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New Times / Art

The following article was posted on October 4th, 2012, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [] - Volume 27, Issue 10

Playing house

At the University Art Gallery, Ana Serrano's exhibit 'Pretty Monumental' is a celebration of modern folk culture


Ana Serrano’s art is, let’s face it, extremely cute. Serrano’s miniature buildings, painstakingly fashioned from cardboard and paper, bring to mind the dollhouses and dioramas of youth. They’re adorable, and yet there’s something strikingly adult about these constructions, part of the Los Angeles artist’s latest exhibit “Pretty Monumental” at the Cal Poly University Art Gallery. Barbed wire, boarded-up doors with “Do Not Enter” signs, grass sprouting through cracked pavement, and the telltale signs of a DIY paint job tell stories of economic hardship, of getting by. But there’s more to the story, as the brilliantly colored, handmade signs and lovingly tended gardens of cacti and ferns will tell you. There is beauty in the eccentricity of this place, in its homemade solutions. Yes, there is hardship, the works seem to say, but love holds it together.

This humorous yet unsettling sculpture from Ana Serrano’s exhibit “Pretty Monumental” recalls the endearing kitsch of mom-and-pop window displays.

Los Angeles artist Ana Serrano creates strikingly detailed sculptures inspired by the color and eccentricity of Los Angeles’ Hispanic neighborhoods.

Serrano’s sculptures have long been inspired by the look and feel of Los Angeles’ lower-income Hispanic neighborhoods, with their funky window displays, vibrantly colored houses, and signs directly translated from Spanish. Though she often works on a smaller scale, as in most of the pieces in “Pretty Monumental,” Serrano’s last exhibit, the site-specific installation “Salon of Beauty” (a word-for-word translation of the Spanish salón de belleza, or “beauty salon”) featured much larger constructions, which stood just slightly taller than the viewer. Some work of this slightly larger scale is present in “Pretty Monumental,” such as the almost shrine-like garden of potted plants, bricks, buckets, and statues that greets the viewer upon entry. The effect is strange, as the viewer realizes in stages that everything, not just the ornamental stuff but also the more utilitarian-looking bricks and buckets, is fabricated—part of the artwork and not just supporting it.

The same is true of a cardboard display of irresistible toy dogs neatly stacked on top of one another and resting upon a low table that turns out to be made of cardboard as well.

In one corner, a display of plastic hands with elaborately painted fingernails pays homage to the accidental absurdity and endearing kitsch of mom-and-pop window displays. The kind of establishment the piece references ought to be busy, bright, and crammed with trinkets. But in “Pretty Monumental,” the display is allowed to stand alone, the clean white walls of the gallery enabling the humorous, if slightly alarming, sight to sink in. Window displays are indeed an overlooked genre of folk art.

Works like The Rampart, pictured, reveal a striking eye for detail. Satellite dishes, electrical boxes, and tiny bars over the building’s windows imbue the piece with near-photographic realism.

But visitors to the University Art Gallery, especially those with an affinity for the miniature, will probably spend a greater portion of their time examining the Serrano’s small-scale buildings. The level of realism present in these works—satellite dishes, power lines, iron bars protecting windows from intruders—is nearly photographic. The effect is voyeuristic in a way. But more than that, the pieces show a kind of reverence for the neighborhoods on which they have modeled, places that have retained their unique zest despite, perhaps, the persistent lurking threat of strip malls and condominiums. It’s as if these old-school structures, each resting on its own pedestal, have at last been recognized as the unique works of art they are.

Arts Editor Anna Weltner has been miniaturized and types by jumping on the keys. Contact her at