LACMA's Phantom Sightings pt. 2

As you can read below I was at the April 2nd opening night of Phantom Sightings: Art After The Chicano Movement. I was also at the Saturday April 5th symposium titled Phantom Sites: Rethinking Identity and Place in Contemporary Art. I returned last Friday to check out the show at a casual pace and I have tried to read all the reviews, about the show which have been compiled by Harry Gamboa Jr.

A couple of issues that keep arising are the subtitle: Art after the Chicano Movement, and thus 'What then is Chicano Art?'

Some of the reviews have been gentle, others searing with their words, not about the art per se, but the spirit and thus the curatorial framework which aims to present art by Chicanos who don't necessarily see themselves as Chicano. This leads to a lot of questions as to why then even call it Chicano art?

In discussions at the symposium, about the symposium and in the hallways of the collective mental barrio, other questions or snipes have emerged such as: 'After the Chicano Movement? I didn't know it was over?' or 'What is this talk about post-Chicano, or post-race? Sounds like an Obama campaign tactic on the loose.' (I like that one in particular.)

I asked one of the panelists, after the symposium, out on the lawn, "Why did they think the curators left out any art that referenced the Zapatistas or indigenismo? Surely these two have influenced a lot of art and artists 'after the movement.' "

They claimed, without a pause, that it was not conceptual art and that it was claiming a lineage. (I'm using 'they' to hide their identity. They are well versed in the art world, I respect them, they were on the panel, I know they weren't one of the curators, but their opinion still matters.)

I replied with, "To be born in Boyle Heights, and to never have spent a moment in the Lancandon jungle, but still claim to support and be inspired by the lives of the Zapatistas is totally conceptual. As far as lineage, are you saying that an indigenous lineage, which has its own language, cosmology and theories behind it, isn't a valid lineage for this show? Does art have to follow a German abstract, plastic based, Dadist lineage to be considered?"

They couldn't say anything to that. I still want that answered from someone, por favor.

Overall I believe that this is another example of the institutionalization of Chicanos. Chicana/o Studies Depts. have become fairly institutionalized, concerning themselves too much with tenure, theories, funding and not offending the others. Many departments have sheepishly agreed or initiated changing the name to Latino Studies or falling under the Ethnic Studies umbrella. I know I am at the Chicana/o bubble that is CSUN, but wasn't it the original goal of all these programs and centers to become their own single standing full blown department like we have at CSUN? And not to cave in and become part of the system while settling for less?

We are part of the system at CSUN too, its not liberated Aztlan over there. We recognize there are students and faculty that would like to move into a post-Chicano world, but we ask "Have the issues that forced us to take a stand 30 plus years ago been eliminated? Have we stopped dropping out of sub par schools? Have we stopped being forced into a life and death in a military fighting an unjust war? Are our people who are crossing the border being treated like humans? Just because Raza are the majority in the LAPD, are we being treated any better? Does our brown mayor really work for us, or for the big money in the city?" How can we be post-Chicano or post-Race if the problems and issues are still with us and in some cases stronger and worse today than before?

I think our MFAs, BAs, MAs and PhDs are blinding us and making us think that since me and mine got ours it must be all good in the 'hood. This art show is in a sense a result of the success of Chicana/o Studies. We got a lot of peeps into college and got them degrees, we just didn't think it would look like this.

At the symposium one of the panelists said "This art is for people that go to galleries and get all the references." OK then. So this art is geared to an art educated audience? Fine.

When I told my students they could get extra credit for going to this show I told them that they would see stuff that would make them think "That is considered art?"

I told them (they are all writing students) "When you think that, look for the description. It will be a paragraph somewhere near the piece. Try to read it. I know it may be confusing. It was written for curators and people who study art. That paragraph makes it art. If you can learn to write so only a few educated people will understand you, then you can make a lot of money putting stuff up in galleries that most people will go: 'That is considered art?'"

I'm sorry if that offends anyone.

In my first Chicano Studies class at CSUN I had Dr. Rudy Acu~a as my first teacher, my first day of school. He said that first day, "We are here to learn. We are here to learn to love to learn. We are here to learn not only what they want us to learn, but as Chicanos we have to learn about ourselves and our history. Once we learn everything we can, we need to be able to go back to our grandmother, who crossed the border to have your mom or dad be born here, and be able to explain to her what you learned and why it is important. If you can't explain what you know to your grandma, or your community, and have her or them understand its importance, then you really didn't learn anything important." I take that to the heart.

On Sunday May 4th Chicano artist Harry Gamboa Jr. and Sandra de la Loza will have a conversation about this much discussed show at LACMA's Brown auditorium. I can't wait to hear what he has to say about this show which features him so prominently. I know he won't let us down. He won't let us keep trying to make phantoms of ourselves.

Post Script:

Just got this email about this event featuring 2 of the curators of the show. This should be an informative evening that settles a lot of questions.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 7:00 pm
Please join us for a special LECTURE at the Hammer
Curating Race: A Conversation on Curating Ethnically Specific Exhibitions

Moderated by Chon Noriega, Director of the CSRC, Professor, UCLA Dept.
of Film, Television, and Digital Media; and Adjunct Curator at the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on the occasion of One Way or
Another: Asian American Art Now at the Japanese American National Museum
(JANM) and Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement (LACMA).

With Malik Gaines, Independent writer and performer; adjunct curator at
LA ART; Rita Gonzalez, assistant curator, Special Exhibitions, LACMA;
and Karin Higa, adjunct senior curator at Art, JANM.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 7:00 pm

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024

(Located at the northeast corner of Westwood and Wilshire Blvds. in
Westwood Village, 3 blks. east of the 405 freewayĆ¢€™s Wilshire Blvd. exit.
Parking available for $3 under the museum for the first 3 hours).

This lecture is free and open to the public.

For more information: www.hammer.ucla.edu
or (310) 443-7000


cindylu said...

Great post! You articulated a lot of my thoughts on it quite well. I think the title was one thing that bugged me. I don't know how you can say the movement is over when you have a million people marching in the streets for humane immigration policies.

I went through the exhibit kinda quick. The installations made me go "huh," but some of the other pieces were what I liked about Chicano art (as I think about it): that connection to our history, reality, whatever...

tacosam said...

Great post. I would like to go see the show.

Sadly, I think the Chicano Movement is over. When I think of the Chicano Movement, I think of the 70's. Heck, hardly anyone I know uses the word Chicano. They don't use Mexican-American or Hispanic either. Everyone has migrated over to "Latino", at least in SoCal.

We still have so many problems facing our community, like lack of education and poverty. I wish there was a Chicano Movement still going on.

Pachuco 3000 said...

Thanks. The movement is not over its just more bilingual than before. I liked a vast majority of the art, very smart, witty, deep, thoughtful. Yet some were just trying to hard to be same old - same old conceptual art, no spice, no funk, no flavor, just conceptual art.

Tacosam: Last night I saw a comedy show on TV and a black and a white comedian both referenced 'Chicanos.' But not the Chicanos.
Maybe a lot of Chicanos swung over to Latino, but if we realized how many Chicanos there are and how many Latinos are potential Chicanos, maybe the term will come into vogue again.
Then we might stand up and demand the changes we ALL know we need to have.
Obviously being Hispanics and Latinos have had us slip further back than when we were Chicanos.

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Gustavo Arellano said...

Oh, to have the problems that Mexican intellectuals have in Los Angeles! While you folks fret about Chicano, post-Chicano, and what a show at LACMA highlighting various raza artists "means," us in Orange County get idiot councilmembers who want to paint over our few Chicano murals. Not to mention all those nasty Minutemen...

My thought on Chicanismo: the Chicano movement lives; Chicano identity is long-gone--and if you don't believe me, ask your typical California high school student of Mexican descent what they are.

Pachuco 3000 said...

I know we sound petty, but the battles happen on many fronts.
I hope you get to keep your murals, they will hopefully awaken some of those 'average' students from their slumber. I don't worry about 'average.' Average don't even read your words nor mine. Average in America is illiterate, overweight, prone to materialism, immediate gratification and on medication. I know our MEChA here at CSUN hosted over 700 high school students at their annual La Raza Youth Conference. The largest Youth Conference in Aztlan. None of them are average, all of them Chicano. These are the ones we need to keep fighting for, on all the fronts that emerge. See on the front lines homie.