To find Hoesy Corona’s artwork, prepare for a journey.
Start at the Nicholson Project, a community garden and gallery located east of the Anacostia River in D.C.’s Ward 7. The juxtaposition between color and content is the first thing that will grab viewers in the artist’s work. Bright tapestries along the windows showcase scenes from performances staged by the artist. In these images, elegant figures dressed in head-to-toe onesies and allover masks wear flowing wigs of flowers. Corona’s characters could be runway models for the French luxury house Margiela. Yet they’re saddled with carry-ons, duffels and trash bags, as if they’ve packed everything they own on their backs.
Corona developed much of the work on view across his suite of solos as an artist-in-residence at the nonprofit Nicholson Project in the fall of 2021. The result, “Wayfaring,” includes tapestries, as well as vinyl ponchos, plus ceramic-like sculpted objects. The migrants on his textiles face away from the viewer, staring out at walls and over rivers — borders both natural and man-made.
The artist, who identifies as queer, is of Mexican descent; folkloric motifs appear in his tapestries and ponchos. While the compositions on Corona’s “climate ponchos” especially might remind viewers of Matisse’s cutouts, they point (also) to Mexican crafts and graphic arts, even as his materials defy the traditions he references.
“Wayfaring” is a companion exhibit to “Weathering,” on view across town — geographically and socioeconomically — at the Kreeger Museum. Here, Corona’s work occupies what used to be the museum director’s office, repurposed during lockdown as a space for showcasing local artists and curators. A DIY garden in disadvantaged Fairlawn and a Philip Johnson — designed gem in tony Foxhall: The venues couldn’t be more dissimilar.
Corona uses this contrast to his advantage. At the Kreeger, his vase-like sculpted heads are the focus. “Plant People,” as they are known, depict environmental stewards in Corona’s fictional mythos. In another context, these heads might honor drag queens or ceremonial totems. Framed in pride of place by a window looking out over the museum grounds, they offer a clever comment on the way institutions absorb cultural artifacts, at times divorcing them from their context or message.
Corona has it both ways with his work: His ponchos depict scenes of migration and deprivation forced by climate change, for example, while the synthetic plastics he uses to make them indicate the industrial drivers of global warming. If he’s indicting capitalism, he’s charging himself along with it.
The artist’s third solo show adds another layer to his critique: fashion. At Friends Artspace, an art and design gallery in a custom-built garage-style space in Northern Virginia, Corona’s work is presented as collectible couture. A site-specific artwork on the garage door gives the room a pop-up feel. Archival-quality works such as “Wayfaring with Child” and “Moon Rest” (both 2021-2022) really feel like design objects here. In this white cube — style presentation, Corona’s reflections on the poor and dispossessed look ready for a jog down to the Art Basel art fair in Miami Beach.
The pieces in Friends Artspace’s “Earth Mother Bloom” resemble those at the Nicholson Project and the Kreeger, but each show has its own distinct sensibility. In an elliptical sense, these parallel views come together as a meta-exhibition about the relationship between art and commerce. The full life cycle of artistic production as it progresses from local craft to cultural artifact to commercial commodity is available.
The internal tensions in Corona’s work never fully resolve over these three shows. How could they? He’s grappling with big ideas, like the disparate impact of climate change, migrant movements spurred by inequality and competing impulses to promote and protect craft traditions.
And while there is some span in the quality of execution across these works, Corona is both prolific and consistent. In one of his prototype climate ponchos at the Nicholson Project, a figure in a purple outfit laden with baggage stares at a fire in the distance. It could be Corona, making his way by walking.
If you go
Kreeger Museum, 2401 Foxhall Rd. NW. 202-337-3050. kreegermuseum.org.
Dates: Through March 19.
Prices: $10 suggested donation; $8 for students, seniors and military personnel. Timed-entry passes required.
The Nicholson Project 2310 Nicholson St. SE. thenicholsonproject.org.
Dates: Through March 12, by appointment.
Earth Mother Bloom
Friends Artspace. 2400 North Edgewood St., Arlington. friendsartspace.com.
Dates: Through March 12, by appointment.