Fowler Museum at UCLA Presents Two Exhibitions about the History of Chicano Art in Los Angeles

The Fowler Museum at UCLA presents two exhibitions that explore the diverse contributions of Chicano artists to Los Angeles’s artistic development in the 1970s: Icons of the Invisible: Oscar Castillo (September 25, 2011–February 26, 2012) and Mapping Another L.A.: The Chicano Art Movement (October 16, 2011–February 26, 2012).

“These two exhibitions give a palpable sense of the expansive cultural presence of the Chicano community that emerged at the end of the 1960s,” says Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) director Chon Noriega, one of the curators of theL.A. Xicano project. “One is struck by the aesthetic range of the artwork, informed by both a bicultural sensibility and a critical engagement with art history, and unified by the artists’ ongoing commitment to art-based community making.”

Icons of the Invisible: Oscar Castillo

Since the late 1960s, photographer Oscar Castillo has documented the Chicano community in Los Angeles, from major political events to cultural practices to the work of muralists and painters. This exhibition presents rarely seen photographs from 1969–1980 considering major themes (social movement, cultural heritage, urban environment, and everyday barrio life) and approaches (photojournalism, portraiture, art photography) that have guided Castillo’s work.

These iconic images of the community run counter to the stereotypical or exotic images often circulated by the mass media and museums, and have been rarely seen over the last four decades. This exhibition of thirty-eight photographs, drawn from an on-line digital archive of more than 3,000 images by Castillo at the CSRC Library and a forthcoming book on Castillo through the CSRC series The Chicano Archives, brings many of them to the public for the first time.Originally from El Paso, Texas, Castillo arrived in Los Angeles at the age of sixteen and graduated from Belmont High School in 1963. Soon after, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps (1964–1968) and was stationed in Japan and at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, California. In 1969 he was among the first students to major in the newly formed Chicano Studies Program at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge), and he also signed on for a second major in the art program.

His work was published in movement-era publications including Con Safos, La Raza, and El Popo, and he also worked as a producer for the KCET program Acción Chicano. In the late 1970s, he became a commercial photographer and is currently the official historian of Pico Rivera, California. In all of this photography, Castillo combines the thoroughness of a documentarian with an artist’s attention to framing and composition. Castillo continues his photographic practice to this day, expanding a complex and multifaceted visual archive of Chicano Los Angeles.

Mapping Another L.A.: The Chicano Art Movement

Beginning with the establishment of the first Chicano art gallery in 1969 in East Los Angeles, Chicano artists launched a collective re-imagining of the urban landscape through photography, graphic arts, murals, and large-scale architectural plans, as well as through painting, sculpture, installation, and drawing. While their approach was collective in spirit, and undertaken in the context of the Chicano civil rights movement, these artists engaged in varied and debated positions on aesthetics, media, ideology, and the social or community function for their art. Their work was at once local, identity-based, and global in orientation, exploring the uncharted spaces between Mexican tradition, Chicano vernacular, and American modernism.

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. These include 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), In showing how these artists mapped another L.A.—as part of a social protest and community empowerment movement—the exhibition presents little-seen work and documentation that reveal a complex history of the artists as they both navigated and imagined the social spaces of Los Angeles.

Featured artists are Carlos Almaraz, Michael Amescua, Robert Arenivar, Judith F. Baca, Guillermo Bejarano, David Botello, John Bright, Armando Cabrera, Barbara Carrasco, Gustavo Casillas, Leonard Castellanos, Oscar Castillo, Isabel Castro, José Cervantes, Yreina Cervantez, Manuel Cruz, Roberto “Beto” de la Rocha, Richard Duardo, Elsa Flores,Gus Frias, Danny Gaytan, Harry Gamboa, Jr., Luis Garza, Ignacio Gomez, Don Juan/Johnny D. Gonzalez, José Luis (Joe) Gonzalez, Lucila Villaseñor Grijalva, Gronk, Richard Haro, Wayne Healy, Judithe Hernández, Sergio Hernandez, Willie F. Herrón III, Heather Hewitt, Richard Jimenez, Leo Limón, David Lopez, Gilbert “Magu” Sánchez Luján, Joel Suro Olivares, David Ramirez, Humberto Rivera, Joe D. Rodriguez, Frank Romero, Richard Rueda, Humbero Sandoval, David Alfaro Siqueiros, James Tartan, John Valadez, Patssi Valdez, Linda Vallejo, Agnès Varda, Carlos Venegas, and Manuel Venegas.

Produced largely during the 1970s, the artworks in this exhibition are selected and organized to “map” the diverse ways in which these groups created cultural visibility, first through the reclaimed use of public space, then through a broad range of aesthetic principals, public exhibitions, and statements on the role of the artist. The exhibition then explores the intersections between artist groups, their use of “style” as a political and artistic strategy, and the new beginnings as the artists and art groups entered the 1980s.

Installed at the entrance to the exhibition is one of the first Chicano murals in Los Angeles, which presided over the facade of Goez and The East L.A. School of Mexican American Fine Arts in East Los Angeles (TELASOMAFA) from 1971–81. The mural (left), which has been in storage for thirty years and was conserved for this exhibition, spans some 33 feet and was designed by Johnny D. Gonzalez, founder of TELASOMAFA, and painted by nearly a dozen artists.

Influenced by his travels in Europe, Gonzalez borrowed the compositional strategy that Michelangelo used inside the Medici tombs, but also drew upon the aesthetic approach of the Mexican muralists who integrated site architecture into their murals. Thus, Gonzalez placed the two figures—Cortez and Malinche, representing the cultural origins of Chicano art—as if they were lying on the window frames.

At the other end of the gallery the portable mural Uprising of the Mujeres created in 1979 by Judith F. Baca offers a feminist perspective while serving as an allegory of Baca’s experiences studying in Mexico. In 1977 she spent six weeks at the Taller Siqueiros in Mexico City, training with a group of Mexican and Chicano artists. She was the only woman at the taller, one of the few female muralists in the Chicano community, and one of the few Latinas in the women’s movement.

Amidst hundreds of other objects on display inMapping Another L.A., one will be able to see video and film footage of mural painting and performance art, a wide array of graphic styles from across the art groups, and early works prior to the start of the Chicano art movement. The final work visitors will encounter is Carlos Almaraz’s paintingBeach Trash Burning, 1982. A member of Los Four, Almaraz incorporated political messages into his work, producing written manifestos and activist murals and graphics. Later, when working with the artists in the Centro de Arte Público, he developed a distinct studio style. In Beach Trash Burning, Almaraz turns his focus to the urban landscape around him.

Additionally, to engage a cross-generational dialogue, contemporary artists Ana Serrano (Los Angeles, California, b. 1983), Arturo Romo-Santillan(Los Angeles, California, b. 1980) and Reyes Rodriguez (Tijuana, Mexico, b. 1957) have created installations in the gallery that reflect on the works of, respectively, Los Four, Asco, and Mechicano. Kathy Mas-Gallegos, artist and director of Avenue 50 Studio, will explore the continuing legacy of community-based art in an exhibition and related programs at the Highland Park gallery.

The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center(CSRC) was founded in 1969 andhousesa library and special collections archive, an academic press, community partnerships, competitive grant/fellowship programs, and research funds dedicated to the study of Spanish-language music and culture, art history, education, and urban poverty.CSRC public programs and exhibitions have reached audiences across the U.S. and in Latin America

The Fowler Museum at UCLAis one of the country’s most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m.; and on Thursdays, from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $11 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call 310/825-4361 or visit fowler.ucla.edu

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