RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — In the center of a gold frame, a bubblegum pink relief tells an intricate story: a brown-skinned figure in a Nike tracksuit reaches for a child on a swing while an armed toy soldier takes aim with his gun. A play slide reminiscent of a 1990s Barbie Dreamhouse leads to an idyllic pool, while an American flag hangs from an ornate balcony. In this reinterpretation of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s canonical painting “The Swing” (c. 1767-1768), references to 18th-century European aesthetics hide behind Y2K ephemera and tropes of American consumerism, including meals of McDonald’s, emoticons and the Super S that filled the pages of children’s notebooks in the 2000s. A confectionery background of rosettes and foliage almost disguises another figure prostrate before a fading Statue of Liberty, in allusion to the specter of immigration enforcement infecting the otherwise sweet dreamscape.
“I remember eating French fries when my dad was deported, after JH Fragonard, ‘The Swing’” (2017) embodies Mayorga’s signature technique, found in the 16 works on view in Yvette Mayorga’s first solo exhibition at the East Coast. Dreaming of You, at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. Inspired by his mother’s work in a bakery after emigrating from Jalesco, Mayorga applies thick acrylics to sculptures and canvases with piping bags and icing tips to achieve delicious textures. Along with the mirrored surfaces of it Surveillance medallion (2021-ongoing), the tactility of Mayorga’s craft intimately immerses the viewer in the tension between dislocation and belonging that defined his childhood as a first-generation Mexican-American in the Midwest in the 1990s and 2000s.
Mayorga once again reinterprets classical European art in his series American urn (2019–ongoing), which selects images of Churrigueresque-style Catholic churches in Mexico. The paintings are replete with Rococo-inspired ornaments, scrolls, and religious images, pointing to the colonial foundations of Western art history. One of the most memorable pieces in the exhibition is “The Golden Castle.” (2023), a castle-fronted urn adorned with nostalgic relics, including a flip phone and Hello Kitty, the ultra-feminine mascot of Mayorga’s work. Pedestalized in a small pink room lined with checkerboard floors reminiscent of Versailles, Mayorga reimagines the violence of religious colonialism by placing it in the fairy tale of her childhood.
Mayorga’s visual lexicon is especially symbolized by “F* is for ICE, 1975 –2018” (2018). This diptych, displayed alongside life-size portraits of her siblings, dominates the gallery. While Mayorga wears an anti-ICE T-shirt, his grandfather wears a T-shirt with a Tootsie Roll print, in reference to his job at the candy factory when he first immigrated. In the center, a television showing a man scaling a border wall on one side and a Trump rally on the other broadcasts dichotomous responses to that administration’s anti-immigrant policies. Filled with sinister recurring motifs such as patrolling helicopters, ICE agents waiting behind teddy bears, and a Nike figure hidden inside a cake, Mayorga’s accessible pictorial language evokes the fallacies of the American dream.
Yvette Mayorga: Dreaming of you is on view at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art (258 Main Street, Ridgefield, Connecticut, until March 17.