Nunquam Prandium Liberum is a latin translation of “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Economist Milton Friedman’s favorite adage and a foundational axiom for 20th century libertarian theory, it implies the impossibility of getting something for nothing, a concept we are often confronted with when forced by circumstance to permit abuses of power.
For, Nunquam Prandium Liberum, José Lerma has transformed the gallery into a version of heaven based on Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s 1757 fresco, Allegory of Merit Accompanied by Nobility and Virtue. This work, commissioned by the Rezzonico family for the Ca’Rezzonico Plazzo in Venice, intertwines the figures of Merit, Nobility, Virtue and Tiepolo’s benefactors as they ascend to heaven, implying a correlation between wealth and virtue. Lerma’s 1980s dot-matrix paper and security envelope patterns provide a powder blue sky, and a low-lying fog alludes to a celestial haze. Paintings of the artist’s parents and a Mercedes hang on slowly rotating mobiles in the space, giving both the status symbol and its beneficiaries the appearance of heavenly ascent. An oversized white Guayabera shirt (traditionally worn by captains of industry in Puerto Rico, Lerma’s childhood home) is spun in space by a disco ball, turning it in to an angel.
Post-it note pads show what could be children’s drawings made while waiting in a parent’s office, if not for their monumental scale. Although Lerma’s bright colors and lush material are what one first perceives in this exhibition, there is an underlying notion that bad behavior is overlooked for those in power, be they figures from finance, art, politics or personal history. Through this latent subject matter, Lerma points to sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the various forms of capital—economic, social and cultural—and their intersection. This is evident in the work, Rigo as Julio Iglesias as Emmanuelle, one that uses quilling, a technique once relegated to 18th century women of leisure, to replicate a style of armchair with multiple associations to Lerma: a famous porn film; a Julio Iglesias album cover; Lerma’s childhood home. ThroughoutNunquam Prandium Liberum, signifiers of class, merit, excess and abuse intermingle, highlighting how the trangressions of the wealthy are often ignored.
José Lerma (b. 1971 in Spain) lives and works in Chicago, IL. His solo exhibitions include The Last Upper (2017), Brand New Gallery, Milan, Italy; La Venida Cansa Sin Ti (2016), Kemper Museum, Kansas City,MO; La Bella Crisis (2014), Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, MI; Gloriosa Superba (2014), Kavi Gupta CHICAGO | Washington Blvd., Chicago, IL; BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works: José Lerma (2013), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; and The Credentialist (2012), Museum of Contemporary Art Raleigh, Raleigh, NC.