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Art review: Yvonne Venegas at Shoshana Wayne Gallery

June 18, 2010 | 12:30 pm
400.Venegas_2006_Reloj For more than four years, photographer Yvonne Venegas was permitted to document the family and home of Maria Elvia De Hank, wife of millionaire and former mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rohn. The photographs on view at Shoshana Wayne capture the eccentricities and contradictions of the exorbitantly wealthy in Mexico, a phenomenon with parallels in China, the Philippines, Dubai and wherever new wealth bumps up against the harsh legacies of underdevelopment. Venegas’ images portray upper class status as a continual work in progress; they are also quietly critical, with an arch appreciation for the absurd.

The tension between aspiration and reality appears clearly in “Lago” (“Lake”), an image of an idealistic but decidedly sorry-looking man-made pond. Despite being populated by flamingos and geese, it is hardly an oasis, surrounded by nothing but dry, flat dirt. Similarly in “Muchachos,” a group of well-dressed men gather around an SUV in a field that looks like it has just been cleared for construction.

400.Venegas_2008_Velas With an eye for small moments, Venegas directs the viewer’s attention with spare but odd titles. An image of a young bride and a middle-aged man checking his watch is simply called “Reloj” (“Watch”). In “Bolsa” (“Bag”), three people reach for a purse, which seems an odd thing to emphasize when the young woman next to them is holding a baby in a christening dress. By framing key moments in the family’s life through the accouterments of wealth, Venegas hints at how relationships are textured by material accumulation.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in her images of children, who become a species of object themselves. “Nirvana” depicts a bored little girl, all in white with perfect blond ringlets. Seated at a banquet table, her head rests on a round, golden plate. Another image features two girls stiffly dressed as if they stepped straight out of Velasquez’s “Las Meninas.” In these straightforward but loaded images, Venegas gives us a probing view not only into the lives of the super-rich, but also the price of turning upper class aspirations into somewhat hollow realities.

– Sharon Mizota

Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. B-1, Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through August 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.shoshanawayne.com

Images: Reloj (top) and Velas. Courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery.
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