RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — In the center of a gilded frame, a bubblegum-pink relief tells an intricate story: A brown-skinned figure in a Nike sweatsuit reaches for a kid on a swing as an armed toy soldier points his gun. A playground slide that harkens back to the Barbie Dreamhouse from the 1990s leads into an idyllic pool, while an American flag droops from an ornate balcony. In this reinterpretation of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s canonical painting “The Swing” (c. 1767–68), references to 18th-century European aesthetics hide behind Y2K ephemera and tropes of American consumerism, including McDonald’s meals, emoticons, and the Super S that filled the notebook pages of 2000s kids. A confectionary backdrop of rosettes and foliage almost disguises another figure prostrate before a fading Statue of Liberty, alluding to the specter of immigration enforcement that infects the otherwise candied dreamscape.
“I Remember Eating Hot Chips when my Dad got Deported, After J.H. Fragonard, ‘The Swing’”(2017) embodies Mayorga’s signature technique, found in all 16 works on display at Yvette Mayorga’s first East Coast solo exhibition, Dreaming of You, at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. Inspired by her mother’s work at a bakery after immigrating from Jalesco, Mayorga frosts thick acrylics onto sculptures and canvases with piping bags and icing tips to achieve delectable textures. Along with the mirrored surfaces of her Surveillance Locket (2021–ongoing) series, the tactility of Mayorga’s handicraft intimately immerses the viewer in the tension between dislocation and belonging that defined her girlhood as a first-generation Mexican-American in the Midwest in the ‘90s and 2000s.
Mayorga again reinterprets European classical art in her series American Urn (2019–ongoing), which culls imagery from Churrigueresque-style Catholic churches in Mexico. The paintings are replete with Rococo-inspired trimmings, scrollwork, and religious imagery, pointing to the colonial underpinnings of Western art history. One of the most memorable pieces in the exhibition is “El Castillo de Oro” (2023), an urn with a castle-like facade bedecked in nostalgic relics, including a flip phone and Hello Kitty, the ultra-femme 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 situating it in her childhood fairytale.
Mayorga’s visual lexicon is especially emblemized by “F* is for ICE, 1975 –2018” (2018). Displayed alongside life-sized portraits of her siblings, this diptych dominates the gallery. While Mayorga is dressed in an anti-ICE shirt, her grandfather wears a Tootsie Roll-printed shirt, referencing his work at the candy factory upon first immigrating. In the center, a television set depicting a man climbing a border wall on one side and a Trump rally on the other conveys dichotomous responses to that administration’s anti-immigrant policies. Teeming with ominous recurring motifs such as patrolling helicopters, ICE agents waiting behind teddy bears, and a Nike-wearing figure hiding 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 Contemporary Art Museum (258 Main Street, Ridgefield, Connecticut, through March 17.