I feel honored to say that I was born on Whittier Blvd in 1974… the same year that Asco performed First Supper (After a Major Riot) on that same famous boulevard. And here we are years later, in a city even more populated with Latinos celebrating Asco’s many performances as well as other Latino artists who have played a pivotal role in the LA art scene. It’s amazing how PST has reminded everyone that Latinos have always been creating art. But hasn’t Cheech Marin been saying this for a long time? He definitely saw it many years ago and embraced it! In 1972, Asco illegally tagged the outer walls of LACMA since Chicanos had not been included in an exhibition there. Now they have legally tagged the inside. This is the first retrospective that presents the wide-ranging work of this Chicano group, Harry Gamboa Jr., Gronk, Willie Herron, and Patssi Valdez, all from East Los.
There is another comprehensive show called Mex/LA “Mexican” Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930-1985 at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach. This show is also a reminder that Mexicans and Chicanos had been making incredible work that not only shaped LA but also impacted other art scenes nationally. Included in the show are two play lists selected and annotated by Ruben Funkahuatl Guevara, courtesy of the Moses Mora and Josh Kun collections. (I want to also mention that this museum throws great openings! If you love Latin music, either traditional or modern, high quality Latin food, and tequila… then you’ve got to come to the next one!)
And if that’s not enough, the Fowler Museum at UCLA is currently showing Icons of the Invisible: Oscar Castillo. Castillo’s photographs of the Chicano community in Los Angeles from 1969-1980 have rarely been seen but all seem so familiar for those of us who grew up on the east side. He explores the themes of social movement, cultural heritage, urban environment, and barrio life. The concurrent exhibition Mapping Another LA: The Chicano Art Movement will open on October 16 (and yes I will be there!). Here is the description from the Fowler:
“Beginning with the establishment of the first Chicano art gallery in 1969 in East Los Angeles, Chicano artists launched a collective reimagining of the urban landscape through photography, graphic arts, murals, and large-scale architectural plans, as well as through painting, sculpture, installation, and drawing. This exhibition immerses visitors in this era by mapping the diverse social networks among Chicano artist groups and art spaces in Los Angeles during the 1970s, including Asco, Centro de Arte Público, Los Dos Streetscapers, Goez Art Studios and Gallery (Goez), Los Four, Mechicano Art Center, Plaza de la Raza, Self Help Graphics and Art, and the Social Public Art Resource Center (SPARC).
Artists used their work to map another L.A.—as part of a social protest and community empowerment movement. The exhibition presents little-seen work and archival documentation that reveal a complex history of how artists both navigated and imagined the social spaces of Los Angeles.”
Let me also mention that a few weeks ago the Fowler put on a great performance by Guillermo Gomez-Peña (La Pocha Nostra), who came to the US in 1978 from Mexico City, and actor/director Richard Montoya (Culture Clash) called Los Doppelgangers. This collaborative performance was one of duplicity, reflection, exchange, ritual, radicalism, storytelling… and at the end of it all, the oldest living cholo was baptized by the Jewish Angel de Westwood. Ya se que no me crees, but you had to see it to believe it. LA is lucky to have both Gomez-Peña and Montoya. Look out for them because when they are on stage it’s one of the funniest and wittiest things you’ll witness.
Isn’t it so exciting to be in LA right now? Si, señor!
Asco broke up in 1987 and the individual artists continued to make art. But they influenced other Latinos to collaborate and work as a collective. Two of my favorite collectives that have a similar energy and spirit are Bulbo and Slanguage. Geoff wrote about Bulbo’s latest documentary Tierra Brillante in July. It is so inspiring and beautiful, so make sure to check it out. At Art Platform last weekend, I luckily found Slanguage in the basement as part of Co/Lab. Antonio de Jesus Lopez talked to me about his piece Sufriendo en el espejo (Suffering in the mirror) and El ritmo de las vida por tus lentas manos frente y frente pa donde vamos? (Life’s rhythm in your hands forward and forward where are we going?), which consist of silver gelatin on tamal leaf. He explained how the idea came to him as he was making tamales and stirring the boiling water full of corn husks, he saw his own reflection, which reminded him of how the Virgen de Guadalupe seems to appear on all sorts of objects (toast, walls, tortillas, etc.)…so why not someone else’s face on a tamal? Orale! I am a believer!
Speaking of appearances, according to Mexicans, the dead are supposed to come back to earth at the end of October/beginning of November. Patssi Valdez is curating the exhibition Revival at Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights at the 38th Annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. This is a great place to see (and purchase!) some works by emerging Latino artists. It’s also fun to walk in the procession con una cara de calaca down the streets of East Los and to see the large ofrenda that SHG makes every year. There are many ofrendas all over LA during this season, the best and most special being in people’s homes. But the public ones are fun too and you can also try pan de muerto and champurrado while you are there. Here are ones to look out for: Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Oct. 22), Olvera Street (Oct. 28-29), Museum of Latin American Art (Oct. 16).
Last but not least, did you know that it is National Hispanic Heritage Month (which actually began on Sept. 15, the start of a series of Dia de la Independencia for several Latin American countries)? Pues, it’s a perfect time to go out and see some great art created by Latino artists in this huge melting pot of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, simply called LA.
I (Geoff) am proud to welcome correspondent Carlyn Aguilar to the Notes on Looking family of writers and artists.