It’s easy to be fooled by the pompadour pink, the references to ’90s nostalgia, and the Y2K markers adorning Yvette Mayorga’s artworks. But in her sea of perfectly textured pieces—like the blinged-out laptop in the life-size recreation of her childhood bedroom titled Bedroom After 15th, or the large set of balloons and Hello Kittys in The Enchanted Party—lies the crux and central theme of her creations: realizing that the American Dream is really just a dream.
Mayorga’s art has the special ability to capture the duality of her upbringing while exploring ideas of belonging, migration, and consumerism. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and was part of the critically acclaimed exhibition Estamos Bien: La Trienal 20/21, El Museo del Barrio’s inaugural survey of contemporary Latinx art featuring more than 40 artists from across the United States and Puerto Rico.
Comprised of 21 new paintings and 16 sculptures, Yvette Mayorga’s first solo show, What a Time To Be, is currently on display at Crystal Bridges Museum’s The Momentary through May 2023. In the exhibition, the Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist uses inspiration from Rococo art and artists like François Boucher, as well as pastry piping bags filled with acrylic paint, to re-imagine her childhood and pay homage to her mother, who worked at the Marshall Fields Department store—now a landmark in Chicago—as a baker. “The art pieces for this show took me a year to make,” she tells me over Zoom. She spent hours layering acrylic paint, drawing out memories from her youth, and even adding fibs from her imagination. Mayorga says it’s an opportunity to control her narrative at a time when her body is still and the memories come back.
“How much can we really rest?” she asks. “Sure, we’re scrolling on our phones and maybe laying around, but we’re also worrying about the world being on fire.”
It is easy to miss small references throughout her work—including portraits inspired by her Gen Z and Millennial nieces—and the pink layers upon layers of acrylic can feel overwhelming. But Mayorga says by the time you realize what’s happening, “it’s too late” and you’re already sucked in. “I do this on purpose to set the stage to explore these harder topics,” she adds.
The artist, who was raised in Moline, Illinois by parents who migrated from Jalisco, Mexico and often traveled back and forth, gives viewers a deep view into her world in What a Time To Be through nostalgic “American” references in her works: Nike sneakers, for instance, or a Telfar bag.
Not too far from that ephemera, you’ll see a calendar from a Mexican store she purchased in Illinois, referencing her yearning to be “home”—though she often visited Mexico and even lived there at one point—throughout her childhood. You also certainly can’t miss the incredible “Tribal Boots” on Mayorga’s Until We Meet Again installation, characterized by the elongated, pointed toe on cowboy footwear donned by young men in Mexico. This installation, which hangs from the ceiling in the exhibition, also happens to be Mayorga’s favorite. “It is about longing and being separated,” she says of the piece. “I’m referencing being separated from family members, whether it is because of the pandemic or borders.”
Though Mayorga’s work explores themes very closely related to the Latinx experience in the United States, it is important to her that everyone be able to see themselves in her pieces. Mirrors throughout the exhibition serve as an opportunity for viewers to reflect and position themselves in the story. Despite having different upbringings, her work serves as a reminder that there are more things binding us together than setting us apart.
Mayorga is currently working on a new large-scale commission for the City of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 5 Expansion public art project, which opens in 2022, along with an upcoming solo show in 2023 at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.