PST Mexican American and Chicano Exhibitions Legitimize the Periphery

Article excerpt

Undoubtedly Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 is changing the art-historical discourse of American art, just as it set out to do ten years ago, when the Getty Research Institute began to collaborate on it with the Getty Foundation. The project has funded and coorganized--with more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California--an astonishing number of exhibitions, catalogues, and archival initiatives that address previously unwritten or ignored artists and practices with commendable seriousness of purpose and remarkable academic rigor across the board. Indeed, PST provides a welcome relief from the constant and unending spectacularization of contemporary art and its now openly wanton and cynical commodification and involvement with celebrity glamour. I wonder what museums in Southern California will do after PST, when funding continues to dwindle for the arts and the drive toward art as entertainment is rationalized as a necessity for attracting audiences unaccustomed to deeper connections. Still, one would be missing the obvious to ignore the tension between PST's ambitious scholarly reassessment and canonization of Southern California art and, its packaging of that history as creative capital marketed toward a national and international positioning of L.A. as a historic cauldron of creative energy, political criticality, and egalitarianism.

PST is too heterogeneous and diverse to be reduced simply to a publicity campaign for the City of Los Angeles; nevertheless, the wider frame of its cultural politics merits attention because it bears on the art history that the entire project proposes. This is of special significance in relation to the way that PST works to legitimize the art practices of those groups that have historically been considered "minorities" in the United States--such as the art of Mexican American or Chicano artists, African Americans, and queer and feminist artists. Indeed, it is in these areas that PST stands out, particularly since it aspires not only to change the 'terms by which L.A. is seen in relation to mainstream American art history-1which has until now been dominated by New York art history--but, more important, to bring unparalleled attention to those previously buried and even vilified narratives.

It is not coincidental, therefore, that the exhibitions, catalogues, and research initiatives of Mexican American and Chicano artists have received particular attention, and, therefore, it is specially important to analyze how this process of legitimization is negotiated by the six exhibitions of Mexican American and Chicano artists and cultural projects organized under PST's patronage. The exhibitions include Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987, coorganized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Williams College Museum of -Art, and curated by Rita Gonzalez of LACMA and C. Ondine Chavoya, associate professor of art and Latina/o studies at Williams College; and MEX/LA: "Mexican" Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930-1985 at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), curated by the artist Ruben Ortiz-Torres and the documentarian, curator, and writer Jesse Lerner. In addition, four exhibitions were organized under the rubric L.A. Xicano and cocurated by Chon A. Noriega, professor in the UCLA 'department of film, television, and digital media, with the independent curators Pilar Tompkins Rivas and Terezita Romo. L.A. Xicano exhibitions are coorganized by UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, which Noriega directs, in collaboration with three Los Angeles institutions: LACMA coorganized Mural Remix: Sandra de la Loza; the Autry National Center hosts Art along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation; and the Fowler Museum at UCLA presents Icons of the Invisible: Oscar Castillo and Mapping Another L.A.: The Chicano Art Movement. Often identified with specific representational styles and iconographies derived from Social Realism via the figurative style of the Mexican muralists, the Chicano art movement has been characterized by a fractious ideological stance that restricts the types of artworks and artists considered to properly address the needs and aims of the Mexican American community. …