Gentrification, pandemic differences take center stage in ‘Marginal Costs’ at Aldrich

The word “marginal” has several meanings, and artist Lucia Hierro ably mines them to examine 21st century capitalism and equity in her debut solo exhibition, “Marginal Costs,” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, on view June 7 through Jan. 2, 2022.

Hierro, a Dominican-American artist who was born in 1987 and grew up in Washington Heights, said her work was influenced by her multicultural upbringing, walking around her New York City neighborhood and seeing the effects the pandemic have had on her community.

“I was thinking about Covid and its actual cost of life, especially to those living within marginalized communities,” she said. “My studio happens to be in the South Bronx, which is the poorest congressional district in the country.”

As a conceptual artist, her practice includes sculpture, digital media and installation; this exhibition harnesses a wealth of imagery across art history and Heirro’s community, from local businesses that closed during the pandemic to street vendors who are thriving as they are able to serve the communities they inhabit. Her art often surveys themes of power, individuality and how opportunities are made available.

“Marginal Costs” includes recent and new sculptures from the “Mercado (Market)” series (2014-present) as well as the debut of “The Gates” (2021) and a large and ambitious site-specific wall mural titled “Marginal Costs.” The latter two were commissioned by the Aldrich.

Artist Lucia Hierro examines marginalization and gentrification in her debut solo show “Marginal Costs” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum on June 7. "Casita" is one of her pieces.

Artist Lucia Hierro examines marginalization and gentrification in her debut solo show “Marginal Costs” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum on June 7. "Casita" is one of her pieces.

Courtesy of Lucia Hierro

Scale figures heavily in the exhibition. The “Mercado” sculptures are made of fabrics, felt and hard-celled foam, sewn with the help of the artist’s mother. Transparent and life-sized, they are a stand-in for the omnipresent shopping bags that permeate today’s culture. Hierro has stuffed these bags with digitally printed objects, ranging from popular Dominican foods, popular merchandise and collectibles, so that each tells a story that intersects race, class and gender.

“Scale is something that I play with a lot,” she said. “I think it references the different spaces that we move through. We are so tied to our phones in such a funny way that it almost seems like there is a whole other world inside our phones versus the one we actually move in and walk through.”

Hierro thought about scale shifts and what that does to one’s perspective and — if one interacts with objects that are larger-than-life or smaller than life — how the relationship within that object changes.

Hierro’s newest mural, which will debut at the Aldrich, is her largest to date. She worked within the dimensions of the gallery space; on the painted wall, she placed giant vinyl decals of images taken in her New York City community over the last year.

“I think it was mostly seeing what were the things affected by this,” she said. “The street vendors that were used to selling things on the sidewalk from produce to jewelry were doing all right, because their model was already one that was about servicing the community that they inhabit very directly.”

An image of a “for lease” sign in “The Gates,” however, which evokes wrought iron gates widely seen in New York, speaks to how certain communities have been impacted and marginalized during the pandemic; gates bisect the gallery, physically confronting the room’s architecture and corralling visitors. Jammed with supermarket circulars — bygone markers of human necessity — the gates personify the collective wake of escalating gentrification.

"Mandao para Amanda" by Lucia Hierro.

"Mandao para Amanda" by Lucia Hierro.

Courtesy of Lucia Hierro

In between the two museum galleries containing her art is an alcove space, where Hierro has created a mural in the vein of street memorials. “It serves as a sort of bridge between the two gallery rooms where I am showing and is a moment of contemplation for the viewer to take a moment and acknowledge loss,” she said.

The differences between the communities depicted and the community where the exhibit has been mounted is not lost on Hierro. “I always take into consideration the context of where I’m showing my work,” she said. “I decided to go full-fledged in showing a little snippet of where I come from and not only because it’s my first big museum exhibition. I wanted to have it very much be me but also to highlight a community that was very affected by Covid within a community that might not have been affected the same way, and to such a large scale.”

Timed-entry tickets are required to view the exhibit. For information, the or 203-438-4519.

Andrea Valluzzo is a freelance writer.