What to Do with Useless Objects or the Playful Political Art of Máximo González

Mar 23, 2012

LOS ANGELES — The Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in Los Angeles is a gem of a museum. Small, but certainly limber, the museum is bringing the worlds of contemporary art and craft together with its ongoing shows.LOS ANGELES — The Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in Los Angeles is a gem of a museum. Small, but certainly limber, the museum is bringing the worlds of contemporary art and craft together with its ongoing shows.

Taking up the largest third floor gallery — or the place of honor, as I’d like to think of it — is Máximo González, a Mexico City-based Argentinian artist who makes delicate and fanciful art infused with a slightly subversive message from castaways. Simply titled Playful, it is the first solo exhibition the artist has had in Los Angeles. The show covers ten years of Gonzalez’s work and showcases his admirable range of media and knack for re-mixing traditional craft techniques to produce pieces with a very contemporary feel.

At first glace, González’s work delights because of its fragile beauty. In “Decorative” (2010), a red and white enamelware cup placed far up on the wall tumbles with gorgeously curly-cued red and white paper echoing silhouettes of flowers and foliage. On the right, a framed painting echoes the red and white theme, prompting me to look back and forth between the two red and white pieces in search of a connection. In “Sin Titulo: 13 tirachinas” (2011), González creates a miniature Stonehenge-like piece out of thirteen slingshots. The competing imagery between the gravity of the first and the levity of the second is enough to make me smile. In a simple piece, Gonzalez captures for me the audacity of childhood play.

González’s work doesn’t stop at beauty, he also lightly steps on the controversial. In an arresting piece called “No More Bets,” strips of paper whirl high above to the ceiling while a school desk clings to it at the end, airing the artist’s grievances against the current flawed educational system. Seeing it, I am reminded of my own childhood avalanche of homework.

The artist shines best when he begins to work with his most famous medium — devalued currency. Using the colorful bank notes of Argentina or Mexico, González creates elaborate landscapes painstakingly cut and put together. His use of an already politically charged symbol as a medium was a stroke of genius and adds another layer of complexity to his pieces.

“His dónde se han ido las flores? (Where Have All The Flowers Gone)” (2006-7) is a fanciful landscape made out of cut money that slowly becomes an anti-war message as you ingest the sight of a large mill inhaling greenery on one side and exhaling tanks on the other. On the way out, “Magma” (2010-11), a large undulating piece dominates the wall seemingly solid, but in reality woven out of leftover Mexican pesos. González used a traditional Oaxacan waist loom to realize the gigantic piece. But González doesn’t stop at cutting and gluing paper money, he’s also wittily works in miniature, painting watercolor picketing crowds around the palatial Central Bank of Argentina on a devalued 50,000 Argentine peso. González’s intervention is so subtle that my eyes could hardly discern the difference.

Playful is — true to its name — a delight to wander in. It’s political message wrapped up in artful sugar, which as Mary Poppins famously advised helps make the medicine go down.

Just in case you need an extra helping of medicine, González opens the floor to local artist with Changarrito, a pop-up art store of sorts that has made appearances in the Venice Biennale and New York’s Momenta space last year. The vending cart showcases work by emerging artists. LA-based artist Larsen Gama (120223 cafam playful_0004), the artist on view that lunchtime, says Changgarito has been going on for seven years. It’s González’s way of sharing the spotlight with other artists, plus visitors need not shell out extra cash for entrance. Gama’s work include “Pieces of the Universe,” found rocks he’s imbued with a majestic aura by relating it to the cosmos. Each week, new artists man the booth and get a chance to share their art with passers-by on Wilshire on lunch break.

Máximo González: Playful is on view at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (5814 Wilshire Boulevard, Miracle Mile, Los Angeles) until May 6.

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