The works of Spanish-born artist Eugenio Merino deal with matters such as politics, religion and society with the purpose of making us question our assumptions – the truth we are told by society, by the images and constructs of the dominant culture.
“My work is about our relation with the world we live in and its connection with humor,” says Merino. “Issues such as rising inequality (Joseph Stiglitz), the McDonaldization of our society (George Ritzer), the effects of Capitalism and the power of brands (Naomi Klein), our beliefs, our history, and our present.”
Although Merino’s based in Madrid I caught up with him in Houston – where his work is featured in two concurrent shows – Corpocracy at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, and a solo show – Will Work for Fast Food at the UNIX Gallery.
Let’s take a quick tour of Merino’s art, beginning with a series of sculptures of world leaders “frozen” inside refrigerators decorated with a familiar corporate “logo.”
Eugenio Merino: Stuck between Always Putin (2014) and Always Bush (2014)
“The sculptures are about how certain politicians cast a long shadow over the countries they rule – propped up by corporations. Now, sometimes I feel like corporations are the new dictators,” says Merino with a gentle smile. He is serious as he talks about how societies are trapped in the frozen ideologies of their dominant leaders – some dead, some alive. “In Spain we still feel the ghost of Franco.”
The faces of the “frozen leaders” are both ghoulish and funny at the same time:
Always Fidel (2014)
Across town, at his solo show, we meet the artist standing below another familiar symbol made of laser-cut aluminum and enamel:
The Iron Cage (2015)
“DISNEY is a trap,” explains Merino. “You’re free to do whatever you like, as long as it’s sold to you by DISNEY. We live our lives in cages, designed and manipulated by the corporations under the illusion of freedom.”
A young art fan pauses to stare at another of Merino’s works and says: “It’s got horns, like the Devil.”
V is for Vanity, (2015) polyester resin, Swarovski crystals, fiberglass, stainless steel
“The Anonymous 1% control our politics and the future of this planet. This mask is the other end of the spectrum – the opposite of the people in the Occupy movement. We don’t know who all these elite are. They control much of the world’s wealth in stealth,” says Merino.
Across from the mask of inequality is a solid cube – a block – suspended above what looks to be a disheveled, gray-haired, homeless man sleeping (or is he dead)? The man’s fingers point upwards – a hopeless prayer, perhaps?
Under Pressure (2013) Aluminum, silicone, human hair, enamel, blankets, clothing, polyester, polyurethane, steel
Behind the homeless man, under glass, sits a pair of luxury glasses which look rather stylish until you notice the mushroom clouds on the lenses:
Watching the End (2015) Sunglasses, wood stand, plexiglass, mirror
Once again, Merino is concerned about inequality and its effects. The rich are destroying the world, through willful ignorance or, more likely, through active exploitation of its resources.
Who killed the Earth? Looking back, as I write this, I think of Bill McKibben’s arrest at a gas station in Vermont. All we do is watch.
Merino’s show is called Will Work For Fast Food, and the sign says so loud and clear:
Will Work For Fast Food (2013) Bronze, patina, oil paint
The sign is made of bronze, and is typical of the signs you see on the streets of Houston. Merino tells me he is stunned by the number of homeless people he has seen in Houston. I ask him why he chose bronze for the placard. His answer is once again thoughtful and provocative: “I wanted to show how heavy the burden of poverty is – and how it is also noble. The poor have few options for good food, and everywhere we see growing unemployment.”
I asked Merino if he is depressed by his work.
He smiles yet again, and says that the only choice we have is to laugh.
Born in 1975 in Spain, Eugenio Merino graduated from the Complutense University of Madrid. He has had numerous solo and group exhibitions and has participated in a variety of art fairs, including Volta NY, Volta Basel, ARCO (Madrid), Art Brussels, FIAC (Paris), Armory Show, Arte Fiera (Bologna), Art BO (Bogota), MACO (Mexico), Art Wynwood (Miami) and has exhibited in the MOCA Museum of Taipei and the B.P.S.22 in Charleroi (Belgium).
Merino lives and works in Madrid, Spain.
Eugenio Merino chats with Jim Harithas and Ann Harithas. Joshua Poole checks messages in the background.
This article is part of a series based on Corpocracy, a group show now at the Station Museum, Houston, Texas.