CARLEE FERNANDEZ, SELF PORTRAIT: PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER, MANUEL FERNANDEZ, C-PRINTS, 18 X 12 EACH, COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND ACUNA-HANSEN GALLERY, LOS ANGE
The exhibition Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano 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.
|DELILAH MONTOYA, HUMANE BORDERS WATER STATION, DIGITAL PRINT, 14 X 31, COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND CORREIA GALLERY, SANTA MONICA|
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 “re-dedicating” 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. on New York City’s Fifth Avenue selling hand-scrawled cardboard signs with messages such as “Mexican wallpaper” or “Looking for Upper East side Lady with nice clean apt. (must have cable).”
Other artists, whose work is more studio-based, repurpose and transform familiar objects or artistic styles into unexpected new ones, often with provocative effect. These artists explore the intersection of divergent experiences, perceptions, traditions, and value systems. Shizu Saldamando appropriates paño arte (a genre of prison art in which inmates draw stylized ballpoint pen portraits of family members and girlfriends on cotton handkerchiefs) to make portraits of alternative music stars. Margarita Cabrera engages issues of the Mexican-American border in her cacti sculptures, which at first glance appear to be varieties of potted succulents but on closer inspection reveal themselves to be simulations, made of fabric recycled from actual uniforms of United States Border Patrol agents. In the breaks, Juan Capistran made photographs of himself break-dancing on what appears to be a Carl Andre minimalist floor sculpture, subsuming the object’s “high art” pedigree to Capistran’s own engagement of a vernacular art form.
Another prominent strategy among the artists in the show involves the creation of improbable hybrids or objects whose identity is forever shifting and in flux, drawing upon diverse, sometimes divergent, cultural sources. Rubén Ortiz-Torres’s high-finish paintings made with Kameleon Kolors™—an iridescent paint popular among custom car enthusiasts—actually appear to change color as the viewer moves by them; his camouflage paintings continue the theme of uncertain or indeterminate identity. In one and the same, Adrian Esparza unravels the woven yarn of a traditional Mexican serape and reforms part of it as an abstract composition reminiscent of conceptual artist Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings; the resulting object has a dual nature, rooted equally in highly divergent cultural sources. A more psychological orientation informs the hybridizing art of Carlee Fernandez, who poses herself together with photographs of men who have been intellectually or emotionally formative in her own personal history—artists, writers, her father—positioning their images so that she appears to be merging with them.
Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement will feature 31 artists and 120 works, including paintings, sculpture, installation, video, performance, and photo-based art, and intermedia works that incorporate film, digital imagery, and sound—a number of them newly commissioned for the show. This presentation is accompanied by a 240-page catalog featuring principle essays by the exhibition’s three curators, individual artist entries, and a quasi-satiric “alternative” chronology of Chicano history by exhibition artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres and filmmaker Jim Mendiola. After the exhibit’s premiere showing at LACMA, a tour is tentatively planned to the Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City (October-December 2008), El Museo del Barrio and The Americas Society in New York (March-May 2009), and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston (summer 2009).
Featured in April 2005