Rico Deniro’s Native Expatriots at FIFTY24SF

Natural Ex-patriots by Rico Deniro2010 was a killer year for masks, with freaky facial disguises from Skinner, Le Merde and AJ Fosik. The masquerade continues into 2011 with a new show by Rico Deniro at FIFTY24SF. For Native Expatriots, Deniro gave photos of pop culture icons to artisans in rural Mexican villages and tasked them to mask them.

Natural Ex-patriots by Rico Deniro

Here’s what the press release says of the show:

The craftsmen of these masks have no reference point to these images, no sense of importance tied to the celebrities that they were given, no inundation of cultural significance by media sources, and instead translate the images into form at a completely superficial and innocent level.

The resulting masks show these idols at a level which we rarely see them: exposed. Not in the way that the news media ‘exposes’ celebrities, because in that case there’s a symbiotic dependency, but in the way that these idols are exposed for their lack of substance other than the media and marketing that convinces us of their substance.

Natural Ex-patriots by Rico Deniro

And here’s what Deniro says:

I lean on the last men and women of the earth who don’t use computers or technology to make things. People that use no power, and use only primitive tools and the precision of their hands to interpret dirty contrived icons of the world that the so-called “advanced civilizations” worship.

The artisans have little or no relationship with most of the icons and people represented in this body of work. Highlighting the emptiness that is in direct conflict with the billions of dollars spent convincing us that these icons do have value and worth.

Natural Ex-patriots by Rico Deniro

The control group for this experiment of sorts is then therefore the gallery-goer. Does the rural Mexican interpretation of our first-world celebrities change our perception of them? In a few cases, the masks are overly caricaturish, as if the artists were trying to ensure a link to the photo by exaggerating signature characteristics. Most of the others, however, just kind of hang blankly on the wall. Perhaps that is the message?

Natural Ex-patriots by Rico DeniroEach mask is hand-carved out of Mexican native mountain white soft wood and painted with traditional oil base and acrylic paint. When I was at FIFTY24SF last Saturday, the masks were all priced at $350. As of today, online at Upper Playground, prices have been slashed to $175 a piece. Ronald McDonald, Kermit the Frog and, eh, Osama Bin Laden, are, at the time of this writing, still available. If you want to see more of the masks, check out a very NSFW photo shoot by Estevan Oriole here.

Natural Ex-patriots by Rico Deniro