Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Painting in the Albuquerque Museum

I have been thinking about writing about this picture for some time.  It is by Patrick McGrath Muñiz and is called, “Disneyfication of a Hero”.

At the end of 2013 I wrote a piece on Muñiz, after we had bought a painting by the artist, and there you can learn more about his background.

But first things first, my spell checker doesn’t like the word "Disneyfication" yet one can find it in Wikipedia!  To me it is quite obvious that it is not a positive commentary and Muñiz is all about social satire.  If it’s Disney it must be about consumption, merchandising, taking the real world and sanitizing it to make it acceptable.  Other words that the artist suggested to me when I corresponded with him recently were “Cocacolonization” and “Walmartization. You get the idea. 

The picture was painted in 2010 and first shown at a gallery in Florida and in 2012 at the Jane Sauer Gallery in Santa Fe, now owned by Jen Tansey.  Announcing the exhibition at Jane Sauer the artist wrote: “Saints Heroes and Corporations is the title for my upcoming solo show … As the title suggests the work is about "larger than life" historical and contemporary figures, including Corporations that under the U.S. fourteenth amendment enjoy special "personhood" rights.”  Clearly from that statement alone we catch his drift.

According to the label in the Albuquerque Museum where the painting is now part of the permanent collection, “Muñiz creates historic puzzles linking disparate images from history and art history, popular culture, Christianity”.  The artist has clearly studied the Old Masters and he has updated the iconography in this picture.  The Hero of the piece is Hercules with his club being submitted to a neo-colonial consumer driven transformative process called, “Disneyfication”. 

Here is a legend to help you identify all the characters you might not recognize.


The only obscure character if you did not grow up in what Muñiz called “the oldest colony in the Western Hemisphere (Puerto Rico) claimed by Spain in 1493 and seized as a U.S. Territory in 1898, is #4 Diego de Landa who is shown destroying Mayan history.

There is so much Old Master in the picture and Donald Duck, lower left, sitting on the toilet reminds me of a Breughel figure pissing on the wall of a building.  Donald is being handed pages, torn from a book by a Renaissance boy to use as toilet paper.  Note that Hercules is heading toward the gypsy who has three Taro cards by her side showing the fool, the hanged man and death cards.  These represent part of the hero’s journey from the beginning of his quest to sacrifice and death.  You will note other figures in the painting representing death and father time behind the hero as well.

I asked both the artist and the curator of the Albuquerque Museum, Andrew Connors, why the former decided to donate and the latter accept this masterpiece.  Muñiz had decided early on that this was the kind of important painting that delivered his message better than many of the others he had done, and that people could learn from it what his message was.  Connors, a great admirer of the artist’s work, felt it would fit in well as supplement to a couple of exhibitions that the museum had planned.  It was first shown with the exhibition, “Behind Closed Doors” showing the art in the Spanish American Home between 1492 and 1898.  Then it was along side the exhibition of “Masterpieces from the École de Beaux Arts, Paris.”  Regarding the first show it is Spanish Colonial Art that might be shown in a contemporary home and in the second it shows that there are still today artists who paint in the style of the Old Masters but updating subject matter.  Quoting the curator, “Although the focus of the Albuquerque Museum’s art collection is ‘art of the American Southwest and its influences’ Muñiz provides such a complimentary vision of the world to that of a New Mexican perspective, we thought it had to be included in the collection… Since it was installed in early 2014 the painting has been a consistent favorite with our visitors, particularly young visitors (who get many of the pop culture references) and families (because the painting sparks so many intergenerational discussions with different generations understanding different historic or cultural iconography.)”

Before I finish I want to point out the detail of the carving of the frame. With heraldry, soldiers, a cathedral … I could write a piece just on the symbolism in the frame!

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