While it's common enough for an art show's opening reception to offer beer, wine, and soda, and while it's also increasingly common to find hip food trucks outside serving up hot nosh, the reception for Patricia Hernandez's "Parody of Light" on Friday, January 14, included a food court as an integral part of the show. Visitors to DiverseWorks that evening were laughing their way through a rollicking and light-hearted takedown of not just the paintings of Thomas Kinkade, but also his broad appeal and his astonishing salesmanship, despite a reputation for misbehavior and fraud. At the back of the gallery, we found the food court and enjoyed hot dogs with Kelly Pike's amazing homemade sauerkraut.
The food court and accompanying gift shop were the culmination of a show that began almost traditionally with prints in frames hung on the wall. Each of these were repurposed schlock, sentimental scenes of manufactured nostalgia for a time that never was, and then Hernandez's intervention: a clown, sometimes several, always facing away, in striped pajamas, somehow fitting precisely into the message and meaning of the "original." Some clowns are exultant, some are dejected, and some have drowned facedown in a shallow brook, all of them illuminated by that characteristic eerie golden light.
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Hernandez says the clowns were first prompted by her contribution to 2002's "Clown Town" but then developed into a larger set of ideas when she "began mimicking [Kinkade's] process," reproducing art works in all manner of formats, and asking more critical questions about how critics evaluate art, like "why is it a bad thing for an artist to succeed financially?" Hernandez is part of the team behind (DW)2, the DiverseWorks Development Workshops, which provides tools and resources for artists to support themselves with their work--to professionalize.
The commercial implications of the show emerge in the middle space, where we find a limited repertoire of images employed in a seemingly endless proliferation of products. Visitors were lounging in a living room, sitting at a kitchen table, and chatting in an open bathroom complete with a toilet, a shower and sad, imitation brick linoleum flooring. There were clowns and pretty settings everywhere--on throw pillows, salt and pepper shakers, bottles of cosmetics, the shower curtain and awful decorative clocks made from a shellacked cross-section of a log, "collectable" plates hung on the wall, in needlepoint, and of course, on the toilet paper. There's something actually thrilling about this reductive multiplication of the "artworks," so that while the subject of parody is always apparent, the show seems less now about Thomas Kinkade and more about us as consumers. The settings are not only representations of home spaces, quite commodious and inviting--reminiscent of grandmothers' homes--but they also recall the clever fictions of a showcase in a home furnishings store. And the humor here is not as savage or pointed as one might expect of a wholesale parody. As Hernandez says of the ubiquitous clown, "It's a stand in for [Kinkade], for me, for the audience, for how people perceive the artist."