Claudia Peña SalinasAhua Can
January 20 through June 30, 2024
Claudia Peña Salinas (Mexican American, b. 1975) is a research-based artist whose work blends references to architectural minimalism as well as to ancient Mesoamerican history and craft. Through funds generously provided by the EXPO CHICAGO 2023 Northern Trust Purchase Prize, the Museum of Fine Arts acquired Ahua Can (2023), a multimedia sculpture by the artist. The work’s brass framework references El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan, in the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan peninsula. Ahua Can engages with movements across global art histories and is a fitting acquisition for an encyclopedic institution: it relates to works in the collection, like the Maya jade mask depicting Chac, god of water, and also allows for critical exploration of the very act of collecting.
Peña Salinas’s work references the advanced Mayan civilization, which flourished at Chichen Itza from about 900-1200 CE. The Mayans developed sophisticated writing, calendrical, and astronomical systems In Ahua Can, a postcard depicting El Castillo is held on a rod resting on the stomach of a chacmool (warrior) figure; also included are a coiled snake, two shells, and a jaguar. Each of these objects has symbolic relevance, and although the brass framework was hand-welded by Peña Salinas and the threads hand-dyed and wrapped, the other objects were purchased or found. The artist maintains extensive catalogues of vintage postcards and tourist-related objects like those found on the base of the sculpture.
In addition to Ahua Can, Peña Salinas has created three wall-based objects for this site-specific installation: Kukulkán Ballgame, Calendar, and Sunspot. Each of these sculptures features a vintage postcard; two are based on architectural elements of Chichen Itza, and one references Mayan numbers and the spring equinox. Additionally, the walls have been washed in azul Maya, a mineral and organic pigment sourced from a Yucatan artisan that mimics the ancient medium.
Claudia Peña Salinas was born in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. She earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA from Hunter College, New York, in 2009. Peña Salinas has exhibited at Centre Pompidou, Paris; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan; Queens Museum of Art, New York; El Museo del Barrio, New York; El Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico; and Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.