Symbols of Present-Day Power in Minerva Cuevas: In Gods We Trust

Kurimanzutto Gallery

Exhibition Review by Madi Shenk

After opening its doors this past November, kurimanzutto gallery unveiled the second exhibition at its New York location on March 3. The solo exhibition of Mexico City-based artist Minerva Cuevas,  In Gods We Trust will be open through April 15.

The artist is known for her engagement with environmental and economic issues throughout her work, often focusing on problems associated with urban life and modernity. In his 2004 book New Tendencies in Mexican Art: The 1990s, Rubén Gallo describes Cuevas as an artist and activist from the very start of her career. In 1997, Cuevas founded Mejor Vida Corporation, a one-person enterprise committed to improving the lives of Mexico City’s urban residents.

Mejor Vida offered services and products that were devised to resist the everyday inconveniences and expenses that plagued the lives of the city’s inhabitants. This involved, among other things, handing out free tickets for public transportation, cleaning subway platforms, forging student IDs to help citizens get discounts and free admission at public institutions, and doctoring barcode stickers to affix to groceries and trick the registers.

While the work of many artists merely points to societal issues such as impoverishment and institutional hierarchies, Cuevas’ early work provided tangible solutions to the inconveniences of life in Mexico City. Cuevas is an artist that, from the start, has utilized the creative format (in the early days, that of performance) in order to subvert the dialectics of capital.

Arranged within kurimanzutto’s spacious Chelsea location (520 W 20th St), In Gods We Trust combines sculpture, works on paper, and collected archival materials that reference the primacy of industry in the Americas.

Cuevas’ socially oriented art operates within the utopian tradition of post-revolutionary Mexican mural paintings, as evident by the artist’s use of the monumental wall relief format. Upon entering the gallery, the visitor is initially confronted with a piece based off of a mural painted by Diego Rivera inside the Palacio Nacional in downtown Mexico City titled Epoyeya del pueblo mexicano (Epic of the Mexican People) (1935).

In this work, Cuevas has isolated individual elements of the original mural and reimagined them in monochromatic relief, creating a fragmented image that mirrors the cultural fracturing that comes with colonization.

Moving further into the exhibition space, a series of sculptures that were shown in Cuevas’ recent exhibition at Museo Jumex in Mexico City are placed against a central wall of the gallery. The tops of these figures, individually titled Petro, are made from Styrofoam and papier-mâché and are based off of 3D scans of animal figures that the artist gathered from Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Antropología. The grisaille heads sit atop vintage oil barrels bearing the insignias of major players in the global oil industry such as Mobil, Marathon, and Veedol.

Neatly arranged in a row of white frames sitting across from Cuevas’ hybrid animal-oil barrel creatures, a series of vintage magazine advertisements have been gathered by the artist, giving attention to the pervasiveness of fossil fuel propaganda by means of their sheer volume and ubiquitous placement within the pages of popular media publications. In examples such as Every Second Humble Provides the Energy of 20 Lighting Bolts! (ESSO), the image of a bolt of lightning striking a vast desert landscape combined with the advertisement’s message regarding the efficacy of its product seems to equate the limitless power of natural phenomena to that of commerce.

Cuevas’  monochromatic wall relief titled The Trust (2023) was devised with kurimanzutto’s expansive New York space in mind and is composed of 126 panels, measuring a total of 41 x 11 feet. The composition fuses images of pre-hispanic gods such as Quetzalcóatl, an Aztec god resembling a feathered snake who symbolizes earth, water, and fertility, alongside emblems of major companies, such as the leaping pegasus representing Mobil oil or the flying eagle of First Republic Bank. In bringing these emblems into proximity with one another, the artist brings attention to how corporations often use symbols representing strength and power to assert their positions within the global market.

Cuevas has painted both of her large-scale wall reliefs entirely white, allowing them to merge with the space and appear as if they are directly protruding from the walls of the gallery. This opens up questions regarding the relationship between the messaging of the works and the arts institution, taking into consideration how the emblems of culture and capital are embedded in the space. While Cuevas’ work has moved from the streets to the gallery space, this shift can be seen as a means of showcasing the interconnectedness between art and capital, and their roles in determining cultural practices.

With the title In Gods We Trust, the exhibition utilizes the artistic format to equate the veneration of pre-Hispanic gods within the Americas to the widespread reverence of leaders of capital and commerce in the contemporary period.  The powers we lay our trust in today appear to be the major financial and fossil fuel corporations that determine our material conditions, and Cuevas prompts visitors to examine the degree to which these emblems of culture and capital are embedded in our psyches.


Gallo, Rubén. “Urbanism.” In New Tendencies in Mexican Art: The 1990s, 91-133. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Kurimanzutto. Minerva Cuevas: In Gods We Trust. New York: Kurimanzutto, 2023. Exhibition catalog.