Fernando Mastrangelo’s “Medallions” Editor’s Pick

Fernando Mastrangelo’s “Medallions”

  The first exhibition at Kowal+Odermatt Projects



kowalodermatt-fm-miamiartzine-001Fernando Mastrangelo’s “Medallions,” an exploration of ancient South American culture, international trade and the changing value of commodities, is the first exhibition at Kowal+Odermatt Projects, a new artist residency program in Wynwood.

Kowal+Odermatt Projects invites exceptional emerging and recognized international artists to live, work and exhibit in Miami. The program allows participating artists to broaden their creative horizons and introduces new talent to the Miami art community. Each artist has the guidance and insight of founder Isabelle Kowal, an artist and collector, whose vision is at the core of the residency program.

Mastrangelo’s show at the new Kowal+Odermatt space in the Wynwood Lofts presents his latest series of sculptures. The pieces are aesthetically inspired by ancient medallions and conceptually linked to the traditions of the Aztec and Mayan cultures, whereby deities were presented with gifts and adornments in order to ingratiate oneself to these impersonal and supernatural forces.

The artist shares his travel experiences and immersion in research on South American cultures through sculptural narrative. Mastrangelo presents kowalodermatt-fm-miamiartzine-002his interpretation based on research finds, explorations into the changing definitions of what constitutes a commodity, and a contemporary art aesthetic. Additionally, he hints at the changed view of produce of modern Western society, as aesthetics have replaced nutritional aspects as the prime determining factor of value and worth.

As they take their cues from mythology and ancient rituals, the wall-mounted medallions examine commodities and trade. The precise, detailed and heavily adorned pieces embody preciousness in their reminiscence of antique jewels. Mastrangelo incorporates gold paint, floral carvings and resin-covered food items such as beans, salt, rice and rainbow-colored candy. Turquoise-dyed sugar becomes turquoise gems and black beans translate as obsidian rock. Persuasively, Mastrangelo tacitly directs the viewer’s attention to one of the most socio-cultural issues of the present day. The power of the omnipresent commodities trade and its command over worldwide prices for such commodities, in relation to the situation of the farmer growing those commonly needed crops.

Commodities consistently change value and international trade has a tremendous effect on international relations and third-world development as trade interests and, essentially, monetary interests direct development efforts rather than humanitarian efforts. International trading, whether silk, kowalodermatt-fm-miamiartzine-003precious stones and metals, salt, sugar and fruit have had profound impacts such as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Modern-day corn farming and its effects on the livelihoods of people is an issue Mastrangelo is concerned with and directly incorporates into the “Medallions” series through his use of corn. Not addressed in his work but part of the thought process evoked by Mastrangelo are the effects of today’s diamond and oil trade as the workers in the mines of the Senegal and the inhabitants of the Niger delta in Nigeria are severely affected, suffering from little compensation and health consequences due to contamination.

Mastrangelo’s work explores the human condition from various angles. With a utilitarian and historical approach the artist champions the deprived and marginalized part of society. By touching on a diverse kowalodermatt-fm-miamiartzine-004range of contemporary issues, Mastrangelo’s work reads similar to that of German artist Anselm Kiefer. But while Kiefer incorporates the use of familiar products, using them in their original appearance, Mastrangelo lures the viewer into their own realm by exposing their own beauty and thus re-assessing the way we assign value to objects.

“Medallions” is a nod to the surface quality of today’s objects and products while simultaneously invoking ancient traditions and belief systems. The works go beyond the surface in an effort to explore and question not only the underlying meanings, but also those belief systems’ implications on life and humanity. In essence, the medallions belie a dark truth, disguised by the sheer opulence of their appearance. As a symbol of beauty, they may be taken as such, while at the same time, symbolically they give a face to one of the most pressing problems of our time.

All photos by Heike Dempster