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Infinito Botanica: St. Louis, The Lavender Hour

   Associated images:

Franco Mondini-Ruiz

American, Born 1961

Infinito Botanica: St. Louis, The Lavender Hour 2001
Master printer - Maryanne Ellison Simmons
Wooden shelves, plastic jars, Crayola Model Magic, laminated Xerox copies, architectural model trees

Individual jars 5" x 4 1/4" x 4 11/16"diameter, Overall 8"h x 48"w x 5"d
Ed. 20
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As an artist who prefers to do site-specific work, Franco Mondini-Ruiz arrived in St. Louis in February 2001 without a pre-determined plan for the art that he would make there. He produced Infinito Botanica: St. Louis, The Lavender Hour, a multiple done in an edition of twenty. It consisted of ten small "installations" made from Crayola Model Magic, each set within its own acrylic jar, all of which were placed upon a four-foot long wooden shelf. On purely practical terms, an ambitious project such as this would have been very difficult for one artist to finish alone. With Maryanne Ellison Simmons directing the shop, Mondini-Ruiz realized that anything he wanted to attempt would be accomplished with the resources at hand or through resources that could be obtained within a day. The participation of the students was essential, and Mondini-Ruiz even allowed them, under his guidance, to use their own discretion in the production of some of the figurines. It was all part of the process.

Infinito Botanica: St. Louis, The Lavender Hour has some similarities with Mondini-Ruiz’s most well known work, Infinito Botanica. In that "installation," he purchased a Mexican botanica (in his hometown, San Antonio) and used the existing inventory as "part of a social and figurative sculpture that mixed traditional botanica fare with his own sculpture and installations, as well as with the contemporary work of local cutting-edge and outsider artists, locally made craft, folk art, cultural artifacts and junk."(1) Mondini-Ruiz saw Infinito Botanica as a place where disparate social populations would come together for a common interest.(2) Infinito Botanica: St. Louis, The Lavender Hour also brought together disparate entities, but this time they were dualities of ideas. Mondini-Ruiz wanted this piece to reflect St. Louis as much as it would embody his own philosophies.(3 ) He was struck by Peter Raven’s (Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis) statement that while the Botanical Garden was preserving rare species in the landscape, those species and indeed the entire landscape, as we know it, was in danger of eventual extinction.(4) Mondini-Ruiz eternalized his landscapes into dreamy vignettes that recalled the lost neo-classical landscape of the St. Louis World’s Fair, which had been held almost one-hundred years before in 1904. He created a duality by placing the neo-classical vignettes into a modernist environment of plastic jars set upon a contemporary (Pottery Barn) shelf. Mondini-Ruiz was very conscious of producing delicate, almost feminine, works that romanticized the past. Further contrasts were created by juxtaposing male and female energies within each piece, or by comparing the decadence of the scenes with the social awareness of one trying to preserve the past. Mondini-Ruiz was also referencing the melancholy of the poet T.S. Eliot, who was from St. Louis. Referring to the author’s writings, Mondini-Ruiz remarked that Eliot’s angst was reflective of what many people were feeling at the turn of this millennium.

Marilyn Kushner
Curator and Chair of the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
Brooklyn Museum of Art
1 Franco Mondini-Ruiz, "Artist Statement." A botanica was a traditional Mexican shop that sold religious objects including figurines, herbs, candles, as well as herbs and medicines. The botanica that Mondini-Ruiz purchased in San Antonio had been in business since the 1930s. Smaller versions of the Infinito Botanica were installed at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annondale-on-Hudson, New York, in 1999 and at the Whitney Biennial, 2000. A series of reinstallations have appeared in the traveling show Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post-Latin American Art organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
2 Franco Mondini-Ruiz, "Artist Statement." Statement sent by Franco Mondini-Ruiz to Maryanne Ellison Simmons, Island Press Archives.
3 All subsequent information and quotations were from a conversation between the author and Franco Mondini-Ruiz, 19 March 2002.
4 The week before he arrived in St. Louis, Mondini-Ruiz had heard a televised interview of Raven in which he made this statement.