Inspired by Frank Stella, Mexican Artist Pia Camil Shows “Skins” at Art Basel’s First Choice

In his iconic “Copper Paintings” (1960–61), American artist Frank Stella deviated from conventional materials to experiment with shaped canvases and industrial paint. Now, more than 50 years later, Stella’s creations have inspired a new body of work by the Mexican artist Pia Camil.

Camil is a native of Mexico City, where, as in many places, slatwall paneling is frequently used in shop windows and retail displays. In “Skins,” her solo exhibition for Galería OMR at Art Basel’s First Choice, she merges these two inspirations by using Stella’s onetime material of choice—copper—to re-create forms from his groundbreaking series that also speak to the slat paneling typically found in commercial spaces. She affixes shelves and hooks to her constructions, lending a functional air to their geometry. Note, for instance, the coat hanging from a hook in Sleeve Roe Interior or books resting on a shelf in Pagosa Springs Interior (both 2016).

Also hanging on hooks throughout the exhibition are cloaks Camil created in collaboration with Erin Lewis, a sustainability-minded British fashion designer. The garments, which were made with throwaway material that was improperly dyed, are likewise inspired by Stella’s paintings.

Nearby, Camil’s ceramic masks are nods to the bust-like forms used to display jewelry in shops and department stores. Like any kind of mannequin, the forms are idealized versions of the feminine face and figure. Their inclusion could be read as a critique of the advertising industry and, more particularly, the widespread manipulation and repackaging of the female image to sell pretty much anything.

On the other hand, the masks are playful symbols of celebration, cultural rituals, and the theatre. They remind us that we all play different characters, and our wardrobe is an expression of creativity. We can take on a new role at any time, Camil suggests, by choosing a new mask. Fittingly, the exhibition’s centerpiece is a stage that invites viewers to try on the custom-made cloaks and, by extension, different personas.


—Bridget Gleeson


Pia Camil: Skins” is on view at Art Basel’s First Choice, Jun. 14–15, 2016.

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