Latin American Art

Southwest Art, February 2008 | Go to article overview

Latin American Art


PROVOCATIVE ARTWORKS ON VIEW IN LOS ANGELES

THE EXHIBITION Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicana Movement, on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) beginning April 6, is the first major consideration of the legacy of Chicano art in almost two decades. Unlike most exhibitions of Chicano art that have preceded it, Phantom Sightings moves away from efforts to define a distinct identity or style and instead focuses attention on conceptual strategies that artists use to intervene in public spaces or debates. Phantom Sightings traces these tendencies to the late 1960s, adding a new dimension to our understanding of Chicano art history and notions of ethnic identity, cultural politics, and artistic practice.

As the exhibition's title, inspired by artist and commentator Harry Gamboa Jr., suggests, Chicanos have historically constituted a "phantom culture" within American society-largely unperceived, unrecognized, and uncredited by the mainstream. In contrast, Chicano art was established as a politically and culturally inspired movement during the late 1960s and early '70s, stressing ethnic pride and political empowerment. Although Chicano art was primarily represented by the traditions of painting, muralism, and graphic arts, there has always existed a simultaneous, if less historicized, experimental and conceptual tendency whose art forms encompass performance, video, photography, film, and unsanctioned "guerilla" interventions into daily urban activity. This direction has proved to be of particular interest to many Chicano artists coming of age in the 1990s and beyond.

While attentive to this historical context, Phantom Sightings places an emphasis on a newer generation of emerging artists from across the United States, many of whom do not work under the label of "Chicano art." These artists engage local and global politics, mix high and low cultures, and sample legitimate and bootlegged sources-but they do so within a conceptual framework. "The artists in this show consciously position themselves within the broadest developments of contemporary art," explains Michael Govan, CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director at LACMA. "And now, with contemporary offerings in both Phantom Sightings and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, LACMA is presenting a diverse overview of cutting edge art of the last forty years." This exhibition also plays a groundbreaking role in LACMA's Latino Arts Initiative, which ensures that Chicano and Latino art are a consistent focus within the museum's program.

Phantom Sightings seeks to explore the ways in which these artists situate their work at the crossroads of local struggles over urban space, transnational flows of culture, and global art practices. Some artists' work functions as an intervention that "haunts" public spaces with evidence of other, sometimes hidden, meanings and agendas. For example, Sandra de la Loza engages publicly dedicated sites, such as the Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial in downtown Los Angeles, conceptually "rededicating" it in a video projection in which the terra cotta figures of the frieze are animated so that they relate a more complete-perhaps less idealized-account of the very history the monument commemorates. Alejandro Diaz, dressed in a white suit and looking like the perfect dandy, stood by the front door of Tiffany & Co. …

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