If you like Coca Cola and World Politics and have a twisted sense of humor, then UNIX Gallery in Chelsea is currently hosting an exhibit you will enjoy. Always Shameless, an exhibition of new work by Spanish artist Eugenio Merino is instantly polarizing for its depiction of life-sized Political Leaders including Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il, Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush displayed in Coca Cola Refrigerator Coffins. Surely, this visual alone will inspire hours of lively discourse.
Walls at either end of the the Coca Cola Case Display are mirrored, creating an infinity effect and indicating that the line of corrupt leadership “goes on forever,” according to Gallery owner Alex Cesaria, whom I spoke to at the opening reception this past Thursday. The figures of each well known leader (most now deceased but some still living) are all astoundingly lifelike (although a few have noticeably over-sized heads, take that however you want).
According to the exhibit’s press release, Always Shameless is the culmination of a project Merino began in 2011 with Always Franco, a life sized sculpture of uniformed Spanish dictator Francisco Franco preserved in a Coca Cola refrigerator. The Fundación Nacional Francisco Franco, an organization dedicated to preserving Franco’s legacy, quickly sued the artist over the sculpture as well as for a second sculpture the artist created of the dictator. Merino went to trial twice to defend his freedom of speech and won both cases. As an aside, I can’t help but recall the long-running punch line on early seasons of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update News segment, reporting that “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is Still Dead.” If you are too young to remember that, it doesn’t matter.
Despite the legal setbacks, the artist has continued his series of sculptures of political figures for the exhibition. The title of the show, Always Shameless is a play on the 1993 Coca Cola slogan “Always.” Merging the political nature of the artist’s sculptures with the branding of a universally recognized product brings these ultimately dark and poignant works into the more accessible forum of popular culture. As Kestum Bilt (a Branding authority) puts it, ” These works evoke the unspeakable in a field of voices”.
Merino’s work undoubtedly reflects his struggle as a politically active and controversial artist. Speaking directly to the issues of manipulation and control throughout the 21st century, his works challenge the artistic and social limits his subjects have set upon their respective societies. Their legacies have been preserved simply through our participation in keeping their reigns alive. Jonathan Jones of The Guardian noted, “it seems incredible that General Franco is still oppressing artists in Spain from beyond the grave.”
As a terrific kick off to the summer, Always Shameless is a Do Not Miss Exhibit!
Eugenio Merino’s Always Shameless will be on Exhibit Through July 12th, 2014 at UNIX Gallery, Located at 532 W 24th Street in the Chelsea Gallery District.