The context of the SCAD Museum of Art Alumni Gallery is an important frame for the development of Hernandez’s exhibition. While a student at SCAD, the artist frequently visited the exhibition space and witnessed the impact of the museum’s alumni exhibitions on the careers of his peers. With this history in mind, he thoughtfully intervenes in the space through works that speak to his academic lineage, his development as an emerging artist, and his questioning of the role of the artist. Hernandez’s influential time at SCAD is alluded to in the painting ):) (gracias Todd), 2020, in which the artist pays tribute to SCAD painting professor Todd Schroeder, a major influence on his work and a recent artistic collaborator. Hernandez created the painting with the distinct Tyvek material that Schroeder employs as the substrate for many of his paintings, yet Hernandez subverts the clean surface of Schroeder’s work by selecting the branded Tyvek used for construction and stamping it with other brand names and the emblem “Made in the U.S.A.”
Elsewhere in the exhibition, visitors encounter a reproduction of the pattern on Pink Panther insulation foam, aptly titled PPP. The Pink Panther foam converts the usually pristine gallery space into a worksite, a nod to Hernandez’s ever-expanding practice as well as his position as a young artist. Frequently employing both real and simulated building materials in his work, Hernandez draws parallels between his experience as an entity “in progress” with sites of construction and labor.
Much like the signs and symbols the artist wields in his work, Hernandez moves beyond standard text with the exhibition title, ):). This symbol represents both the frowning and smiling emoticons, depending on the direction it is read, and is a stand-in for the feeling of mixed emotions. While considering the impact and importance of this solo museum exhibition as a major step in his life, Hernandez reflects on his mixed emotions of staging it during a moment of global upheaval and instability. His excitement to breach this stage as an artist is met with trepidatious feelings about the future of his career, of institutions, and of the world.