We are offered possibilities to see the world with other eyes: a vision likely to be clarified by the sharp-sightedness of someone seeing it from the inside as well as the outside.