On the Creation of This Exhibition
George Rivera, professor and rhetor excelsior of Chicano art at the University of Colorado, Boulder, made his pronunciamiento at the Mexic-Arte celebration of the tenth anniversary of Sam Coronado’s renowned Serie Project. On 26 July 2003 in Mexic-Arte’s downtown Austin museum and community art space, Rivera proclaimed, “It’s the new millennium.” The millenarian topoi quickly took hold. “Right on,” supported a Raza chorus of critics and curators including Gilberto Cárdenas, Amelia Malagamba, Tomás Benítez, y tu humilde servidor, Keller: “ ’Tis the new millennium!” There were many artists present at the event including Sam Coronado, Celina Hinojosa, Carmen Lomas Garza, and Vincent Valdez, to name a few, and they seemed to like the new millennium, too. We came to Austin not to quibble with George. We came to bury old preconceptions, to surmount the barricades and celebrate the dawning of the new age. Magister dixit!
Later that night, we artists and critics reassembled at suitable watering holes in that veritable gown town of students that is downtown Austin, Texas, playing out the night and bringing in the dawn of the new millennium. I vividly recall Herr Doktor Professor George Rivera damning the “do not walk” signs and manically and maniacally rolling me in my wheelchair like Ben Hur straining against his evil antagonist, an anti-art Messala.
We enjoyed the ride. We enjoyed the buzz. The memories y la frasecita have stuck. We are determined to make this our millennium. There is no turning back for Chicana/Chicano and Latino art. We go forward in the dawning of our time, earning our stripes, step by steadfast step.
What is newly and nuestramente millenarian for Chicana and Chicano art? For one, the convergence of new exhibitions, new books, and new audience appreciation of nuestra casa of Chicana/o art. Particular reference must be made to several highly significant exhibitions as well as a number of new books on Chicana and Chicano art, several of them calibrated to the important art exhibitions mentioned here. (See references below.)
Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Art in California opened the millennium not with a whimper, but a bang. This exhibition was a retrospective of decades of graphic art produced in association with each of six major Chicano art centers and cooperatives: Royal Chicano Air Force/RCAF (Sacramento), Galería de la Raza (San Francisco) and La Raza Silkscreen Center/La Raza Graphics (San Francisco), Self-Help Graphics and Art and the Mechicano Art Center (both in Los Angeles), and Centro Cultural de la Raza (San Diego). All but the Galería de La Raza were centers of poster production. These centers offered different ways of moving between cultural politics and fine art approaches to Chicano poster making. This diversity of approach was reflected in the forms and styles of the work itself, from silkscreen to digital and from traditional to postmodern pastiche. For the largely working-class communities marginal to the mainstream world of galleries and museums, these art centers were the first public places where Chicano artists could develop and showcase their talents. The works date from the 1960s through the present, including, for example, Andrew Zermeño's famous 1965 poster, Huelga!, which, in support of the United Farm Workers, introduces the UFW eagle that became a key symbol of the movement.
The exhibition ran from 2 June through 13 August 2000 at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin; 12 January-4 March 2001 at the University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara; 16 June-9 December 2001 at the Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles; 4 May-18 August 2002 at the Oakland Museum of California; 23 September 2002-4 January 2003 at the Merced (California) Multicultural Arts Center; and 14 March-31 May 2003 at the Jersey City Museum, New Jersey.
Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California was a comprehensive exploration of the critical role posters and other graphic materials played in the Chicano struggle for self-determination. The Chicana/Chicano story was told in the vivid art of its posters, which originally disseminated their messages from building walls, telephone poles, and other surfaces on the urban landscape. These powerful graphic works, created by artists to raise awareness and rouse conscience, were brought together in a groundbreaking exhibition of more than one hundred examples by fifty-seven Chicano/a artists, including Lalo Alcaraz, Leonard Castellanos, Yreina Cervántez, Richard Duardo, Ricardo Favela, Rupert García, Louie “The Foot” González, Ester Hernández, Ralph Maradiaga, José Montoya, Malaquías Montoya, Herbert Sigüenza, and John Valadez.
The exhibition examined not just the profound role art played as a part of the Chicano civil rights movement, but also the remarkable effectiveness of the poster medium itself. Chicano/a artists use the poster as a visual tool to articulate the goals and issues that are important to their communities. They build a communications network on the walls of homes, stores, and offices that allows people in different places to share the same symbols, to appreciate the same aesthetic forms, and to enjoy the same humor.
Just Another Poster? was organized by the University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), in collaboration with the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives, Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library, UCSB, and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. The interdisciplinary curatorial team included Holly J. Barnet, Department of Art and Art History, University of New Mexico; C. Ondine Chavoya, Tufts University, Boston; Salvador Güereña, director, California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives, Davidson Library, UCSB; George Lipsitz, Department of Ethnic Studies, UC San Diego; Chon Noriega, Department of Film and Television, UCLA; Rafael Pérez-Torres, Department of English, UCLA; Tere Romo, at that time curator, The Mexican Museum, San Francisco; and Carol Wells, director, Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Los Angeles. The project was overseen by Marla C. Berns, director, University Art Museum, UCSB.
Alfredo Arreguín: Patterns of Dreams and Nature is a large-scale retrospective celebrating the work of Mexican-born Seattle painter Alfredo Arreguín. The exhibition includes key works from the major areas of the artist’s production: Jungles series, Icons/Portraits, Patterns, and the Pacific Northwest. Arreguín’s extraordinarily original art draws images from dreams, nature, and political and social events. The artist evokes the patterns that arise from the fusion of the real and the imaginary.
Alfredo Arreguín: Patterns of Dreams and Nature was organized by the Bellevue (Washington) Art Museum and curated by Brian Wallace in conjunction with an important book (authored by Lauro Flores, Arreguín himself, and poet and writer Tess Gallagher) published by the University of Washington Press treating the past thirty years of this foremost artist of the Pacific Northwest. The exhibition ran at the Bellevue Art Museum between 23 March and 16 June 2002. It also ran between 11 January and 6 April 2003 at the Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner, Washington, and between 14 June and 28 September 2003 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It will appear between 13 November 2003 and 15 February 2004 at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane, Washington.
Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge is an exhibition that features the art collection of actor Cheech Marín, owner of one of the finest and largest collections of Chicano art, as well as a few pieces owned by Nicholas Cage, Sean Penn, and others. This hugely influential exhibition made its national debut at the San Antonio Museum of Art from 15 December 2001 through 7 April 2002. It ran between 1 May 2002 and 5 January 2003 at the Smithsonian Institution Art and Industries building; at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (Albuquerque) between 1 February and 18 May 2003; and between 14 June and 21 September 2003 at the El Paso Museum of Art. The next stop for this exhibition, which is slated for a five-year tour, is the Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, between 30 January and 2 May 2004.
The exhibition, curated by Rene Yáñez, consists of more than fifty works, mostly oil and acrylic paintings. It features more than twenty artists, including Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, GRONK, Patssi Valdez, George Yepes, Rupert García, Leo Limón, Margaret García, Eloy Torres, Adán Hernández, César Martínez, Jesse Treviño, Melesio Casas, Carmen Lomas Garza, Vincent Valdez, Gaspar Enríquez, and Alex Rubio. The works, which present images of urban life and the Chicano experience, date between 1969 and 2001.
For the Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, the dawning of the age, not of Aquarius, but of Cortázar’s “Axolotl” surely came on 16 September 2002, the day we released the two-volume work Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art. Since then, there has been no turning back.
How do a couple hundred Chicana and Chicano artists organize themselves? In our new millennium, apparently by spontaneous combustion. Initially, the Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe had little to do with this conflagration of enthusiasm, except to monitor its mounting achievements with increasing awe.
Shortly after the appearance of Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art, and certainly by November 2002, out of pure gutsy gusto, a troop of artists organized themselves around the book and established three huge book signings in metropolitan Los Angeles. Present were scores of artists, not only from Southern California but from everywhere around the state and from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington state, Texas, Chicago, and even New York. These three book signings took place between December 4 and 8 at18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica, California, and at Ave 50 Studio and Galería Mundo in Los Angeles. We owe a debt of gratitude to Jan Williamson, Kathy Gallegos, and Margaret García, respectively, for their role in organizing these events.
In my experience, these book signings were at that point the largest gatherings of Chicana/Chicano artists. In attendance, variously, were: Jack Álvarez, Richard Álvarez, José Antonio Aguirre, David Buenrostro, Mario Calvano, Silvia Capistrán, Irene Carranza, Martin Charlot, Alex Donis, Richard Duardo, Fidencio Durán, Susan Elizalde-Holder, Rudy Fernández, Ignacio Gómez, Yolanda González, Marilú Flores Gruben, Roberto Gutiérrez, Tlisza Jaurique, Alma López, Aydee López Martínez, Jacalyn López García, Gilbert Luján, Rosa M., Daniel P. Márquez, Max-Carlos Martínez, Oscar J. Martínez, Laura Molina, Martín Moreno, José Orozco, Eva Pérez, Antonio Rael, Ramón Ramírez, Jesús “Chuy” Rangel, Miguel Ángel Reyes, Robert Rivera, Augustine Romero, David Rosales, Arturo Urista, Linda Vallejo, Frank Ybarra, and Marcus Zilliox.
“Gary,” the call came out from Los Angeles, “can you come out to the book signings? We want your presence, your voice, and your writing hand. Bring a few good pens, and while you’re at it, ship a few hundred books to the site!”
To Los Angeles I came, I saw, and I was conquered! The book signing at 18th Street Arts Complex really sizzled. My dear colega, A.P. González—art connoisseur and longtime and incredibly effective head of the film director’s program at the UCLA film school—and I arrived early at Santa Sushi Sobre el Sea. Well fortified with double Bombay Sapphire martinis and shiro maguro, saba, and suzuki, we headed on to the book signing. The rest, as they say, is Historia Hispanae, and I’ve got the rushes to prove it. The Hispanic Research Center of Arizona State University brought a camera crew to do this event justice, and at some future point we will be showing our professionally shot homemade movies, which include multihour interviews of Fidencio Durán, Richard Duardo, and Cheech Marín as well as interviews with Yolanda López, Daniel Martín Díaz, and others that were done in Arizona.
So many were accounting for themselves! Cheech was there and holding forth. Martin Charlot, the illustrious son of one of the greats of Mexican muralism—the brilliant mid-century professor at the University of Hawaii and analyst of twentieth-century art, Jean Charlot—was there, and he urged me to come with him the following day to see his murals at the Ventura County Discovery Center and at the Children’s Dental Center in Los Angeles. Alma López told us we should have put her notorious Our Lady (Lupe and Sirena series) in the book, which had created puro pedo with traditionalists and the archbishop in Santa Fe (the two-volume book was still so new and so encompassing that even some of the artists hadn’t digested it yet), and I promptly and gravely opened the second volume to the page with this enfant terrible’s digital creation. Alex Donis, on the other hand, who was in residence at 18th Street Arts Complex, showed me his newest works and hailed the book’s attention to the gay canon. Fidencio Durán, in his engaging, taciturn tejano way, told me more about his commission at the new Austin, Texas, airport. Gilberto “Magú” Luján, in his trademark cuate abrazo style, and with his customary salutation to me as “Dr. Gary,” recounted the many splendors of Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art and told me wondrous things about his new Pomona-centered artistic activities. My oldest son, el Randito, arrived from Pasadena (a Cal Tech computer-based spinoff) to share the experience, and we both had a long and exciting conversation with genial David Rosales of San Bernadoo about the subtext of his wonderful work “In Memory of a Rabbit.”
The upshot of these memorable book signings was that the artists and Cheech, A.P., and numerous others urged the Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe to do something special for the book, for Chicana and Chicano art, and for its practitioners. This was a homework assignment that has become something of a lifetime calling. The Press, in quick order, decided to have a reception for the artists on campus at Arizona State University during Cinco de Mayo weekend of the following year, 2003. This modest provision quickly expanded to an encompassing vision. Kirsten Hammer, bless her heart, head of Latin American art at Sotheby’s, hopped aboard and promised to give a workshop, pro bono, on beginning and advanced theory and praxis of collecting Chicano/Latino art. Gilberto Cárdenas, obsessive art collector par excellence and gallery owner of Galería Sin Fronteras, promised to help. In short order, we received considerable support from Arizona State University’s main campus and west campus (our accomplishments would not have been possible without the commitments of Provost Milton Glick, ASU Main, and Provost Elaine Maimon, ASU West; Manny Ávalos, associate vice provost for research and faculty development, ASU West; Fernando Delgado, associate vice provost for graduate studies and academic programs, ASU West; and David Young, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, ASU Main) and, with no time at all to spare, by January 2003 we had become committed to mounting a full-fledged Chicano/Latino art happening.
The events of 2 through 4 May 2003 represented another millenarian landmark that has led directly to this exhibition and its accompanying book. They consisted of a signal auction of over 200 works of Chicana/Chicano art both on-site and on the Internet in real time through eBay; a mercado where artists were able to staff their own tables and sell their own works of various types; a conference that featured presentations by artists, art historians, art educators, and critics; a workshop on collecting Chicano/Latino art run by Sotheby’s Kirsten Hammer; several student-focused educational events; and digitally recorded interviews of numerous artists and critics by film director Jesús Salvador Treviño.
This event was successful in so many ways—with the artists, scholars, and students, financially through the numbers of works sold, and in terms of its coverage by the mass media—that we have been emboldened to do an expanded and enhanced version, the Arizona International Latina/Latino Arts Festival (AILAF). One of the less obvious but hugely significant successes of the 2003 event was in the area of acquisition of works of art by the Arizona State University community. Over the past twenty years the Hispanic Research Center, its affiliates, and other members of the ASU community have permitted the Center to become one of the largest repositories of images of Chicano/Latino works of visual art (in the form of transparencies, slides, digital images) and film. Equally important, at ASU we have collected a critical mass of original art in the forms of paintings, sculptures, mixed media, works on paper, and the like. Similarly, we have had the opportunity to commission a number of original lithographs in cooperation with fine print publishers including Segura Publishing Company in Mesa, Arizona, the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, and Hare & Hound Press in San Antonio.
AILAF expands the scope of the previous event not only to the visual arts but also to film, literature, theater, and performance, and not only nationally, but internationally. Nevertheless, the key event of the 2004 AILAF is the 1 May 2004 opening of Chicano Art for Our Millennium: Collected Works from the Arizona State University Community. This exhibition and accompanying book, produced through the collaboration between Arizona State University and Mesa Southwest Museum, reflect the collection of the ASU community. We anticipate that the exhibition will travel extensively both nationally and internationally once it closes on 19 September 2004 in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
1 December 2003
The titles that follow illustrate the observation that there has been a surge since January 2000 of exhibitions and books (often affiliated with exhibitions) about Chicana and Chicano art.
Arreguín, Alfredo, Lauro Flores, and Tess Gallagher. Alfredo Arreguín: Patterns of Dreams and Nature/Diseños, Sueños y Naturaleza. Jacob Lawrence Series on American Artists. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.
Dávalos, Karen Mary. Exhibiting Mestizaje: Mexican (American) Museums in the Diaspora. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.
Keller, Gary D., Mary Erickson, Kaytie Johnson, and Joaquín Alvarado. Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art. Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2002.
Maciel, David, Isidro D. Ortiz, and María Herrera-Sobek, eds. The Chicano Renaissance: Contemporary Cultural Trends. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000.
Marín, Cheech, Max Benavídez, Constance Cortez, and Tere Romo. Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge. New York: Bulfinch Press, 2002.
Noriega, Chon A., ed. East of the River: Chicano Art Collectors Anonymous. Santa Monica Museum of Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.
———, ed. Just Another Poster? Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
A Book of Three Parts
Like Julius Caesar’s ancient Gaul, this book has three parts. First, it is a lively, visually intensive trade book available at a moderate price (if not exactly precios populares) that we direct to the general Chicano/Latino audience and the general community of art devotees in the United States, Latin America, Europe, and around the globe. An interested reader and viewer will be able to experience a good representation of Chicana and Chicano art in a book that is notable for its superb production values.
Second, it is the catalog of the eponymously named exhibition, Chicano Art for Our Millennium, which opened on 1 May 2004 and runs through 19 September 2004 at the Mesa Southwest Museum and which will then embark on a multiyear tour. The book contains the images of the works of art that are exhibited plus a number of additional images in order to enhance the educational value of both the exhibit and this accompanying book.
Finally, Chicano Art for Our Millennium has been designed to serve as an educational resource for the teaching of Chicana and Chicano art both to Chicano/Latino students and the general student population beginning in elementary school and going through college and graduate school. We are confident that this educational component of the book can also be used profitably by the general public to gain unusual insights into contemporary art as a whole. We have used Chicana and Chicano art paradigmatically to teach elements of art of universal application.
Organization of the Exhibit and of the Book
The exhibition, and hence this book, is organized thematically.
At the portal of the exhibit we have built a simple structure that represents an adobe house, to beckon and invite the attendee under the rubric of the well-known phrase mi casa es su casa, “my house is your house.” The attendee passes through the adobe abode, stopping of course to view the unique work of Arizona artist Larry Yáñez, who has created—through a series of ingenious, innovative, and humorous serigraphs—a singular and, at the same time, archetypal Chicano/Latino house, a house with a comic yet endearing, bilingual-tricultural (Anglo-Hispanic-Amerindian) perspective that invites you in for further exploration. The artistic abode of Larry Yáñez is an ideal introduction to the Chicano palette, with its predominance of bright colors including hues of pink, blue, green, and red. It is also a good introduction to the traditional icons of Chicano art: the Virgin of Guadalupe, calendars featuring Aztec lovers turned into volcanoes, tacos and salsa, crucifixes, chiles, cacti and other flora of the Southwest, and family altars. However, sometimes these icons are transmuted comically or by artistic sleight of hand. Our casa features taco shell shower curtains, calavera magnets, a crucifix with Jesus suspended ethereally from the mirror above the bathroom sink, and desert landscapes that spring from ambiguous interior/exterior origins. Finally, the Yáñez works also make strategic use of Amerindian iconography as it is often found in traditional and current architecture (frequently with the designation of territorial design) and Navajo textiles.
It is but a short stop from my/your/our house to the theme of “Community Values/Lo que representa nuestra comunidad.” Guided into this section through the mediation of the introspective self-portrait of Mario Calvano, in the book we find works dedicated to the family and to barrio and campo (urban and rural) ambiences and life. Here the viewer will find, among others, works dedicated to the care and development of children, to the traditional Chicana/o attention to ancestors and the deceased, to important dates ranging from birthdays to patriotic holidays, and to numerous enterprises, occupations, or oficios of the Chicano/Latino world. Some of the works in this section, such as Esperanza Gama’s, expand outward and make connections both formal and cultural to the universal world of art in its depictions of the family and community.
“Across Borders and the Biculture/Atravesando fronteras y culturas” is a rich theme for Chicana and Chicano art. In this part of the exhibit and of the book, the viewer will be able to appreciate, thematically, dimensions of Chicano/Latino biculturalism and transculturalism as well as, on occasion, jarring juxtapositions of Chicano and mainstream culture, lifestyles, and values that are difficult to digest, synthesize, or transcend. From the vantage point of images and their analysis, in a manner analogous to the themes, the works have been divided into “juxtaposition” (where the images, like water and oil, do not mix), “transition” (where there is the dimension of movement across culture and value systems, a sense of transculturalism in some cases), and “nuevo milenio,” which is the designation we have chosen to evoke the creation of new images, and sometimes, with those images, new identities that borrow from both Chicana/o and mainstream or other cultures in order to produce something that is both singular and transcendent of the sum of its parts.
“Spirituality/Espiritualidad” is a deeply felt component of Chicano culture, which has maintained its value system intact for hundreds of years and, after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, has been forced to resist the periodic incursions of Anglo culture. This section has been divided into two subthemes, “representación religiosa” and “espíritu humano.” The icons of many of these pieces are notable for their originality. They are sui generis since they are often not traditional icons of Hispanic religious or spiritual sensibility, although they often originate in those traditional icons. In some of these works the traditional predominates, but in a manner different from the home country of Mexico (or even Spain). In others there is a clear ironic or even iconoclastic quality. And in still others there is a significant departure from traditional norms of Hispanic society, a postmodern spirituality.
“Deeply Felt, Widely Known/Profundamente sentido, ampliamente reconocido” thematically juxtaposes certain feelings, intuitions, and events that individuate us all, Chicana/o and other populations alike, with other phenomena that are integral components of the social fabric. Thus, on the one hand, the viewer is exposed to self-identification through self-portrait, to grief, fantasy, reminiscence, and religious apprehension, and, on the other, to music, cinema, or pastimes that are characteristically Chicano/Latino such as the heroic, social-justice dimension of public wrestling, or the uniquely Hispanic lotería game.
“Cultural Icons/Temas culturales” is divided into three subthemes. “Héroes” evokes many Chicano/Mexicano role models or individuals of renown including Pancho Villa, José Guadalupe Posada, Frida Kahlo, Sandra Cisneros, and César Chávez as well as legendary figures such as the Cisco Kid and Muffler Man, a Chicano everyman caped hero. “¡Venceremos!” borrows a slogan from Chicana/o militancy to evoke such icons as zapatista guerrillas; the revolutionary intellectual of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Ricardo Flores Magón; a syncretized Virgin of Guadalupe/Statue of Liberty; a Statue of Liberty metamorphosing into a Hispanic woman; a lone Chicana struggling against conglomerated corporations; and another Latina who has arrogated the identity of the conventional bandolero. “Nuestros símbolos” develops a variety of notable icons from such sources as the pre-Hispanic world, traditional folklore, and the Southwestern environment with its notable fauna and flora.
“Beyond Conventional Themes/Sobrepasando lo convencional” expands the traditionally assumed dimensions and scope of Chicano/a art. Contradicting the notion that our art is exclusively a folk art rooted in Chicano culture and the figurative evocation of that culture, we are confronted here with nonfigurative work that is preoccupied with color, composition, line, the interplay of shadow and light, and the use of space. Additionally, those works that are figurative cultivate figures in novel ways when contrasted with the conventional appreciation of Chicano art. In our exhibited collection, for example, Jerry de la Cruz executes collage with superb results, Silvia Capistrán utilizes varied horizontal and vertical lines against a field of brilliant yet subtle red hues, Marcus Zilliox explores abstraction, countering verticality with rows of soft curves and sprinkling in a hint of cartoon, Mónica Martínez evokes a polyphony of shapes and bold lines that harkens to Paul Klee and Joan Miró, and Quintín González explores the intersect between myth, religion, and mass culture in his creation and transformation of popular images into implausible ones.
And finally, and with finality, Gabriel Garza communicates to us the open-ended nature of Chicana and Chicano art, subject to temporary or first defeats perhaps, yet alive with potential and capability for freshness and originality.