Fernando Mastrangelo; Medallions
Kowal + Odermatt Projects
October 8 - October 29, 2013
By David Rohn
Kowal + Odermatt Projects, a new gallery occupying the former Charest-Weinberg space in Wynwood (since that gallery’s subsequent move to Texas), presents a series of Medallions 'decorated' with materials meant to reflect perceived and real 'value'. They are handmade versions of ready-made decorative ceiling medallions meant to evoke the plaster Putti ornaments that surround chandelier escutcheons in traditional aristocratic and institutional decoration.
Unlike the Home Depot or Lowe's versions, each are individually made from resin, then carefully articulated with various crystalline materials (specifically commodities like sugar, grain, or candy). By hanging his medallions on the wall, instead of from a ceiling with lavish chandeliers descending from their cut-out centers, New York-based artist Fernando Mastrangelo clearly addresses commodification and decoration. These evoke the idea of paste-on history, of shelf commodities presented for inspection by prospective carry-trade buyers who (theoretically) prefer to see their ceiling decoration at eye level with the gaping center hole staring blankly back. Mastrangelo's frank concern with misplaced and applied decorations is reinforced by the materials used to decorate parts of these medallions. If decoration can be seen as a form of non-inherent and 'applied' value, more of the hubris that winds up washing ashore in an age of money printing. Thus, for a lucky few, a massive amount of money is spent on what may not, eventually, seem so valid or valuable in leaner times.
Although these decorative icons are strikingly beautiful (and beautifully crafted), they are not the literally precious 'objets de valeur' that Hirst presented a few years back, in the form of his diamond-and-platinum skulls. Nor do they have the scale or dazzling mockery of Koons’ status icons. In fact, their references to skin-deep aesthetic values and value substitution may be a bit too subtle for our headline-grabbing age. But the clever and simple paradox of handmade, individually fabricated versions of 'readymades' (itself, not a novel idea), coupled with the use of non-precious materials (or at least non-precious until a global crisis renders things like sugar, coffee, beans and grains scarce into precious commodities), do add up to a freshly resonant look at issues around 'value' and 'decoration'. Appropriately, they appear during a time when there is so much highly 'theoretical' and theoretically 'serious' art out there in the contemporary art market.
These 'medallions' (a word that invariably connotes value), glitteringly declare their importance as much through the dazzling, but down-to-earth, applied materials as by their careful craftsmanship; seductive properties that allow them to tread a narrow precipice between beauty and kitsch. That they are made by the artist's own hands may be part of the reason that they possess a radiance that works by Koons or Hirst don’t seem to approach. But whatever the reason for their radiance, they are worth seeing live and in person.
David Rohn grew up in the suburbs of New York, the city in which he lived during most of the ’70’s and ’80’s. After studying Architecture, Art and Urbanism at NYU, the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Pratt Institute, he moved to Miami where in 1995 he began to exhibit paintings, videos, installations, and performances. Currently associated with Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, Miami, his work has reached museums and collections both public and private. David Rohn has contributed art reviews to Art Press (Paris), The Sun Post (Miami), Art Papers (Atlanta), and TWN (Miami-now defunct), and online publications TuMiami, MAEX and ARTLURKER. For more information please visit: www.davidrohn.netview all articles from this author