Fernando Mastrangelo – Whitewall Daily


Charest-Weinberg Gallery presents new work by artist Fernando Mastrangelo in the show “Black Sculpture” which opens this week in Miami. You’ve probably seen Mastrangelo’s work before, which uses very unique material – human ash, cocaine, corn – to create beautifully made sculptures that deal with some pretty heavy social issues. For some time those works primarily critiqued problems facing the Hispanic community, but for this show Mastrangelo looks to art history. For his new series “Black Sculpture” the artist forged reliefs of works by Frank Stell and Ad Reinhardt in gunpowder. Below the artist answers a few questions from Whitewall.

WHITEWALL: In this new series, “Black Sculpture”, the subject or your work is artists in art history’s canon. You’re work previously has primarily dealt with social issues in the Hispanic community. What made you turn to art history’s canon?

FERNANDO MASTRANGELO: In 2010 when I finished the MS-13 project, I made a very conscious and strategic decision to avoid getting pigeonholed as the Hispanic artist dealing with social issues. Although it’s something I’m interested in because of my family’s roots, it’s not something I want to continually pursue. Artists that embrace their niche because it helps their sales or develops their one hit wonder brand consequently never veer, and that’s completely uninteresting to me. So my follow up project to MS-13 was the Al One project, which deals with technology and social networking on a global scale. Al One involves anyone who is using technology today, a social issue that encompasses every race, creed, color or religion. For “Black Sculpture” I turned to art history’s canon, although I’d normally be opposed to anything resembling art about art, these works were about a cathartic conceptual purging related to art making, not about innovating or
pushing the boundaries in the post-minimalist conversation. Through purging that history of reductive art making which has become a cornerstone in my practice, I wanted to at once honor that history and potentially destroy it at the same time.

WW: I wonder if the show’s opening during Art Basel Miami Beach, which now seems to be part of the canon of art fairs and where you can always see art historically important works, had anything to do with this new body of work?

FM: It wasn’t something I thought about. This project idea actually came up in 2010 while I was living in Los Angeles. I had cast sculptures of Mary and Jesus from gunpowder for the MS-13 and thought I might recontextualize the meaning of the gunpowder for minimalist works that I had seen at LACMA. I didn’t really have a chance to pursue the project in late 2010 because of Al One, so when the show at Charest-Weinberg Gallery came up, I though it was a perfect opportunity to finally see the idea through.

WW: Your work Avarice used white Mexican corn to create an Aztec calendar, Felix was a statue of a Colombian
cocoa farmer made from pure cocaine, and relief sculptures based on tattoos of the Los Angeles gang MS-13
were made from human ash. Your choice in material is usually literally tied to the subject your exploring. How did
decide on gunpowder for this series of work?
FM: It’s true, I have often used materials as a strategy to drive the conceptual point of my work, and in the case of
“Black Sculpture” I’m exploring the existential idea of getting to nothing. The existentialists proposed that in
clearing oneself of ones past and arriving at nothing in the present, everything becomes possible. In a symbolic
attempt to eradicate this part of art history for myself (to get to nothing) I felt gunpowder would be the best host for
this metaphor. Gunpowder is volatile, dangerous, beautiful, charged, and destructive, similar to living in the past or
dwelling solely on art history. Perhaps standing in front of an object (art object or otherwise) that alludes to your
own death or the end of something allows space for something new to emerge? The sculptures are a vehicle that
helps to ask that question.
WW: How did you choose the artists and specifically which of their works you would address?
FM: I specifically chose Frank Stella and Ad Reinhardt to start this series because they both made a series entitled
“Black Paintings.” Both artist’s reduced painting just shy of complete annihilation, somehow furthering the
conversation started by Malevich, and then ironically reinvigorated painting and it’s foothold in the dialogue of
abstraction. I wanted to stage a similar situation, where my sculptures could fall just shy of literal annihilation (with
the touch of a flame), and perhaps reinvigorate the notion of appropriation and reduction for the sake of furthering
the conversation of getting to nothing.
WW: How did you create these works with gunpowder?
FM: For the Stella pieces, we created digital files that were CNC milled into wood prototypes, and from there we
made silicone molds, which allowed us to cast the gunpowder using an epoxy. For the Reinhardt I made a wood
mold and cast directly into that because the form was less complicated.
WW: The material you use is not only a direct reference to your subject but it’s also heavily tied to an action or
actions. The materials have use outside creating a sculpture. You especially think of the action of shooting when
you think of gunpowder. Does separating the material from its physical purpose also interest you? Or bringing
material outside its physical context?
FM: I’m interested in the inherent metaphor that materials possess, so bringing materials outside of their physical
context is my primary tactic. The materials are symbolic beyond their physical use, and again they are only hosts
for the metaphor.
WW: Your work is both socially conscious and visually impressive. Do you think art needs to have a strong
aesthetic impact in order for its social agenda to properly sink in?
FM: Yes! We live in a visually saturated, twitter crazy, media-driven, high-octane, dog-eat-dog, bigger, better,
faster kind of world today, and art tends to be a more quiet, subtle format for addressing any kind of “social
agenda,” so at least for me it’s imperative to make sculptures that are visually arresting, or else people will just
move on in that very instant, and never even get to the social agenda part.
Fernando Mastrangelo, Reinhardt, 2011, Gunpowder, 60 x 60 x 2 inches, Edition of 2 + 1AP
Fernando Mastrangelo, Stella (1), 2011, Gunpowder, 75.60 x 421 x 42 inches, Edition of 2 + 1AP.
Fernando Mastrangelo, Stella (2), 2011, Gunpowder, 121.5 x 85 x 2 inches, Edition of 2 + 1AP.
Fernando Mastrangelo, Stella (3), 2011, Gunpowder, 34 x 26 x 2 inches, Edition of 12 + 1AP.