There is humor and history in all of Darren Lago’s work, however the humor is, if not black, certainly shaded by dark times; the lushness of the work belies the greater meaning. In his new solo exhibition, Who’s Afraid of the Red, White, and Green, Lago attempts to makes sense of, or at least address, myriad concerns that are given form by and rise out of our world, from the geopolitical to the ecological, and from the concrete to the abstract. Religion, race, class, and culture all get attention under Lago’s wit and skill as a sculptor and painter. As the world seems to swing right, nationalism and xenophobic jingoism expose man’s hubris and the blind eye that is turned towards notions of common sense, decency, and democracy.
The title of the show attempts to address the falseness and emptiness inherent in the patriotism of populism, referencing the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs, which in itself is a tale of hubris and ignorance of the dangers of the world. The colors red, white, and green are among the most common colors of national flags, representing a huge variety of vexillological meanings, depending on the homeland, but immediately associative with blood, purity, and money, among others.
White President is clearly a draped Mickey Mouse, perhaps the world’s most recognizable children’s character. However, the work addresses the façade of the politician, the unknowability of the leader. It also includes wordplay; the term “Mickey Mouse” has long been used to describe something that is unprofessional, spurious, or cheap. In this case, the “Mickey Mouse-ification” of the American presidency has officially taken place, and the role of Commander-in-Chief has been white-cloaked, white-washed, and washed out.
Further use of Mickey’s pop icon status include the E.R. Wacs – a series of small-scale airplanes with Mickey-shaped radar arrays. A play on AWACS, an advanced military radar system, E.R. Wacs addresses the interdependencies of corporate mass production, consumerism, and the military industrialization of surveillance. It also is a cheeky nod toward the Disney Empire and its pervasiveness in our daily life.
Appropriation as homage, subversion as purpose, and expectation as victim; throughout his career, Darren Lago has used symbols and iconography as a starting point from which to level serious art criticism and social commentary on our world. The West has seen tumultuous times since the dawn of this new millennium, and with a deft fabricator’s hand, and a keen cynic’s eye, Lago maintains a stringent dialectical relationship between himself and the viewer, and between himself and the real world, or at least our own perception of it.