A finger-licking exhibition dedicated to Cheetos’s beloved Flamin’ Hot flavor has debuted at Gallery 1202 in the Bay Area, just as a new biopic about the snack’s purported inventor hits streaming platform Hulu.
Ruben Dario Villa, a 35-year-old former graphic designer for Apple and Google, curated the show, simply titled “Flamin’ Hot,” about a product he said carries such strong sentiments of nostalgia that it brings people together in a time of increased divisiveness in the United States.
“I think nostalgic connection points are things that we can all have in common,” he told Artnet News.
Dario Villa said the inspiration for the exhibition loosely came from thinking about the first time he tried Flamin’ Hot Cheetos when he was nine-years-old.
“My mom was a health and recycling nut before that was a thing and tasked me with bringing some tortillas from the grocery store,” he said. “I thought, ‘ooh, I’m going to be slick, and buy some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and some tortillas in two separate transactions.’”
Dario Villa, laughing, added that he forgot to purchase the snacks separately and began eating the Cheetos on the way home from the store. “I thought I could scratch the Hot Cheetos off the receipt with my Cheeto-dusted fingers but my mom, worried I was taking too long to come home, walks towards the supermarket and catches me literally red-handed.”
Dario Villa said he built the exhibition around that experience, expressing it in what he called a “Chicano-style interpretation of pop culture to tap into that source of malaise we have as a collective.” He had already been working on a piece inspired by his youth and using Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust when he was invited by the gallery to curate the show.
“I started it on a whim because I love hot Cheetos,” he said of the artwork.
“I’m first-generation, my parents are immigrants from Mexico, and I kind of sit at the intersection of American culture,” he said. “So, it’s like an insider-outsider perspective that’s very much informed by the historical art context of like Andy Warhol.”
Dario Villa said he’s inspired by artists that “have a sense of humor” and did an open call for the show on social media because he didn’t want to exhibit artists that are “too established” for his fun-themed show.
Ultimately, more than 50 artists submitted with around 26 selected for the show with a mixture of mediums—ranging from Lorena Cortez’s sculpture of a Cheetos bag being tantalizingly emptied into a bowl, to Hey Ruca’s painted reimagining of Cheetos’s mascot Chester Cheetah, to Hortencia Martín’s skate deck carrying telltale signs of Cheetos dust,
“There’s a still life of Hot Cheetos that’s just so beautiful,” Dario Villa said.
The artist said the show opened with a street fair vibe, not the “traditional charcuterie and wine vibe,” with food trucks and plant vendors. At the end of the day, he hopes that Richard Montañez—the purported creator of the spicy snack—will make it out for the closing of the show on August 12.
See more images from the show below.