Lucia Hierro Investigates Social Specificity at Sean Horton (Presents)

Anthony Falcon, Patron, September 12, 2019

This Friday September 13, Lucia Hierro’s Objetos Específicos opens at Sean Horton (Presents) as the first Texas exhibition by New York artist. Hierro draws inspiration from the writings of Donald Judd, and her pictorial objects play with the “specificity” that Judd claimed as Minimalist painting and sculpture’s formal refusal of illusionism.


In Hierro’s hands, the social specificity of objects becomes a means of cultural cryptography. Her specific objects include groceries and sundries, packaged snacks, magazines, weekly circular ads, Old Master paintings, and drugstore receipts. Rendered as soft sculptures à la Claes Oldenburg or affixed as decals directly to the wall in an echo of Tom Wesselman’s still lifes, Hierro’s objects speak to shopping habits coded by class, gender, and ethnicity, and indeed, to the way such identities result from a constant and ever-shifting negotiation with the products of commodity, consumerism, and culture.


Lucia Hierro: Objetos Específicos included works from her ongoing Mercado series of oversized translucent tote bags filled with selections of soft-sculpture items made from felt are things Lucia attributes to her mother and grandmother.


As if the choice of particular shoppers, each bag seems to convey the personality of an individual, identifiable in part by the markers of education, taste, and tradition ostensibly purchased. Each bag can also see each, in part, as a self-portrait. Signifiers of the artist’s Dominican American heritage and upbringing in the uptown Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood may include Goya beans, Embajador cocoa, and Pond’s cold cream. 


Additional works hang on the walls in the form of giant anodized aluminum clip racks, as if from the corner store, holding huge bags of Chifles plantain chips or Baken-ets pork rinds. These combine Oldenburgean or Warholian Pop with the formal clarity of Judd’s Minimalist stacks of ascending boxes.


We were able to catch Lucia on her way from New York City to Dallas and ask her a few questions on her work, family, and late-stage capitalism:


PATRON: We love your Bodegones series. Not only are the works vibrant and visually appealing but so effective. For example, in Torrejitas de Yuca, we can recognize each object, but we have no idea how they correlate. We know what we can make, but without Googling the title, we are out of the loop, out of the culture. After Googling the recipe, the image clicks. When you’re assembling your work, are you primarily looking for compositions that you identify with, or do you try extending your work to family and community?


Lucia Hierro: Thank you, I feel like I can make the Bodegones forever. They are little windows into the way I look at people around me. When I assemble them, I tend to be triggered by a memory, and like memories, there are glitches. I try to piece together things by recalling recipes, houses I visited growing up, aunts, uncles, recent experiences with friends, partners, and then when it comes down to the final image…it’s just that, a construction. It’s no one person in particular but then rather a grouping of images that form relationships. These can be looked at objectively (as in each object depicted exists via whatever big company produces it, from whatever region grows the thing and the politics behind that), or subjectively in tandem. I think to me, the fact that the Dominican community relates to the images is twofold—on the one hand, it makes a very specific group “Dominican-Americans” or more specifically “Dominican-New Yorkers” feel seen; on the other hand it may be saying more about the way late-capitalism works in shaping our identities. In the latter, I think we’re all implicated in these works.


P: What is a comfort meal that you ate at your family table?


LH: mmm nothing better than “Lo ‘Tre’ Golpe (Three hits).”I’ll wait for you to Google that one.


P: Your work has a lot of hints and nods to Dominican culture, is there an example that you’re especially proud of?


LH: I have a piece from the Mercado series titled “Habichuela con Dulce/Sweet Beans” (Now part of the Rennie Collection in Vancouver). It’s one of my favorites. It’s most of the ingredients bought to make the holiday treat. As soon as my older brother Henry saw it, he recognized the ingredients; it took him back to very specific memories. Something about that connection meant a lot to me.


P: In Dallas, we have a lot of cultural exchange across communities, and our version of a bodega is a gas station that serves tacos, everyone has their favorite (The Whip In with Tacos La Banqueta is a fav,) but what is it about bodegas (or gas station tacos) that provide a counter to the vacuum that is perceived between cultures?


LH: Well, the thing is, for me and for many other folks who have had to call new places home, these spaces came out of a need to create places that feel safe, that feel like home, and offer a sense of belonging not otherwise offered…a shared experience. And shopping in these spaces is not just a cold transaction or a tourist destination but a different economy entirely. It’s also a place to remember and counter-act to erasure. Classic Bodegas (specifying-not a deli) in New York resemble Colmados in the Dominican Republic. I remember going into a bodega in the Bronx, and this woman talked about how in Puerto Rico, they made something similar to the thing I was buying with one varied ingredient, and then a Cuban man came in and said, “I think that’s originally Cuban.” It made me laugh a little, but there are looming questions. What of the things we consume are native to where we come from? And what of those recipes is African or Spanish/French, etc.? In the end we’re all collaging things we buy to make up some dish we consider sacredly “ours.”


P: Consumption is intimately tied to the creation and production of a sense of self. Today, it is virtually impossible to buy any product not embedded with certain symbols of identity acquired by the buyer knowingly or otherwise. How does food fit into a sense of self through the lens of consumption?


LH: The way late capitalism is shaped, I don’t think I know a world in which things, and I am not inextricably tied. I find this one of the saddest things in my existence—how much of being Dominican is actually tied to colonialism and American Imperialism?

P: The juxtaposition of Constancia/FineFare and Constancia/CVS is both sinister and funny, and that seems to be a common thread through your work. How do you balance that aspect through your work?


LH: I think it’s just my way of coping with the reality we live in. I think comedians and visual artists share more similarities than people realize.


P: You’ve mentioned that you’re a big fan of comics and they’ve made appearances in your works. Do you have a favorite comic?


LH: That’s hard cause its split between 90’s Spiderman (because of the writing) and 90’s X-men (for the illustrators-definitely, not the writing).


P: What do you want to leave Dallas with?


LH: A new community! Sean is really great at connecting people.


Original Publication