Lucia Hierro’s oversized sculptures bring her community to the museum –

Five grocery bags, sculpturally rendered at a height of five feet, surround visitors in the first gallery of Lucia Hierro’s exhibit “Marginal Costs” at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Connecticut. One of those hanging bags, Sweet Beans (Habichuela con Dulce), 2017, is made of magenta colored polyester organdy and filled with nylon forms printed with images to resemble Goya, Ligo and Rica brand products – beans, evaporated milk and other titular dessert ingredients. Mandao 2 (2019), on the adjacent wall is a small translucent bag containing foam, felt and suede versions of items such as ginger and a sachet of Maggi flavor. Part of Hierro’s ongoing “Bodegon” series, these works struggle against diasporic identity and gentrification within the Washington Heights community.

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Hierro is a first-generation Dominican American artist who grew up in San Francisco de Macorís, her parents’ hometown in the Dominican Republic, and Washington Heights, the northernmost neighborhood of Manhattan, where she was born. Flanked by the Harlem and Hudson rivers, Washington Heights is a bustling neighborhood of immigrants from New York who are predominantly African-Caribbean and Latin American. When Hierro began studying art history at SUNY Purchase, she was dismayed by the absence of such communities and their cultures in the images she saw.

A view from the gallery shows two sculptures hanging on the wall, both of which look like enlarged grocery bags filled with branded goods.

View of “Marginal Costs”, 2021-2022, at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, showing Sweet Beans (Habichuela Con Dulce), 2017, and Mandao 2, 2019.
Photo Jason Mandella

Later, while studying painting at the Yale School of Art, Hierro took advantage of a fortuitous error: she received a delivery of several rolls of felt instead of the colored paper she had ordered. This offered Hierro a new approach, merging photographic collage with tailoring and manual labor she had learned from her mother. Eventually, the artist discovered that she could make digital prints directly on felt, an unexpected change that led her to introduce images of foods and other cultural signifiers from her upbringing alongside artifacts from the traditional intellectual culture. In an ongoing series titled “New Yorker” (2012-), for example, Hierro’s collages felt cutouts to make his friends’ Instagram selfies on the pages of the New Yorker.

Throughout the exhibition, the architecture and culture of Washington Heights remain at the heart of Hierro’s work. In his latest series, “Gates” (2021–), nestled between the bars of free-standing sections of seven-foot-high wrought-iron fencing, are coiled pieces of suede, printed with “non-solicitation” signs or circular coupons. Nearby is Marginal costs (2021), a mural commissioned for the Aldrichs, featuring vinyl decals depicting storefront signage, “for rent” posters, a Dominican food cart, and candy vending machines. Against the walls of the gallery are Casita and Mostly essential (both in 2021), mattresses covered with printed sheets that evoke the beds that are often found indiscriminately along the sidewalks of the Hierro district. This allusion may not be readable for onlookers unfamiliar with the city, but Hierro suggests that this particular sign of city life is worth inscribing in the museum, just as Diamond Stingily does in her brilliant installation. . Entries (2019), where baseball bats lean against free-standing doors in a symbol of protection for black people in general, whether it is psychological, physical or other threat.

Hierro’s exploration of class dynamics becomes more explicit in the printed linens, which refer more to the food business, depicting a grocery cart and a bicycle with Doordash and Uber Eats delivery saddlebags. But Hierro significantly suppressed the human figures using these supports. Their absence sheds light on the “costs” of the title of the exhibition and the serial framework of the bodega: the instant delivery services represented in Mostly essential, who tend to rely on low-income workers to serve high-income customers, threaten to undermine and potentially replace the small urban bodega that sells the ingredients for Habichuela con Dulce. In this direction, Marginal costs gestures against class inequalities.

These urban vignettes are reminiscent of Lauren Halsey’s massive installations based on her neighborhood in south-central Los Angeles. Both artists employ a contemporary pop aesthetic while preserving a local visual vocabulary of everyday objects, advertisements, storefronts and signage, especially those elements of urban identity typically eliminated through gentrification. Hierro’s work often leans toward more monumental proportions for smaller products, amplifying distinct objects with iconic status.

The tone is festive, the show an exuberant archive, but the works also allow a feeling of loss. In the middle of the exhibit, Hierro combined other decals to represent a beautiful makeshift altar incorporating an inverted slush, roses, and a small statue of a Catholic saint, surrounded by white commemorative candles, a bottle of Hennessy and other roses. The altar is a composite memory honoring those who have passed away. Its location in the middle of the show suggests a solemn resting place and a promise to continue.

About Bobby F. Lopez

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