Magazine article Artforum International

"Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement"

Magazine article Artforum International

"Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement"

Article excerpt

IN 1972, under cover of night, three members of Asco, the Chicano conceptual-art collective from East Los Angeles, tagged the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with their last names. The work was prompted, so the story goes, when a LACMA curator told Harry Gamboa Jr.--who founded Asco ("nausea" in Spanish) with Willie Herron III, Patssi Valdez, and Gronk (Glugio Nicandro) in 1971--that Chicanos were not represented in the museum because they were gang members, not artists. Asco's graffitied signatures were at once a fuck-you defacement and a sly Duchampian appropriation--claiming authorship of an institution that stereotyped and excluded them.

The graffiti was removed the next day, but its impact lingered. Now, more than thirty years later, a photograph of Spray Paint LACMA greets visitors at the opening of the museum's "Phantom Sightings." From illegal outsiders to celebrated insiders at the very place that once dismissed them: The ambivalence of Asco's gesture and its meaning haunts the entire exhibition. Curated by Rita Gonzalez, Howard N. Fox, and Chon A. Noriega, "Phantom Sightings" positions itself as a redress to a long stretch of institutional exclusion while also challenging the rubric "Chicano art." This vibrant show features a diverse range of art, including drawing, painting, video, performance, sculpture, mixed-media installation, and photography by contemporary, mostly younger American artists of Mexican descent who are indebted both to the interventionist moves of Asco and to the political possibilities opened up by the activism of the 1970s. By focusing on "conceptual art and urbanism following the Chicano civil rights movement," as the curators explain in the excellent catalogue, the title thus indicates a shift away from an emphasis on visibility or empowerment toward a more fugitive and mobile understanding of identity that accounts for in-betweenness and reinvention.

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IN THIS VEIN, scholar and Asco expert C. Ondine Chavoya has written about the importance of punk, do-it-yourself style to Chicano art, and one especially strong room of the show highlights the role of self-fashioning. Valdez's Super 8 film Hot Pink, ca. 1982, features leopard-print-and rhinestone-bedecked fashionistas preening to a sound track of Devo's "Whip It." Carolyn Castano's deftly rendered portraits combine deliriously decorative elements with sensitive character study. Similarly, Shizu Saldamando's glittery pop-inflected works include a drawing of a woman sporting a tattoo of British rock star Siouxsie Sioux (Sandy and Siouxsie, 2007). Such work suggests that the affective communities created through musical taste and other cultural affiliations can shape our identifications and sense of belonging as much as racial or ethnic ties do. Carlee Fernandez's series of photographs "Man," 2006, depict the artist in drag; in one, she poses as a dead ringer for her father; in others, she holds in front of her face pictures of influential "father figures," including Austrian artist Franz West. Fernandez's meticulous attention to proportion and her inventive costuming bring together feminist and queer masquerade with the long-standing art-historical imperative to acknowledge--and trump--one's influences.

The issue of passing takes a different cast in the beautifully wrought watercolor drawings of Julio Cesar Morales that make up Undocumented Interventions, 2006-2007. With sure-handed lines and subtle washes of color, Morales depicts people secreted in cars, appliances, and other objects in order to cross undetected over the US border: a small child huddled inside a pinata; a washing machine cut away to reveal a body contorted inside. The images are based on real photographs from US Customs and Border Protection. Set on plain white backgrounds and extracted from their context, they are depictions of ingenuity and desperation--although, in their human object hybridizations, they are also inflected with a solemn surrealism. …

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