-ART ARTICLE: Sofia Maldonado at Magnan-Metz

Article written for "M" aka "The New York Art World" in 2010.
Pdf archives eventually arrive here: http://www.TheNewYorkArtWorld.com/

The printed article was of course quite edited-down.
This is the full text before editing.

- - -

Notable Shows :
Magnan-Metz Gallery :
Sofia Maldonado “(Soft) Concrete Jungle Divas"
521 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001
(Nearest subway: 23rd St Station via C or E trains.)
June 18th - July 17th 2010.


How complicated the N-word is. The vile slur is of course repugnant when uttered by any Archie Bunker type or any unReconstructed Southern “good ol’ boy”. Most public figures using it would be ousted within a week (even using the outdated word negro is often a career-ender.) And yet if the actual N-word passes the lips of rappers like Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Nelly, or the rest, there is no penalty. Regularly, such N-word users get awards from MTV or BET ---maybe appearances as guest-presenters at the telecasts of the Grammies or Academy Awards. To some listeners, any use of racially insulting speech by anyone is offensive ---period. To many others (at least, to enough to fuel massive album-sales), such use is acceptable if it is used by a member of a socially-recognized minority group ---indeed some say it is an empowerment issue: the former victims taking back, reclaiming, for themselves a weapon the oppressors once used. Complicated.

Are such observations relevant to a visual artist’s creations? Sometimes. It’s complicated.

Clay-artist Rose Hill’s newly-made Sambo-style cartoons and her Little Colored Girls series would beget protests and advertiser-boycotts if she were Caucasian. However, the artist is African-American ---so instead, acclaim and a plum appearance in Oprah’s “O” magazine followed (October, 2000). As only Arthur could heft Excalibur, so only those qualified by virtue of birth-identity may wield political-incorrectness as a weapon against past injustices ---or maybe just to get a little ahead in the very-competitive art market. It’s complicated.

Such thoughts might intrude on one’s mind while viewing young dynamo Artist Sofia Maldonado’s creations. To some, this aspect will be a distraction; to others it will be thought-provoking.

Either way, they won’t slow down the artist’s zooming career: written-up in “Art In America” within a year of graduating, then getting a world-class public art commission, having a solo exhibit in Chelsea (at Magnan-Metz Gallery yet ---recent successor of the influential Magnan Projects), and going from there straight to an international show (at NYC’s Witzenhausen Gallery’s Amsterdam location). Meteoric.

In some ways it has been a typical career-arc: live in the City, attend Pratt, earn MFA, score gallery representation. Yet tens of thousands of eyes saw her artwork before she struck it big time at the galleries. Puerto Rico-born Maldonado ran with the skaters and graffiti crews in her earlier days, and more recently many a wall in Brooklyn and elsewhere has felt her brush (the author has encountered several specimens and has yet to see spraypaint use ---always paintbrushes, though sometimes her murals are over-painted in places with others’ aerosol).

Maldonado is also the artist behind the Times Square mural which pleased and sometimes offended so many. The monumental (nearly 100 feet long) temporary outdoor 42nd Street mural was a plywood hot red background overlaid with red hot cartoon hotties ---mistaken for streetwalkers by some who assumed that the piece referenced Time Squares’ more seedy past. The characters were “women of color”. They (barely) wore high-thigh booty-shorts ---along with “bling” jewelry, two-inch designer nails, piled-up hair-extensions, and skin-tight tops. As for the latter ---well--- one assumes they’re going braless or that it was a cold day. Some of the “bootylicious” Latinas grip brass knuckles (marked with slogans like “Liberdad 1898”).

The exaggerated lips, swaggering hips, and “ho” outfits led some to assume that a non-minority artist was depicting unflattering stereotypes ---and in short order, some activist groups organized protests. The New York City Black Professionals and Phenomenal Women Group Inc demonstrated. If the artist were Caucasian, the career would be over, but blessed with Puerto Rican heritage, Maldonado leapt from the mural commission to the solo at Magnan-Metz.

Part of the mural went there too: some of the plywood cutouts were separated from the red backing and reinstalled on the gallery walls.

Matching the monumental scale of the mural scraps were new canvases, each seven feet tall, depicting pop music celebrities Beyonce, J-Lo, Lady Gaga, M.I.A. and Rihanna ---the Soft Concrete Jungle Divas. These had the usual, recognizable Maldonado cartoon style and the usual potentially-stereotypical depictions (again, what was depicted was excused by virtue of who depicted them).

Painting on canvas seems to give Maldonado more effects to choose from. Backgrounds were metallic gold paint overlaid with peacock-hued “fast” drips. (Unlike the “slow” Pollock-style scribbly drip-nests that build up when the canvas is positioned on the floor during spatter-painting and drying, “fast” drips happen when the canvas is vertical and the paint is thin ---perhaps diluted with much turpentine--- so the liquid zooms downward in narrow stripes in the manner of Morris Louis.) Drips ran in both vertical directions: top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top. Of course inverting the painting surface isn’t possible on a brick wall. The drip-fields clustered in such ways as to suggest that the women emerged from clouds or rolls of concert-stage fog-machine vapor. Interplay of dark areas and lighter spaces gave compositional complexity beyond what one finds in typical street-tag cartoons. Such lush backgrounds just aren’t doable when tagging building exteriors.

The pop Divas’ gold, emerald, teal, and wine colors can spark one’s inner “evil curator” to imagine them installed in Whistler’s Peacock Room or on walls alongside iconic Gustav Klimt portraits ---could be delightful.

A wall opposite the Divas showed large horizontal paintings of nonobjective billowing swirl designs evocative of chrysanthemums amid steam puffs or rain clouds. These works were more inviting of close-up scrutiny (perhaps it was less intimidating to take a long look when not-being stared back at by J-Lo’s brass knuckle or Lady GaGa’s boob) which revealed fine complex brushwork. Maldonado has a splendid flair for linear brushstrokes ---delicate as a Japanese master calligrapher and also gutsy and self-assured as an auto-shop custom detailer’s swoops and flourishes decorating City fire trucks. Her lines have a distinctive look which is consistent at any distance: across the room or close-up, from yard-long swoops to thumb-sized curls.

Maldonado painted more cloud-forms directly onto the gallery walls ---evocative of the sudden rains common in the tropics, the artist said. These ceiling-to-floor (and below ---running onto the floors and continuing) forms were mostly solid single-color shapes, but still her handiwork ---the particular calligraphic flourishes--- were readily recognizable.

The main gallery room of fog-murals, Divas, and cloud paintings was strong indeed. Collections in the back rooms of small framed drawings ---well--- were possibly included for economic necessity during this Great Recession: lower-priced items so that all price-points were covered. One understands such decisions. However, the smaller back room pieces and the Fela Kuti Queens pictures often lacked the big paintings’ fabulous Maldonado brush-calligraphy ---while also exuding much of the sort of thing the New York City Black Professionals protested.

Some of the protest-minded wish Maldonado’s self-described celebrations of New York’s Afro-Caribbeans and Latinas included the less-curvy, more career-oriented ladies ---the teachers, bankers, transit workers, police, clerks, lobbyists, and bureaucrats so common in the City. The artist’s own parents, in fact, are respectable middle class income-providers who likely do not carry brass knuckles. Then again, the same mindset prone to protest negative stereotypes is also prone to bristle at the idea of outsiders being able to dictate subject matter to artists; freedom of expression is still a vital principle. One wouldn’t want morals-police to impose quotas ---perhaps that for every three lap-dance-worthy buxom babes painted there must be one stout office worker plotting a spreadsheet on her laptop.

Its so complicated.

Odds are, Sofia Maldonado will carry on painting Brooklyn walls, get more high-end gallery shows, and ---who knows--- maybe soon will be a guest-presenter at the televised MTV or BET awards shows.

---Terry Ward

Ward is an artist and occasional writer for “The New York Art World.”

- - -

Sofia Maldonado graffiti wall painting found by author in Brooklyn under Williamsburg Bridge in 2010.
Latex (?) on architectural window.
Photo: Terry Ward.

Sofia Maldonado, a Fela Kuti Queen (one of the 27 drawings)
Ink and acrylic on paper. 9" x 9"
Photo: Terry Ward

Sofia Maldonado, 42nd Street Mural fragment and (background) temporary site-specific cloud mural.
Latex (?) on plywood. 9' x 12' approx.; latex on walls.
Photo: Magnan-Metz Gallery

Sofia Maldonado, Concrete Jungle Divas: Beyonce, Rihanna, Lady GaGa, J-Lo, M.I.A.
Each acrylic, urethane, metallics, on canvas. 3' x 7'
Photo: Magnan-Metz Gallery

Sofia Maldonado art, detail view.
Photo: Terry Ward

Sofia Maldonado art, detail view.
Photo: Terry Ward

Sofia Maldonado art, detail view.
Photo: Terry Ward

Sofia Maldonado art, detail view.
Photo: Terry Ward

Sofia Maldonado, Cuba y Puerto Rico de un pajaro las dos alas reciben flores y balas en un mismo corazon.
Acrylic, urethane, glitter on canvas. 30" x 100".
Photo: Magnan-Metz Gallery

Sofia Maldonado, a drawing.
Drawing media on paper.
Photo: Terry Ward

- - -


ARTicles page

- - -