Conceived by professors Aaron Parazette and Gael Stack, the "Menil/Fiesta" project has become a rite of passage for UH painting majors, a challenge designed to dilute the traditionally-held boundaries of where art can and cannot exist.
Students in their junior year are asked to visit both the Menil Collection and a Fiesta grocery store, gathering images and ideas to form the basis of an original series of paintings.
"We want students to approach these places with an eye for both contrasts and similarities."
"We want students to approach these places with an eye for both contrasts and similarities," Parazette tells CultureMap. "These complex questions of context and commercialism that arise, and each student has to find a way to present them."
Since the project was launched, artistic solutions have ranged from sharp juxtapositions, like donuts atop a Picasso portrait, to abstract fusions common grocery items and iconic modernist tropes (imagine green bell peppers and Barnett Newman "zips").
In celebration of the program's 10th year, the UH School of Art has partnered with Fiesta to display the paintings of an actual grocery store. The exhibition, which includes 21 past and recent works, winds itself above the shelves and end displays of the Fiesta Mart at 8130 Kirby, just south of the Texas Medical Center.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the show," says Parazette, laughing that the store's 22,000 weekly transactions are giving the young painters an audience of a lifetime.
"Museums and galleries are non-competitive spaces for art, which gets all this breathing room. But here, these paintings have to compete with balloon and freezer cases . . . And it's wonderful to see how well the pieces hold up."
The Menil/Fiesta show officially opens Thursday at the Kirby Fiesta with an artists' reception from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the frozen food section. The in-store exhibit remains on view through the end of the nearby Houston Rodeo on March 23.