At the end of summer, I noticed an image crop up on my Instagram feed. It was blurred by a gradient of colorful pixels and overlaid with the text: “this photo contains sensitive content which some people might find offensive or disturbing.” I wondered what maximiliano, the artist behind this censored post, was teasing, ostensibly their upcoming exhibition at Paragon Arts Gallery. I skimmed the caption, “SENSITIVE CONTENT COMING SOON 9/30/22”
Following my curiosity, I snuck an IRL preview of SENSITIVE CONTENT at Paragon in early September, during maximiliano’s month-long residency there. I arrived on site with the preconceived notion that I might encounter the censored Instagram photo unblurred. I readied myself for imagery that would take respectability politics head on and toy with notions of being “offensive” and “disturbing.” Yet, contrary to my expectations, I was greeted by a wide range of works that conjured more curiosity than shock value. These works—of painting, video, glass, fabric, printed matter, and more—troubled my concept of censorship altogether.
One the whole, SENSITIVE CONTENT reflected maximiliano’s ideation across a growing arsenal of mediums. They created much of the work for this show in 2022, but also integrated material from years prior. During my visit, I felt the exhibition begin to take shape through incoherent coherence, unfurled over time and threaded through with obfuscated logic from maximiliano’s long standing artistic research—logic that I could trust without needing to fully know or name.
At the gallery, maximiliano introduced me to several digital fabric prints featuring portraits of strangely familiar people. One black fabric print contained the outline of maximiliano’s body superimposed with the head of actress Zoë Kravitz. “I’m starting to look for avatars or for other forms of self to be my self-portraits,” maximiliano shared. Another fabric print featured mirror images of Stacy Dash with overlaid yellow text. Some of the text was redacted with dark rectangles, reading, “in the age of clones & [redacted] chthonic [redacted] for love for [redacted],”
These poetics (and redactions) conjured up ideas of an ancient unsolvable saga. They read like a foreboding prophecy from the book of Revelation in the Bible, both urgent and ambiguous. I wondered: Is all of this a metaphor, or does it mean exactly what it says?
Based on my time at Paragon with maximiliano, I would put money on the latter. Our discussion drifted toward climate disaster, mass shootings, rich people getting richer, and the fate of humanity. “It’s going to be Parable of the Sower, with the slow crumble where every day shit is a little shittier,” maximiliano told me, adding, “My art has lived at these intersections, at these last decades.”
For maximiliano, “last decades” refer to periods of declining empires, such as the Crisis of the Third Century, the Belle Époque, and the Fin de siècle. These frames of reference contextualize consistent use of historical art within previous works. For past projects, maximiliano has often placed themselves in the European canon, e.g. collaging their body with Rococo paintings and sculpture in a manner that collapses time and unsettles history.
However, they mused to me, “I think I’m very comfortable in the present in the corruption and the grime, and the decaying decadence, and knowing that we’re in this slow crumble.” Maybe this vantage allows more space for critical pastiche, illuminating the illusion of what has been.
Flash forward to the exhibition opening on September 30. As I enter the gallery, I find the exhibition fully realized in vivid color. Paragon’s walls are covered in even more splashes of paint. Small rectangular and heart-shaped glasswork pepper the space in droves, inviting references to pixelation, screens, and opacity. Illustrated tapestries now live in new locations—on the floor, on the wall, and even hanging from rafters. Each element coheres with the next through maximiliano’s distinctive color choices.
In consulting the works list, I read the official titles of pieces I had encountered on my preview visit. I learn that one of the digital fabric prints—the hybrid Kravitz-maximiliano—bears the title, ANDROMEDA IS ETHIOPIAN / ZOË KRAVITZ IS MAXIMILIANÖ (NO MORE FALLNN LOVE). Here, maximiliano leverages titling to exact deeper critique. They challenge the censorship of Blackness from the eurocentric canon by naming the Ethiopian heritage of Andromeda and then use this to affirm their own limitless potential for finding avatars.
Throughout SENSITIVE CONTENT, maximiliano also foregrounds their collaboration with other artists, including Stevie Biga and Eric Fury. These two play major roles in maximiliano’s multi-channel installation, OF COURSE ANDROIDS FELL FROM TOWERS, UNALIVED. UNDER A PARKING LOT. DREAMS TO ECHO CENTURIES LATER
ANDROIDS, I MEAN ANGELS HEIR’D NEPHILIM AND EARTHHEARTS, STILL WHISPER; SORRY.
The three videos featured in this installation are often edited to invert color, outlining Biga and Fury so they appear like characters in an animated story. They are shown jumping on furniture while wearing LED animal masks, walking around the cityscape, and creating a large mural while in states of undress—a mural that now exists as part of SENSITIVE CONTENT along with plastic residue from the process.
The videos of Biga and Fury creating this work sit far apart from the work itself, cohering across the distance of the exhibition. Their mural spirals around a strong focal point, covered in handprints of deep purple with accents of yellow, green and pink. The upper righthand corner reads, “To All Who Challenge God, we salute you!!!” This poetic gesture finds continuity with the more diffuse phrases painted by maximiliano across the other gallery walls.
Some phrases catch my eye:
“GOOSE 4 BREAKFAST”
“NEEDIT TO GET HIGH Y’ALL”
“FAT BOY = CHERUBIM”
I notice some words on the walls have been entirely redacted with paint. The most legible phrases—interspersed between splashes of pink, red and purple color—engender a notion of poetic censorship, calling in multitudes of meaning with minimal use of language.
During our preview visit, maximiliano referenced mark-maker Cy Twombly as an early influence on their art practice. “The first thing that brought me into art was being twenty years old and taking a painting class, and making the marks with the oil brushes on canvas,” they recalled. “There’s something romantic about painting, the way a paint moves and is applied. There’s a tactile sensuality almost…”
Their affinity for paint emerges in SENSITIVE CONTENT, where indulgent drips and gestural swaths of color take up space on the walls. Their natural inclination toward mark-making also culls up a new conceptualization of lineage—maximiliano believes that they exist in a genetic line of markmakers:
“You know, sometimes you wonder if you’re on the right path. You’re tired of being broke and inconsistent paychecks, and no one gives a fuck about artists, and the world’s ending…” They continued speculating, “Well, I don’t know what else I’d be. Maybe this is like I’m supposed to be making marks.”
Through mark making, imaginative collaboration, poetics and redactions, maximiliano pulls back the veil on their SENSITIVE CONTENT. They tension the unstoppable decline of contemporary society with their own drive to seek out manifestations of self through means at hand. Using critical pastiche, they render a strategic form of censorship, dawning masks and finding avatars capable of things unimaginable in this crumbling empire.
SENSITIVE CONTENT is open at Paragon Arts Gallery at 815 N Killingsworth St. through November 19th. The gallery is open Wednesdays-Fridays 12-7 PM and Saturdays 12-5 PM. The exhibition’s public programming includes:
- Visual Poem screenings & DJ Performances by Cha Cha & bitter camari + food by Baked ‘N Boujee, November 5 & 12, 2:22-4:44 PM
- Artist Panel — maximiliano c/o Eric Fury, Stevie Biga, coco madrid, November, 19, 2022, 2:22 PM