José Lerma Spain, b. 1971


José Lerma’s practice is formally rooted in an investigation of painting in the expanded field. His exhibitions often include elaborate installations that incorporate such everyday items as office materials, musical instruments, and home furnishings. Conceptually, Lerma attempts to collapse the historical with the autobiographical, making works that are part art history and part personal mythology. Several of Lerma’s recurring themes deal with the tension between the heroic and the pathetic, as well as the rise and fall of great figures. His research examines the vast network of sociological, political, and economic forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, contemporary culture. His subjects have included international figures, such as American politician John Kerry, economist Milton Friedman, and King Charles II of Spain; pop culture icons, such as Julio Iglesias; everyday bureaucrats, bankers, and administrators; personal relations, such as his mother and father; and iconic religious scenes, such as the Last Supper.


Lerma portrays his subjects in ways that elevate the mundane and trivialize the grand. He connects influential figures from history through trivial absurdities, crafting a visual world that is both celebratory and absurd. Simultaneously rooted in classical European painting and lowbrow pop art, his works express the tragic comedy of global colonial and post-colonial cultural relations in eye-popping and instantly relatable ways.


Lerma was born in Spain and grew up in Puerto Rico. He earned an MFA from the University of Wisconsin Madison and BA from Tulane University, and attended the CORE Residency Program, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, and Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, ME. He lives and works in Chicago, IL, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. His work has been in solo exhibitions at the Kemper Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de San Juan, Puerto Rico, among others; as well as in group exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum, WI; Institute Valecia d’art Modern, Spain; Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico; Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain; DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece; Museo del Barrio, New York, NY; and Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX, and others. His work has been written about extensively in the press, including in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Artforum.

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