Lara's Saints

Boyang Hou

The work of Rodrigo Lara Zendejas brings to mind our intrinsic human need for communion. His work, broadly described, explores the forces that divide and unite us and examines the role of the artist in facilitating moments of connection.

In recent months, Lara’s memories of serving as an alter boy in the Catholic Church have become a source of inspiration for his work. Lara’s 2015 installation, Chapel, borrows its floor plan from a familiar sanctuary of the artist’s youth. The figures that adorn the space strike the saintly poses from Lara’s memory, but their heads are replaced with portraits of Lara’s ‘art saints.’ Pollock, DeKooning, Basquiat, Warhol, etc. -the characters whom contemporary art has deified.

Lara’s works in MASS continue this train of thought though, now, the identities of his figures have been removed. The sculptures suspended from the ceiling are a kind of hybrid portrait created by sculpting members of the Chicago art community in poses borrowed from art history. In knee-length dresses and rolled up jeans, Lara’s acephalous ‘saints’ declare themselves in the now. The inverted portraits remain incomplete until activated by visitors to the exhibition whose own heads complete, in a way, the headless effigies.

The grand trappings of the contemporary art world, with its mega-museums and venerated figures, often inspire a comparison with the church, but it is the micro-community that Lara responds to. The regular gathering at Sunday mass was central to Lara’s childhood. Now the weekly procession through gallery openings has replaced this ritual. The opening reception is our communion - our time for celebration and contemplation. If Gehry’s cavernous atriums elicit comparisons to Cathedrals, then Lara’s memory of his grandparents’ domestic shrine is a fitting origin for the humble but rigorous chalet that is Fernwey. The figures in the exhibition become our immortalization, not so much of the body (being) but of the spirit and soul of our Midwestern mass.