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El Chandelier

1988 Pepón Osorio Born: San Juan, Puerto Rico 1955 functional metal and glass chandelier with plastic toys and figurines, glass crystals, and other objects 60 7/8 x 42 in. (154.6 x 106.7 cm) diam. Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program © 1988, Pepón Osorio 1995.40 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

When Osorio worked as a social worker in New York City he often saw elaborate chandeliers hanging in humble apartment homes. This experience led him to appreciate the meaning behind buying tchotchkes and expensive-looking objects. The plastic palm trees, coquis (iconic Puerto Rican frogs), dominos, and tassels that adorn his light source suggest coping mechanisms in the face of adversity and migration. Sculptures of Catholic saints and variously complexioned dolls reference Afro-Caribbean spiritual systems and racial hierarchies. Spanish and English mingle in the work’s title, conjuring a space between cultures and realities.

Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, 2013

Gallery Label

Osorio created El Chandelier for a performance piece that explored the life of a Puerto Rican woman living in New York. The fixture is encrusted with doll babies, toy bowling pins, palm trees, plastic animals, and sculptures of saints—the cheap, brightly colored decorations called chucherías that appear in “Nuyorican” households.

El Chandelier is dazzling and light hearted, but the illusion of abundance masks the realities of life in poor urban communities. Osorio saw this kind of making-do aesthetic—creating something wonderful out of nothing—in the apartments he visited when he worked as a social worker. El Chandelier, with its mixed Spanish and English title, suggests the lives of people who find themselves moving between two cultures, making a feast for the eye as a compensation.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2011


Object - furniture - lamp

Object - toy - doll

decorative arts - furniture