Franco Mondini-Ruiz, FAAR 2005
“Stepping into Franco Modini-Ruiz’s world, you’ll need to be very careful not to trip over any porcelain figurines, plastic cakes or taco shells. This Mexican-American artist creates intricate vignettes that reflect the influence of his San Antonio upbringing, contemporary gay culture and American consumerism.” So reads the back cover of High Pink:Tex-Mex Fairy Tales, his 2005 illustrated autobiography.
Franco arrived at the Academy in 2004 with a splash that soon became a tsunami as he brought his own brand of glitz, glamour, and graciousness to the hushed halls of the McKim, Mead & White Building. Just about everyone joined in as he invited people to collaborative painting parties, held salons where his paintings sold briskly for $50 each, and hosted a gorgeous, swathed in tulle, New Years Eve party in a couple of the fourth-floor studios.
This month Franco will be in Rome and will also spend some time in Bracciano, his father’s hometown. He is half Italian, half Mexican. His Italian father met his Mexican mother while stationed in San Antonio, Texas during a stint in the Italian Air Force. Franco was born a year or so later. He grew up in Boerne, Texas.
Early on he got a law degree and became a corporate lawyer. “So I had two lives,” he says, “I had Franco, the wild playboy lawyer that wants to be an artist, and Franco the lawyer that, I don’t know what his life’s all about, but he’s always late for work.”
Leaving the law behind, he achieved national art stardom in the 2000 Whitney Biennial when he set up a table in front of the museum and sold work, some made on the spot, for 10¢ to $10. In 2009 his installation, Crystal City, was acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery for the permanent collection.
Franco has lived much of his life in San Antonio. Last November he opened a new studio in an old tortilla factory in the Southtown district. The San Antonio Express News described it: “The dizzying array of Mexican folk art, pottery, statuary, curios, books instruments, furniture and other items he uses to create elaborate vignettes is there to inspire, both Mondini-Ruiz and any who may wonder through his door.”
One of Franco’s prized possessions is an autographed photo of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The inscription (in gold ink) reads: “Franco, Thank you for letting me see the world in a new way.”