BERLIN.- Galerie Michael Janssen
presents a selection of Mario Ybarra Jr.s recent works. In his first solo exhibition at the gallery, the American artist will be presenting two installations. Born in Los Angeles in 1973 and a graduate of the University of California, Irvine, Ybarras biography is key to understanding his work, which draws attention to forms of culture on the fringe of the mainstream revealing hidden histories within their contexts. His Mexican roots permeate his engagement with the phenomena of contemporary art, street culture and social reality.
Mario Ybarra Jr. was brought up in Wilmington near the Los Angeles harbor, where he still lives and works. At a young age he became familiar with the political actions of the dockworkers and their aesthetic sensibility. He belongs to a new generation of artists of Mexican-American descent, who do not reject their identity and origin against a background of social exclusion but embrace both of the trajectories in their backgrounds. Ybarra appropriates and parodies an American mainstream culture that frequently sees itself as hegemonic by fusing low and highbrow culture into critical and ironic installations.
In 2002, together with artist Karla Diaz, Ybarra founded the art collective Slanguage which operates through multidisciplinary, non-object-based practices. Focusing on art education, Slanguage has fostered the dialogue about the meaning and value of contemporary art and has cultivated relationships between diverse artists, students, communities and organizations by creating artworks that have ranged from multimedia installations to performances, public events and workshops.
Galerie Michael Janssen is showing two distinctive bodies of works by Mario Ybarra Jr. The installation Silver and Blacks is a series of works on paper with both abstract and figurative works showcasing Ybarras unique calligraphic handwriting. It consists of three parts and features a mural with graffiti-influenced drawings on cardboard panels titled Shawna, Kimberly and Donna that was partly inspired by a rap track by MC Spew, a series of drawings titled From L.A. to S.A., showing a variety of street scenes with caricature portraits, fantastic comic-like figures and creatures; and a series of more abstract spray-painted drawings called Space Tags. During a two-month residency at Artpace San Antonio in Texas (invited by Jens Hoffmann) Ybarra chose to constrain himself by a self-imposed set of rules, limiting advance planning and producing drawings on paper using only silver, black and white. His drawing tools could only include markers, inks and aerosol paint. After working on several large-scale installations such as Sweeney Tate for the exhibition The World as a Stage at Londons Tate Modern (2007) where the artist doesnt necessarily touch every aspect of the work, Silver and Blacks was also an attempt by Ybarra to get back to drawing again. Silver and Blacks also paid a tribute to the early black-and-white films featuring the Mickey Mouse introduced in 1927 by Walt Disney, one of Ybarras heroes.
Against oversized hanging backdrops made from photographs of situations in his studio, Ybarra will sell customized t-shirts, baseball caps and buttons during the exhibition. The project is an ongoing activity at Ybarras art collective Slanguage studio. Slanguage works hard on growing as an organization. Part of that is the belief that it needs to keep learning new skills and refining its art practice. It has always had a hands-on approach to creating artwork as well as customized merchandise. With the help of local shops and artisans it has lead and organized workshops for artists and students to create buttons, hats and customized sneakers. During solo exhibtions at Slanguage the shop sells goods developed by the featured artist in order to cover exhibition costs. Following this principle, the articles in the shop installation at the gallery are all designed by Ybarra himself.
Ybarra has won broad international recognition for his site-specific urban interventions that bring to light little-known aspects of a particular locations cultural history, such as his solo exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago (2008) and the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco (2007), as well his contributions to the Whitney Biennial, New York (2008), the Prague Biennial 3 (2007), the Tate Modern (2007) and the Serpentine Gallery (2006), both in London.