José Lerma’s (b. 1971 Seville, Spain) practice investigates painting, yet while his work is rooted in painting, the final product usually results in elaborate installations that often incorporate everyday items...
José Lerma’s (b. 1971 Seville, Spain) practice investigates painting, yet while his work is rooted in painting, the final product usually results in elaborate installations that often incorporate everyday items such as office materials, musical instruments, and home furnishings. Lerma attempts to collapse the historical with the autobiographical, making works that are part art history, and part personal mythology. Several of Lerma’s recurring themes deal with the tension between the heroic and the pathetic as well as the rise and fall of great figures.
His most recent solo exhibition was titled Nunquam Prandium Liberum: a latin translation of “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” economist Milton Friedman’s favorite adage and a foundational axiom for 20th century libertarian theory. It implies the impossibility of getting something for nothing, a concept we are often confronted with when forced by circumstance to permit abuses of power.
For that exhibition, Jose Lerma transformed Kavi Gupta gallery in Chicago into a version of heaven based on Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s 1757 fresco, Allegory of Merit Accompanied by Nobility and Virtue. This work, commissioned by the Rezzonico family for the Ca’Rezzonico Plazzo in Venice, intertwines the figures of Merit, Nobility, Virtue and Tiepolo’s benefactors as they ascend to heaven, implying a correlation between wealth and virtue. Lerma’s 1980s dot-matrix paper and security envelope patterns provide a powder blue sky, and a low-lying fog alludes to a celestial haze. Paintings of the artist’s parents and a Mercedes hang on slowly rotating mobiles in the space, giving both the status symbol and its beneficiaries the appearance of heavenly ascent. An oversized white Guayabera shirt (traditionally worn by captains of industry in Puerto Rico, Lerma’s childhood home) is moved up and down by a sex machine, turning it in to an angel.