Hello Masterpiece


Hello Michelangelo, by Leslie Holt

Leslie Holt estimates she has about 500 Hello Kitties.

“Purely for research!” she laughs.

Holt says she wasn’t interested in Hello Kitty – or her fashion accessories – as a child, but over time the little Japanese character took on a sort of hip, pop-culture icon status.

She’s so recognizable. I like her visually, she’s sort of like a pill – mass produced, her colors, portable, you could just eat her up – she’s candy like.

Holt says Hello Kitty just appeared in her work one day as she was experimenting with mixing adult and kid imagery (she did a series of works juxtaposing Hello Kitty with prescription pills).

It was while teaching art appreciation that Holt had a flash of inspiration. Who better to take us on a tour of the great masterpieces than one of the most recognizable characters around the globe?

In Holt’s series “Hello Masterpiece” she recreates masterworks of European and American art in miniature. Most paintings are about the size of a postcard – which, for most of us, is how we see them, on a rack in a museum gift shop. In her artist statement Holt writes:

The famous paintings become pop culture icons akin to Hello Kitty, and the paintings’ appeal as take home sized objects reinforces their context as commodities in a market. In these paintings Hello Kitty is often taking a tour through art history and dressing up to “match” elements of the famous painting. Hello Kitty becomes a toy version of Cindy Sherman, capable of changing identities by transforming her outer appearance. However, her “toyness” and her obvious overlay on the image disrupt any illusion that she actually fits in the scene of the artwork.

In a reproduction of a Marc Rothko colorfield, Hello Kitty is sucking on a popsicle that matches the color of the painting. In Monet’s waterlilies, she’s wearing scuba gear, ready to take the plunge. At the Last Supper, she’s serving bread; in Picasso’s Guernica, she’s hula-hooping, all the while looking at us with big eyes and no facial expression whatsoever. What is she thinking?


Hello Guernica, by Leslie Holt

Holt says she’s not using Hello Kitty to comment on these masterpieces, or to show any disrespect for them. Instead she’s examining how these images have already been reduced to something much less than the original work of art.

With most of these, I haven’t seen the originals in person. That’s a loss. You’re missing something if you’re just looking at the poster, postcard or buying the t-shirt.

In [certain] images from this series, Hello Kitty is pointing toward social or political issues, such as war, genocide, or gender identity. I rely on her to charm the viewer into looking, but her innocent, playful appeal contrasts with the serious adult subject matter. With this contrast of adult and childlike content and these “high” and “low” cultural icons, I hope to elicit laughter and irony.

Holt says one surprise outcome of this series is the number of well-to-do parents who have bought Holt’s paintings as a way to introduce their daughters to fine art.


Hello Klimt, by Leslie Holt

Burnet Gallery Art Director Jennifer Phelps says what appeals to her about Holt’s work is her social commentary:

Here she takes the most recognizable icon of the day (for adults, teens, young children; male and female; national and international) and places it in some of the most famous artwork throughout history. This act is something people may think sacrilegious; a commercial icon interacting with a masterpiece. Her actions disturb the hierarchy of art and design by bringing “low art” to the same level as “high art”; by actually ridding of the hierarchy within art.

Just as importantly, Phelps says, she picked Holt’s artwork because it makes people happy.

Hello Masterpiece runs through January 9 at Burnet Gallery in downtown Minneapolis.

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