Search: Shifra Goldman

Oct 9th unveiling of L.A. Siqueiros Mural

Black and white detail from the 1932 "América Tropical" mural by Siqueiros.

Black & white detail from the 1932 América Tropical mural by Siqueiros. "City fathers immediately censored the artwork because of its anti-imperialist sentiments".

I am thrilled to announce the October 9, 2012 public unveiling of David Alfaro Siqueiros’ fully preserved 1932 mural América Tropical, at the site of the mural’s original location, a rooftop wall at the Italian Hall located on Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street.

Concurrent with the unveiling of the mural will be the official public opening of Olvera Street’s América Tropical Interpretive Center.

October 9th will be a momentous occasion for the arts community and the people of L.A., as well as a significant event for people around the world… since it represents a victory for artistic freedom over the forces of reaction and censorship.

If any one person can be credited for bringing about the preservation of América Tropical, it would be the art historian Shifra M. Goldman (1926-2011), who almost single-handedly waged a campaign to save the Siqueiros mural starting in 1968. She even approached Siqueiros in 1972 with a proposal to recreate a modified version of the mural, a plan the artist agreed to but never completed due to his death in 1974 at the age of 78. Certainly the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and all of its dedicated staff must be applauded for their massive efforts in saving and preserving the mural. I believe the preservation of the Siqueiros mural represents one of the GCI’s finest hours, and their keen efforts will add to the deep and meaningful history of Los Angeles.

The director of the GCI, Tim Whalen, said this of the upcoming unveiling, “Providing public access to América Tropical has been central to this project. From the Getty Conservation Institute’s initial involvement in 1988, it has been a persistent advocate for the conservation of the mural, and the construction of the shelter, and a public viewing platform. We are so pleased to bring América Tropical back to the people of Los Angeles.”

There are many others too numerous to credit by name for helping to bring América Tropical back to life, but the most important factor behind the renovation of the mural is the countless numbers of people who refused to forget the mural and its destruction by a coat of whitewash ordered by city authorities in 1932. As a child my parents took me to Olvera Street on numerous occasions in the late 1950s, where my mother told me the story of the whitewashed mural. It was a tale I did not fully understand until the late 1960s, when Chicano movement activists began to rediscover the works of Siqueiros and other Mexican social realist artists, pointing to L.A.’s América Tropical as a symbol of what Chicanarte (Chicano art) could achieve… if only the will could be found. One can easily say that L.A.’s much heralded mural movement actually started when David Alfaro Siqueiros painted his contentious Olvera Street mural.

I must add that the Los Angeles based organization, Amigos de Siqueiros (Friends of Siqueiros), has played a crucial role in the mural preservation project. I was inducted into the group, and now proudly sit on its Board of Directors. Amigos de Siqueiros has as its mission, the protection, conservation, and promotion of América Tropical and the long-term stewardship of the mural, as well as to advance the legacy of Siqueiros. In my capacity as a member of the Board of Directors of Amigos de Siqueiros, I invite people everywhere to come to Olvera Street on October 9, 2012, to join in the historic unveiling and celebration. In 2002 I attended the public unveiling ceremony the Santa Barbara Museum of Art held for its Siqueiros mural, Retrato del Mexico de hoy: 1932 (Portrait of Mexico Today: 1932), thousands attended the event. The América Tropical unveiling will no doubt attract as large, if not a greater crowd of enthusiastic art lovers.

The Getty Conservation Institute has published press releases in English and Spanish, announcing the Oct. 9th unveiling, as well as a number of other public events coordinated with Amigos de Siqueiros; from movie screenings and speakers forums to symposiums and a tour of Eastside Los Angeles murals. The entire schedule of events are listed in the GCI press releases.

The village that became the modern City of Los Angeles now has a new wrinkle in its complex history. El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (The Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels), was the settlement founded in 1781 by Spanish colonizers; it became the largest city of Mexico’s Alta California after Mexico won its independence from Spain. The municipality was seized by Americans when they invaded Mexico during the American war on Mexico (1846-48), taking 55% of Mexico’s territory under the spurious postwar “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo“. In the late 20th century Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros painted his América Tropical on a wall in El Pueblo; city fathers immediately censored the artwork because of its anti-imperialist sentiments. In early 21st century Los Angeles the mural returns as a ghost image to remind us all of the folly and transient nature of empire.

América Tropical is not just a faded mural brought back to life, it is a distillation of experiences lived on both sides of the U.S./ Mexico border. It is a collaboration between a master Mexican artist and his “Bloc of Painters” - those 29 U.S. artists that helped paint the Olvera Street mural; the mural is a fusion of cultures and histories, and a sign-post for the way forward in art. It is a consummate example of social realism, that socially engaged school of art that flourished in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe during the years of the Great Depression. Siqueiros and his associates confronted the world crisis of their day through their art, and now artists once again face a global crisis of unparalleled dimension. Perhaps the rebirth of América Tropical will help spark a resurgent social realism for the 21st century…  that just might be the real legacy of Siqueiros.

The public unveiling of América Tropical and the opening of the América Tropical Interpretive Center will occur at noon on Tuesday, October 9, 2012. The ceremony takes place at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Sepulveda House, 125 Paseo de la Plaza, in downtown L.A.

¡Shifra Goldman - Presente!

 Shifra Goldman in her library. Photographer unknown.

Shifra Goldman in her library. Photographer unknown.

Visionary social art historian Dr. Shifra M. Goldman died on the afternoon of September 11, 2011. She was an arts advocate, activist, researcher, critic, and author who dedicated her considerable energy and intellectual prowess in advancing an understanding of Chicano, Mexican, and Latin American art. I learned much from her extensive writings, and over the years I was privileged to meet with her on several occasions, encounters that always resulted in the liveliest conversations pertaining to socially conscious art and the role of the artist in society.

I was fortunate to first meet Shifra at an exhibition of political art I curated in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics. One controversial Mexican woodcut print I had on display was not signed or otherwise identified; I had no idea who had created the artwork, so I credited it in the exhibit, as well as on the flyer announcement for the show, as having been created by an “anonymous artist” (that flyer is now in the museum exhibit, Peace Press Graphics). One day Shifra attended my ‘84 Olympics exhibit, noticed the “anonymous” print, and proceeded to give me an hour-long intensive lecture on the life and times of Adolfo Mexiac (Meh-she-ack), the artist who in 1954 created the original woodcut print. This initial encounter with Shifra left me with a lasting impression of her towering intellect and profound enthusiasm for the arts.

Shifra’s acquired knowledge and expertise in her field was truly encyclopedic, but she was also a passionate advocate for the art she was so well versed in. I recall a conversation we had in 2002 concerning Frida Kahlo, the discussion taking place when the Frida Kahlo movie starring Salma Hayek was playing in U.S. movie houses. The film’s popularity resulted in Shifra suddenly becoming inundated with inquiries about Kahlo, and she told me, “I am sick of hearing about Frida Kahlo!” She had a substantive complaint; while Kahlo was transformed into a celebrity pop idol of sorts, her contemporaries, the remarkable Mexican women artists that worked in the same time frame, have all but been forgotten outside of small artistic circles in Mexico.

It was Shifra who told me about Aurora Reyes Flores, the first Mexican woman to paint a mural; Shifra instructed me regarding the works of Celia Calderón, Elena Huerta, Rina Lazo, Sarah Jimenez, Isabel Villaseñor, and a host of other incredible artists who have virtually no name recognition in the U.S. That was Shifra Goldman… ceaselessly excavating around the periphery, forever discovering hidden riches, and tirelessly sharing her treasure trove of findings with the world. Her passing is an irrevocable loss for us all, but she left her beloved community fortunes beyond imagination - the wisdom to be found in her scholarly books and articles. As long as there are people who read Shifra’s studious works, her spirit will be with us.

[The following obituary for Shifra was written by Carol A. Wells, the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, using information from an unpublished interview with Shifra Goldman done in 1992, material from the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives, and information provided by Yreina Cervantez, Kathy Gallegos, Sybil Venegas, and Shifra’s son and daughter-in-law Eric Garcia and Trisha Dexter].

“I was never in the mainstream, never in all my life. I was born on the margins, lived on the margins, and have always sympathized with the margins. They make a lot more sense to me than the mainstream.” - Shifra M. Goldman, September 1992

Shifra Goldman (1926-2011), a pioneer in the study of Latin American and Chicana/o Art, and a social art historian, died in Los Angeles on September 11, 2011, from Alzheimer’s disease. She was 85. Professor Goldman taught art history in the Los Angeles area for over 20 years. She was a prolific writer and an activist for Chicana/o and Latino Art. In Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin America and the United States, one of her award winning publications, she stated that part of her life’s work was to “deflect and correct the stereotypes, distortions, and Eurocentric misunderstandings that have plagued all serious approaches to Latino Art history since the 50s.”

Born and raised in New York by Russian immigrant parents, art and politics were central to her entire life. Goldman’s mother was a political activist and her father, a trade unionist. She attended the High School of Music and Art in New York, and entered the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a studio art major when her family moved to Los Angeles in the 1940’s. As an undergraduate, she was active in the student boycott against the barbers in Westwood who refused to cut the hair of the Black Veterans entering UCLA on the GI bill following the Second World War.

After leaving UCLA, she went to work with Bert Corona and the Civil Rights Congress, a national organization working to stop police brutality against African and Mexican Americans, and the deportations of Mexicans and foreign born political activists. Living in East Los Angeles, Goldman learned Spanish and became immersed in Mexican and Chicana/o culture. In the 1950’s, during the repression of the Cold War, Goldman was subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Two decades later, she lost her first college teaching job because a background check revealed that she had been called before HUAC.

In the 1960’s, after supporting herself and her son, Eric, as a bookkeeper for fifteen years, Goldman returned to UCLA to complete her B.A. in art. After receiving her M.A. in art history from California State University, Los Angeles (CSLA), she entered the Ph.D program at UCLA where she ran headlong into Eurocentrism when she was unable to find a chair for her doctoral committee because her topic of choice was modern Mexican art. Goldman refused to choose a more mainstream topic, and waited several years until a new faculty member finally agreed to work with her. Her dissertation was published as Contemporary Mexican Painting in a Time of Change by University of Texas Press in 1981, and republished in Mexico in 1989.  She also initiated and co-authored the bibliography and theoretical essay, Arte Chicano: A Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Chicano Art, 1965-1981 (1985) with Dr.Tomás Ybarra-Frausto.

Professor Goldman taught her first class in Mexican Art in 1966, possibly the only one given at that time in all of California. She later went on to a full time teaching position in art history at Santa Ana College where she taught courses in Mexican Pre-Colombian, Modern and Chicano Art for 21 years. She was one of the organizers for the Vietnam Peace Tower in 1966. Goldman also co-founded the Los Angeles chapter of Artists Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America, in 1983, and was instrumental in bringing solidarity with the Central American struggle to the Los Angeles community.

In 1968, she began the campaign to preserve the 1932 Siqueiros mural in Olvera Street, and in 1971 approached Siqueiros for a new mural derived from the original. According to the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA), he agreed but the plan was thwarted by the artist’s death in 1974. His last mural in Los Angeles, Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932, was restored and moved to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California with Goldman’s advice and assistance.

Goldman has published and lectured in Europe, Latin America and the United States. In 1994 she became a Research Associate with the Latin American Center at UCLA and taught art history there. Goldman is also Professor Emeritus from Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, CA. In February 1992, she received the College Art Association’s (CAA) Frank Jewett Mather Award for distinction in art criticism and, in February 1993, an award from the Women’s Caucus for Art for outstanding achievement in the visual arts. She was elected to the board of the CAA, 1995-1999. In 1996 she received the “Historian of the Lions” award from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

The Shifra Goldman Papers, including her slides, books, and videos are part of the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her extensive Chicano poster and print collection is at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles. She will be remembered for her important contributions to Latin American Art scholarship and for her seminal work in Chicano/a Art History and support of the Chicano/a art community.

Professor Goldman is survived by her son Eric Garcia, daughter-in-law Trisha Dexter, and grandson Ian of Los Angeles.  In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Avenue 50 Studio [www.avenue50studio.com], Center for the Study of Political Graphics [www.politicalgraphics.org] and/or Tropico de Nopal [www.tropicodenopal.com]. A memorial for Ms. Goldman will be held at 2 p.m. on October 15 at the Professional Musicians Local 47, 817 Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90038.

Siqueiros: Confronting Revolution & Censorship Defied

This article will address two recent events in Los Angeles having to do with the Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, the September 18, 2010 panel discussion A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, that took place at the Center For The Arts in Eagle Rock, California, and the recently opened Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park. I was a participating panelist in A Print Dialogue, and I attended the Members Opening Reception for the Autry exhibit the day before the show opened to the public.

The Sept. 18, 2010 panel discussion, "A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts," at the Center For The Arts in Eagle Rock, California.

The Sept. 18, 2010 panel discussion, "A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts," at the Center For The Arts in Eagle Rock. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe ©

It was indeed an honor to have been a participant in the panel discussion A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, an event organized by the José Vera Gallery and sponsored by the Autry Museum.

The panel discussion was moderated by the Senior curator for the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Cynthia MacMullin.

Running through October 27, 2010, the José Vera Gallery is currently presenting Confronting Revolution: A Siqueiros Aesthetic, a stunning exhibition of prints by the revolutionary artist that set the context for the Print Dialogue panel discussion.

 Muralist Wayne Alaniz Healy and artist Luis Ituarte. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe ©

Muralist Wayne Alaniz Healy and artist Luis Ituarte. Photo Jeannine Thorpe ©

My fellow panelists and esteemed colleagues, muralist Wayne Alaniz Healy, independent curator Lynn La Bate, artist Luis Ituarte, and art historian Dr. Catha Paquette, helped to make the round-table discussion lively and informative. This post will include a rough transcript of my presentation at the round-table discussion, but first I would like to offer a brief review of the event.

Over 100 people filled the Center For The Arts, which is located in the beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival style structure that was first constructed in 1914 as the Carnegie Library Building; the classic mission architecture of the center provided the perfect venue for the evening’s dialogue. The proceedings were videotaped by filmmaker Jose Luis Sedano, who has been diligently filming events leading up to the unveiling of the Siqueiros América Tropical Mural And Interpretive Center now under construction. I might add that the Autry’s Tessie Borden has published an informative article about the round-table talk, which can be read on the Autry’s Trading Posts web log.

From left to right: Dr. Catha Paquette, independent curator Lynn La Bate, and Cynthia MacMullin of MOLAA. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe ©

From left to right: Dr. Catha Paquette, independent curator Lynn La Bate, and Cynthia MacMullin of MOLAA. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe ©

There is much renewed interest in Siqueiros, no doubt because of the flurry of activity around his Olvera Street mural. Most people think of Siqueiros as a muralist, but he was also a master printmaker.

The panel discussion, and the exhibit at the José Vera Gallery, were designed to inform people of that fact. Art historian Dr. Catha Paquette and independent curator Lynn La Bate began the program with a scholarly look at the life and works of Siqueiros. Their separate presentations were thorough and exhaustive, covering many aspects of the artist’s philosophy, working methods, and place in art history. Still, I was amused by the wholly academic question broached by Paquette and La Bate, and taken up by members of the audience, as to whether the works of Siqueiros belonged to the Western “canon of art,” a matter the artist would no doubt have dismissed as bourgeois. The only “cannon” of interest to Siqueiros was the one pointed at the capitalist power structure. He said of his América Tropical mural;

“It is eloquent proof of how the intrinsic work of art respective to the current moment can be uniquely of revolutionary conviction. It is an eloquent display of the superiority of the collective work of democratic art in action over the wretchedly small efforts of the individual. It is the emergence of an expressive vehicle requiring monumental murals in the open air, facing the sun, facing the street - for the masses. It is a technical forecast of a near future’s art - the art of a new communist society.”

If Siqueiros has a place in the Western canon of art, it is in that long established branch were the “human condition” and the state of society have served as themes for artists. Dr. Paquette and La Bate (who by the way co-curated the Autry Siqueiros exhibit), used the term “social realist” to describe the art of Siqueiros, making the false assumption that the term would be readily understood by the audience.

Dr. Catha Paquette and a projected image of Siqueiros. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe ©

Dr. Catha Paquette and a projected image of Siqueiros. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe ©

As the term “social realism” had been bandied about, when my turn to lecture arrived I strayed from my prepared statement to give a brief history of the school, noting that; “in the 1930s there were three great schools of social realism, in America, in Germany before the rise of fascism, and in Mexico, each made enormous contributions to the history of art - but tonight I am called upon to talk about Siqueiros and the Mexican school.” I pointed out that social realism could be traced to “that first modern painter, Francisco Goya,” and it could later be found “in the works of Honoré Daumier,” but “the modern school of social realism as we know it today, began in New York in the year 1908.”

I then gave a brief but comprehensive description of the “Apostles of Ugliness,” those eight American painters who in 1908 defied the art world by painting the poor, immigrant, and working class populations living in New York slums. Social realism, I said, “is in fact a profoundly American school of art… and by ‘American’ I mean the land that extends from the tip of Argentina to the streets of L.A. and beyond.” I noted that social realism “is any art form that brings attention to the working masses and the poor, with the intention of provoking critical thought that leads to reformist or revolutionary action.”

[The rest of the commentary is a rough translation of my talk lifted from my prepared notes:]

"The Echo of a Scream." Siqueiros. 1937. Pyroxylin on panel.

"The Echo of a Scream." Siqueiros. 1937. Pyroxylin on panel.

“I first stumbled upon the art of Siqueiros in the early 1960s when I was around 10-years-old. That initial encounter was with this nightmare of a painting, The Echo of a Scream. I had found a reproduction of the image and became transfixed by it. I struggled to comprehend its meaning, but the artwork only gave me the feeling that there was something truly menacing in our world that no one had bothered to tell me about.

Later on as teenager - when I began to study the works of Siqueiros in earnest - I discovered that he had been moved to paint this work in 1937 when the Japanese Imperial army bombed Shanghai, China. Siqueiros had loosely based his painting upon a news photograph of the carnage.

Much has been made of Siqueiros being opposed to easel painting, and his eschewing it in favor of the more democratic public art form of muralism. I believe this to be a misconstruing of the facts, exacerbated by the artist’s own lofty proclamations. In 1923, a number of left-wing artists formed the Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors, or El Sindicato (the union) as it was commonly referred to, and Siqueiros would write their first manifesto in December of that same year. It was co-signed by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and a number of others. I am going to read an excerpt from the manifesto, since it exemplifies the ideals of the Mexican school that Siqueiros held fast to his entire life;

‘To the indigenous races humiliated through the centuries; to the soldiers converted into hangmen by their chiefs; to the workers and peasants who are oppressed by the rich; and to the intellectuals who are not servile to the bourgeoisie:

We are with those who seek the overthrow of an old and inhuman system within which you, worker of the soil, produce riches for the overseer and politician, while you starve. Within which you, worker in the city, move the wheels of industries, weave the cloth, and create with your hands the modern comforts enjoyed by the parasites and prostitutes, while your own body is numb and cold. Within which you, Indian soldier, heroically abandon your land and give your life in the eternal hope of liberating your race from the degradations and misery of centuries.

Not only the noble labor but even the smallest manifestations of the material and spiritual vitality of our race spring from our native midst. Its admirable, exceptional, and peculiar ability to create beauty - the art of the Mexican people - is the highest and greatest spiritual expression of the world-tradition which constitutes our most valued heritage. It is great because it surges from the people; it is collective, and our own aesthetic aim is to socialize artistic expression, to destroy bourgeois individualism.

We repudiate the so-called easel art and all such art which springs from ultra-intellectual circles, for it is essentially aristocratic. We hail the monumental expression of art because such art is public property.

We proclaim that this being the moment of social transformation from a decrepit to a new order, the makers of beauty must invest their greatest efforts in the aim of materializing an art valuable to the people, and our supreme objective in art, which is today an expression for individual pleasure - is to create beauty for all, beauty that enlightens and stirs to struggle.’

El Sindicato’s manifesto was widely distributed, and had considerable effect. Clearly, as Echo of a Scream amply proved, Siqueiros was able to create an easel painting imbued with radical populist ideals, so easel painting in and of itself was not the problem; the trouble was in the private ownership and commodification of art - a question that remains unresolved. In his pursuit of a democratic art form, Siqueiros turned to the world of print making.

 "New Democracy." Siqueiros. 1944. Pyroxylin on panel.

"New Democracy." Siqueiros. 1944. Pyroxylin on panel.

I am going to talk about a specific print that Siqueiros published in 1970, but first, it is necessary to examine one of his previous artworks - a mural that has a direct link to the print in question.

In 1944 Siqueiros painted this monumental allegorical mural depicting a female figure representing New Democracy (the name of the painting), bursting out of the earth’s crust. The work portrayed the impending victory of allied forces over the fascist armies of the Axis powers - but it also implied more. New Democracy carries the torch of liberty in one hand, and a flower of peace in the other.

The political and artistic impetus behind this mural was one and the same, the New Democracy painting was the product of what Siqueiros called the New Realism in aesthetics - a didactic art that would in the artist’s words “aim to become a fighting educative art for all.” In New Democracy Siqueiros painted a faceless Nazi soldier in death, his lifeless hands covered in blood; side panels (not shown) portrayed the victims of fascist brutality. But while victory over fascism is more than suggested in the mural, the artist described it as an incomplete triumph. New Democracy is still shackled by the heavy chains dangling from her wrists, and she struggles tremendously to wrest herself free from the living rock that imprisons her.

 "Heroic Voice" (Alternate title: Por La Raza). David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1970. Lithograph. 26 x 20 inches. In this print, Siqueiros depicts the slain acclaimed journalist Ruben Salazar.

"Heroic Voice" (Alternate title: Por La Raza). David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1970. Lithograph. 26 x 20 inches. In this print, Siqueiros depicts the slain acclaimed journalist Ruben Salazar.

Now we leap from the New Democracy mural of 1944, to the lithograph Siqueiros created in 1970. As many in the audience are aware, forty years ago up to 30,000 Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles marched against the Vietnam war in what was called the Chicano Moratorium - it was a massive protest that demanded an end to the war, but the community also had other grievances; putting an end to poverty, racism, and police brutality being high priorities. The huge march ended with a peaceful rally in Laguna Park.

The Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs responded to this unprecedented protest with extreme violence.

Officers attacked the crowded park using clubs and tear gas, protesters fought with their bare hands to defend the park - and the violence spiraled out of control. As the riot spread into the community, the police began using live ammunition against the protestors; they would kill four people that day - Angel Diaz, Lyn Ward, Gustav Montag, and Ruben Salazar.

Ruben Salazar was an award-winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and also the news director for the Spanish language KMEX television station. As such, he openly criticized the police for racist conduct in his columns - which did not endear him to the authorities.

This writer presenting the story behind the poster of Ruben Salazar by Siqueiros. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe ©

This writer presenting the story behind the poster of Ruben Salazar by Siqueiros. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe ©

On August 29, 1970, Salazar was covering the Chicano Moratorium for KMEX when the violent clashes broke out. He took refuge in the Silver Dollar Cafe on Whittier Boulevard. The L.A. County Sheriffs descended upon the cafe, and a deputy fired a 10-inch long metal tear gas projectile into the premises - it hit Salazar in the head and killed him. Forty years later, the police have still not released the files they possess on the subject of Salazar’s death. The Sheriff’s Dept. maintains that the killing was a “tragic accident,” but many in the community feel it was a “targeted assassination.”

Siqueiros responded to the state suppression of the Chicano Moratorium and the killing of Salazar with this lithograph print, which he titled; Heroic Voice (though its also known as “Por la Raza” - For the Race). It is not simply a portrait honoring the slain newsman, but a political statement with broad implications. In viewing this print, it should become obvious as to why I brought your attention to the New Democracy mural; Siqueiros merged the two images in his lithograph. Beneath the beaming face of the assassinated Salazar, New Democracy still struggles to free herself from bondage, her shackles still in place. The message of the print is unmistakable, the struggle against fascism continues.

Flowers for Ruben Salazar in front of the Silver Dollar cafe. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

Flowers for Salazar in front of the Silver Dollar cafe. Photo/Mark Vallen ©

I attended the 40th anniversary march and rally to commemorate the original Chicano Moratorium.

On August 28, 2010, up to 3,000 people marched to what is now called Ruben Salazar park - only this time the protest was against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I took this photograph in front of where the Silver Dollar Cafe used to stand. As the multitudes passed this spot - which bears no memorial plaque to Salazar - mounds of flowers were tossed upon the sidewalk to honor the slain journalist.”

[It was at this point in my address that I presented a projected image of my poster, No Human Being Is Illegal, pointing out that dozens of free copies where distributed at the 40th anniversary Chicano Moratorium march; while underscoring how the poster is a continuation of the socially engaged spirit of the Mexican School of social realism. My talk then concluded with the following:]

“Simón Bolívar led the Independence movement that crushed Spanish colonialism in South America. Envisioning a hemispheric confederation of the newly liberated countries, he said; ‘the name of our country is América.’ That vision in part guided the hand of Siqueiros, but he held a much larger conception of the world that rejected the divisions of class, nationality and ethnicity.

It has been said in some quarters, that history is written by the victorious. If that is so then the official histories of our continent have been penned by colonizers, imperialists, and oligarchs. However, history is also a people’s memory, and Siqueiros gave us the visual representations of that memory. He painted the other America, the one seen through the eyes of the indigenous, the downtrodden, the compesino, and the exploited urban workers.

Siqueiros and his associates in the Mexican School of social realism, confronted the world crisis of their day through their art. Contemporary artists face a social crisis of unparalleled dimension. We were given a preview of the ecological collapse that awaits us with the recent BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. is currently fighting wars overseas as millions of Americans loose their jobs and homes. The border of Mexico is being militarized, and nearly 30,000 Mexicans have been killed in the so-called ‘war on drugs.’ Postmodern art now dominates the international art scene with its detached, cynical, apolitical stance. Its casual indifference to the plight of humanity makes postmodernism a totally inappropriate art for today; it is time for a new social engagement on the part of artists.

I believe artists should embrace, study, and analyze the works of Siqueiros and the Mexican School, not for nostalgic reasons, or misled notions that the past can be superimposed on the present. We need to comprehend the motivations, triumphs, and errors of the Mexican School. With such an understanding, we will be that much closer to bringing about a new social realism for the 21st century.”

Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied

 Censorship Defied at the Autry National Center. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

Censorship Defied at the Autry National Center. Photo/Mark Vallen ©

Censorship Defied at the Autry National Center, is truly a must see, groundbreaking exhibition. I commend the Autry for mounting the show, and applaud curators Luis C. Garza and Lynn La Bate for their hard work and dedication in pulling off such a grand exhibit.

The show offers a multitude of interactive and informative digital displays, historic photographs and documents, ephemera such as old postcards, books, and flyers, and some stunning works created by American social realist artists from 1930’s Los Angeles, such as Edward Biberman and Millard Sheets - which provide much needed context for the story of Siqueiros in L.A.

The show also contains artworks by a number of Mexican social realists who worked with Siqueiros; José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and Luis Arenal. Of course the crowning works in Censorship Defied are by Siqueiros, and his print works are displayed along with a handful of his original paintings.

At the Opening Reception for Censorship Defied at the Autry National Center, a member views lithographs by Siqueiros. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

At the Opening Reception for Censorship Defied at the Autry National Center, a member views lithographs by Siqueiros. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

The opening portion of the exhibit is extremely powerful, with the initial artworks encountered a dizzying array of majestic prints by Siqueiros, Orozco, Rivera, Leopoldo Méndez, and Arenal. One hardly knows where to look first. Particularly riveting was the black and white lithograph by Luis Arenal depicting a gas-mask wearing soldier marching towards the viewer from out a cloud of poison gas; that faceless combatant thrusting his bayoneted rifle forward makes for a chilling image that could have been printed this very month.

There is much to be scrutinized in the first part of this show, so much so that a second trip to the exhibit is required to absorb it all. There is the 1930 print suite, Siqueiros: 13 Grabados, the small primitive woodcuts the artist made in a cell at the notorious Lecumberri prison after being given a six month sentence for participating in a May Day march, and there is a small but exquisite painting Siqueiros created in pyroxylin (which is essentially car lacquer). Titled Marcha Revolucionaria (Revolutionary March), the little painting packs all the power of one of the artist’s monumental works. It explodes with energy, and unusual for the artist, the work was painted on a sheet of copper as was the practice before the advent of stretched canvas.

At the Opening Reception for "Censorship Defied" at the Autry National Center. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

At the Opening Reception for "Censorship Defied" at the Autry National Center. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

While I have been aware of the paintings of Martin Charlot for a while, I had the pleasure of meeting him in person for the first time when giving my talk at the Center For The Arts in Eagle Rock. Martin is the son of Jean Charlot, who was a major figure in the Mexican muralist movement.

Jean Charlot’s 1933 color lithograph, Woman Standing with Child on Back, is included in the Autry exhibit. Diego Rivera credited Jean Charlot for having revived the art of frescoe mural painting, in fact it was Charlot who painted the very first frescoe mural in Mexico with socio/political content, his Massacre in the Great Temple, a 1923 wall painting in the Escuela Preparatoria of Mexico City depicting the crushing of the Aztec empire by invading Spanish Conquistadors.

Martin Charlot is a soft-spoken, unassuming fellow, and quite a remarkable painter, so it was a pleasure to walk through the Autry exhibit with him, stopping before some our favorite works to exchange comments. He brought my attention to Angels Flight, a familiar oil on canvas by Millard Sheets, telling me that it was his “favorite” work by the artist (Sheets was one of the assistants who helped Siqueiros paint the Worker’s Meeting mural at Chouinard Art School). Martin and I also stopped before a lithograph by Luis Arenal, Mujer de Tasco (Woman of Tasco), a beautifully drawn representation of an indigenous woman’s head. We were both struck by how Arenal’s lithograph resembled the work of the famed German artist, Käthe Kollwitz.

At the Opening Reception. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

At the Opening Reception. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

Another transcendent highlight for me that evening was meeting Eric Garcia and his family. Eric is the son of the celebrated social art historian and scholar, Shifra Goldman. In 1968 Ms. Goldman was responsible for initiating the campaign to preserve the Siqueiros mural, América Tropical. She was also instrumental in restoring and moving his last mural, Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932, to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California, where it now resides. To say that the presence of Goldman looms large in the circles that appreciate Siqueiros is an understatement. Tragically, Ms. Goldman has slipped into advanced Alzheimer’s and is no longer cognizant. Her once towering intellect has been wiped away, and we are the poorer for it.

I first met Ms. Goldman in 1984, and over the decades we continued to cross paths, never failing to have interesting conversations regarding the political dimensions of art. She believed, as I do, that art and politics are inseparable. She once told me that she would “never” lecture about Frida Kahlo, unless she could use such an occasion to inform her audience about Aurora Reyes Flores (Mexico’s first female muralist), and the “dozens of other women artists” who contributed so much to the greatness of Mexican art. Goldman could be irascible and confrontational, but rarely was she far from the truth.

When I asked Eric how he thought his mother would react to the Autry Siqueiros exhibit, he chuckled that “She would probably find something to loudly complain about.” Eric’s remark had a ring of truth about it - and not just because it was an accurate description of Shifra’s disposition. I have much more to say about the Autry’s Censorship Defied exhibition - including some criticisms - but for now I shall refrain from further comment and simply urge the reader to attend this most remarkable and historic exhibit. In the weeks to come this web log will be updated with further examinations of the show.

[Updates: Siqueiros exhibits, events, and links the reader may find useful]

Siqueiros Paisajista/ Siqueiros: Landscape Painter, is a blockbuster exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach, California. It is the first exhibit to present the fiery and volatile landscape paintings created by the Mexican muralist. Organized by the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil of Mexico City, which holds the largest collection of easel paintings by Siqueiros, the show runs until January 30, 2011.

Siqueiros & the Mexican School of Social Realism. Saturday, October 23, 2010. 6:30 p.m.
José Vera Gallery, Eagle Rock.
As part of the cultural programming surrounding their Siqueiros print exhibit, Confronting Revolution: A Siqueiros Aesthetic, Mark Vallen will present a multi-media lecture on the Mexican school of social realism and how it continues to be relevant in the 21st century.

David Alfaro Siqueiros & the “Bloc of Painters.” American Social Realism in the 1930s
Saturday, November 6, 2010. 6:30 p.m.
at the Mexican Cultural Institute, Olvera Street. When Siqueiros arrived in Los Angeles in 1932 he assembled what he called the “Bloc of Painters,” a group of American artists whose members assisted the Mexican muralist in painting three monumental wall paintings in L.A. Bloc members included Rubin Kadish, Harold Lehman, Fletcher Martin, Phil Paradise, Murray Hantman, Barse Miller, Paul Sample, Philip Guston, Millard Sheets, and many others. Who were the Bloc Painters and what contributions did they make to art and culture in the United States? By combining projected images with his lecture, Los Angeles artist Mark Vallen brings to light that buried history. Sponsored by the Amigos de Siqueiros.

Amigos de Siqueiros: works with the City of Los Angeles to protect, conserve and promote América Tropical and to create a venue where the works of the internationally renowned Mexican artist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, can be showcased.

Siqueiros: América Tropical Press Conference

Siqueiros: América Tropical – Event program for the March 31, 2010 presentation on the status of the Siqueiros Mural and Interpretive Center.

Siqueiros: América Tropical – Event program for the March 31, 2010 presentation on the status of the Siqueiros Mural and Interpretive Center.

The Mexican Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros completed his second Los Angeles mural, América Tropical, in 1932. Created on the rooftop of the Italian Hall building located on the city’s historic Olvera Street, the mural was formally presented to the public in an official unveiling that took place on the evening of October 9, 1932. Within six months the portion of the mural visible from the street was whitewashed by conservative city authorities because of the artwork’s political message – a searing attack on U.S. imperialism. Inside of a year the authorities obliterated the entire mural with whitewash. América Tropical has remained hidden from public view for the last 77 years – but that is about to change.

By invitation I attended the March 31, 2010, event at the Los Angeles Central Library’s Taper Auditorium, heralding the progress of the future David Alfaro Siqueiros América Tropical Mural And Interpretive Center. Sponsored by Amigos de Siqueiros, the city government of Los Angeles, and the Getty Conservation Institute, the event was the first opportunity for the public to learn the details regarding the upcoming $9 million visitor center – which is on the verge of being constructed. The event was attended by some 200 people, including foreign dignitaries, elected officials, museum staff, arts professionals, and members of the media. The program lasted nearly two hours and included several informative Powerpoint presentations about the future center.

Close to 200 people filled the Los Angeles Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium to hear the latest news on the status of the Siqueiros mural project. In this photo, Father Richard Estrada of Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Los Angeles, gives a benediction to open the event. Father Estrada blessed Siqueiros, and all artists who work for social justice. Photo/Mark Vallen ©.

Close to 200 people filled the Los Angeles Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium to hear the latest news on the status of the Siqueiros mural project. In this photo, Father Richard Estrada of Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Los Angeles, gives a benediction to open the event. Father Estrada blessed Siqueiros, and all artists who work for social justice. Photo/Mark Vallen ©.

The moderator for the evening was Armando Vazquez Ramos, co-chair of Amigos de Siqueiros, which has as its mission the conservation, protection, and promotion of the América Tropical mural.

Ramos briefly introduced a number of VIP’s in attendance, such as the Secretary of Culture for Mexico City, Elena Cepeda; the Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, Timothy P. Whalen; the Executive Director and Chief Curator at the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West, Jonathan Spaulding; as well as a delegation of staff members from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which houses the only intact U.S. mural by Siqueiros – Portrait of Mexico Today: 1932. After opening remarks by Ramos and fellow co-chair of Amigos, Dalila Sotelo, the two introduced Father Richard Estrada of Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Los Angeles, who gave a benediction that blessed Siqueiros and all artists who work for the people and social justice.

Los Angeles Councilmember José Luis Huizar of the 14th District of L.A., addressed the gathering of foreign dignitaries, politicians, museum staff, arts professionals, and members of the media. Photo/Mark Vallen ©.

Los Angeles Councilmember José Luis Huizar of the 14th District of L.A., addressed the gathering of foreign dignitaries, politicians, museum staff, arts professionals, and members of the media. Photo/Mark Vallen ©.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was scheduled to address the gathering but at the last minute could not attend. Consequently, following Father Estrada’s blessing, a representative spoke on the Mayor’s behalf. After assuring the audience of the Mayor’s full commitment to the Siqueiros mural project, she promised those gathered that by “the end of this summer, there will be a groundbreaking ceremony to start this project.”

Here I must note a statement that the Getty’s Timothy P. Whalen gave the press at the event, explaining that once there is a groundbreaking, it will take 18 to 24 months to complete the construction of the center, now scheduled to be finished by 2013.

The Mayor’s representative was followed by L.A. Councilmember José Luis Huizar of the 14th District, who delivered an address further confirming the city government’s devotion to seeing the Siqueiros mural project completed. He told those gathered that “We have to uncover this beautiful mural and show it to the world.” Following Councilmember Huizar was California State Assembly Member, Kevin De León, of the 45th Assembly District of Los Angeles.

Assemblyman De León told a humorous but heartfelt story about how he came to discover the América Tropical mural. Mr. De León has a friend with access to the Italian Hall, the building on Olvera Street where Siqueiros painted his mural on the exterior of the second floor rooftop. The friend kept telling De León about the rooftop mural by Siqueiros, but the Assemblyman simply did not believe the story. One day that friend arranged to have De León visit the Italian Hall, and upon entering the building and surveying the dust, disrepair, and general disorder of the historic site (which is presently closed to the public), De León became convinced his friend was playing a practical joke on him – until the two made their way to the rooftop.

When De León set his eyes upon the mural that he never knew existed, he was, in his own words, “blown away.” He described his discovery as a life changing experience, and ended his address by vowing to do everything within his means to see the Siqueiros Mural And Interpretive Center brought to completion. “América Tropical,” De León said “is a treasure we must preserve.”

In this 1933 photograph of Olvera Street, the whitewashed Siqueiros mural América Tropical, can be seen in the upper right half of the photo. The authorities whitewashed the part of the mural that could be seen from the street – which is seen here as a large blank space. City authorities later obliterated the entire mural with whitewash. Photo/Los Angeles Times archives.

In this 1933 photo of Olvera Street, the whitewashed Siqueiros mural América Tropical, can be seen in the upper right half of the photo. The authorities whitewashed the part of the mural that could be seen from the street – seen here as a large blank space. City authorities later obliterated the entire mural with whitewash. Photo/Los Angeles Times archives.

Assemblyman De León’s presentation wrapped up the formal statements issued by members of the city’s government, and the audience then began to receive details on the progress of the Mural And Interpretive Center project. I am certain that, as someone who has followed the story of América Tropical since the late 1960s, I was not alone in feeling a sense of astonishment that at long last the mural was actually being brought back to life; that its regeneration was backed by the City of Los Angeles and the prestigious Getty museum, and that the mural would rightly take its place as a major historic site for L.A. and for the international arts community.

Leslie Rainer, a conservator at the Getty Museum’s Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), was introduced, and her Powerpoint presentation ran through the history of the mural, with a focus on the GCI’s involvement in the mural’s preservation, which began in earnest in 1989. Rainer gave a step by step account of GCI efforts over the years; seismic retrofitting of the wall on which the masterwork is painted, the installment of rigid protection panels over the mural to shield it from the elements, the stabilizing of the mural with protective chemicals, and the analysis of the paints Siqueiros used in creating his mural. Here the artist left conservators a vexing challenge, and while Ms. Rainer did not go into those details, I will share the particulars as I understand them.

In his desire to use the most revolutionary techniques and materials, Siqueiros abandoned the time tested fresco mural technique of painting with water-based pigments on fresh lime plaster – the method fellow muralist Diego Rivera utilized. Siqueiros instead created his mural by painting on cement with automobile lacquer paint applied with a spray gun and brushes. Using a compressed air spray gun powered by a generator was something only Siqueiros had done in his previous works, likewise his use of pyroxylin, the aforementioned auto lacquer paint. A nitrocellulose based lacquer once used to paint cars; pyroxylin was the artist’s favored paint because of its intense pigmentation, rapid drying time, and tendency to produce startling effects when different colors were allowed to flow together.

While previous works by Siqueiros were created on masonite or other stable grounds given an underpainting of gray pyroxylin, América Tropical was painted by direct application of pyroxylin on a single layer of cement – and the two did not bond well; the pyroxylin immediately fixed on the cement surface instead of penetrating it. After some time the pyroxylin began cracking and pulling away from the cement, a process exacerbated by the whitewash coating. GCI conservators have exerted a great amount of energy in successfully arresting the degradation of the mural. They determined that a complete full-color restoration of the original mural would only destroy the integrity of the work, so it was decided to preserve the mural as it is – a ghost of its former appearance.

Ms. Rainer went on to recount how América Tropical became almost entirely lost to memory, until the late 1960s Chicano Power movement in L.A. rediscovered Siqueiros and his mural – which in large part inspired the Chicano Arts Movement. In 1968 the mural came to public attention simply because the whitewash had begun to peel off, exposing tantalizing bits of the long forgotten artwork. Rainer told how in that year Shifra Goldman made photographic documentation of the devastated mural, kicking off a campaign to preserve América Tropical as well as providing impetus to the Chicano Arts Movement. Ms. Goldman has been a pioneer in the study of modern Latin American art, and it is hard to imagine this area of research without her scholarship and fortitude.

View from Main Street – Pugh + Scarpa Architects. Watercolor. In this artist’s conception of the future Mural and Interpretive Center, the Siqueiros mural is located on the rooftop pictured at far left. This would be the view from Main Street, parallel to the foot traffic area of Olvera Street.

View from Main Street – Pugh + Scarpa Architects. Watercolor. In this artist’s concept of the Mural and Interpretive Center, the Siqueiros mural is located on the rooftop pictured at left. This would be the view from Main Street, parallel to the foot traffic area of Olvera Street.

After Ms. Rainer’s presentation, Gwynne Pugh, the principal and co-founder of Pugh + Scarpa Architects, gave a Powerpoint presentation that was a project overview on architectural matters.

Pugh walked the audience through the floor plans and blueprints for the Interpretive Center, providing great insight into its engineering and structural designs. The center’s two thousand square feet of galleries will include a rooftop viewing platform, where people will be able to view the mural. Following Mr. Pugh’s talk was Thomas Hartman’s presentation. President of IQ Magic, a firm involved in interactive exhibits and displays for museums, Mr. Hartman lectured on a range of topics related to the mural. He described how the various rooms in the Mural Interpretive Center will look and function, using his Powerpoint display to provide digital graphics and artist’s concept drawings to illustrate his firm’s vision and goals for the center.

Perspective Looking Toward Entry – Pugh + Scarpa Architects. Digital illustration. In this artist’s concept, the entry room of Mural and Interpretive Center is pictured.

Perspective Looking Toward Entry – IQ Magic. Digital illustration. In this artist’s concept, the entry room of the Siqueiros Mural and Interpretive Center is pictured.

Hartman described the two-story center as spacious and well lit by natural sunlight, with hand worked materials like field stone and yellow cedar wood commonly used throughout the building. He disclosed that the entryway to the center will be ceremonial in nature, giving the public a good idea of what the center contains, even if the upper floors are closed. A large photograph of Siqueiros will welcome visitors, and when they step into the ground floor entry room they will be faced with multiple wall plaques of text, artworks, and photographs that explain the museum’s concept and purpose. Not a true museum that displays original art and artifacts, the Mural Interpretive Center will instead provide educational and interactive displays that will inform, educate, and engage a wide and varied audience.

Projected Siqueiros Mural – Pugh + Scarpa Architects. Digital illustration. In this artist’s concept, one of the many proposed multi-media rooms in the Mural and Interpretive Center is pictured. In this particular room, a 30 ft. wide digital projection of the América Tropical mural will be displayed, along with other audio and visual materials.

Projected Siqueiros Mural – IQ Magic. Digital illustration. In this artist’s concept, one of the many proposed multi-media rooms in the Mural and Interpretive Center is pictured. In this room, a 30 ft. wide digital projection of the América Tropical mural will be displayed, along with other audio and visual materials.

Mr. Hartman described the various multi-media displays that will be central to the Mural Interpretive Center experience; projectors that will throw a 30 foot long full-color reproduction of the mural on an internal gallery wall, where that digital projection will be supplemented by other, smaller projections; details of the mural, photographs of the artist at work, and other images. Some displays will incorporate digital audio systems and speakers that when touched, will transmit audio files of spoken histories and narratives pertaining to the mural’s history.

Likewise, 30 inch flat screen computer monitors placed throughout the center will offer all types of information to viewers. Hartman emphasized the flexible nature of these proposed displays, noting that as technologies change and expand, older displays will easily be rotated out and replaced with updated versions.

Immersive Muralism – Pugh + Scarpa Architects. Digital illustration. In this artist’s concept, another proposed multi-media room in the Mural and Interpretive Center is pictured. This display would present audio/visual materials on Siqueiros' ideas regarding "immersive muralism," that is, murals that envelope viewers in architectural space, but also change appearance when viewed from various angles.

Immersive Muralism – IQ Magic. Digital illustration. In this artist’s concept, another proposed multi-media room in the Mural and Interpretive Center is pictured. This display would present audio/visual materials on Siqueiros' ideas regarding "immersive muralism," that is, murals that envelope viewers in architectural space, but also change appearance when viewed from various angles.

Mr. Hartman’s description of the rooftop viewing platform was most engrossing. Ultimately, visitors to the center will find themselves led to the roof, where they will gather on a special 240 square foot viewing platform placed adjacent to, but some 125 feet from the actual mural.

That space will protect the mural from those who will want to touch it, but it will also afford a clear and unobstructed full view of the mural. A specially designed canopy will stretch out above the mural for some thirty feet, protecting it from the harsh L.A. sun, and large perforated copper side screens will also serve the same purpose. The platform is designed to accommodate a steady stream of hundreds of viewers, who will be able to reach the rooftop by stairs or elevator.

In closing, Mr. Hartman invited those gathered to imagine what the original October 9, 1932 unveiling ceremony must have been like. It was, as he noted, “the event of the season,” and much of the city’s intellectual elites were in attendance; writers, artists, photographers, political activists – city politicians and mainstream media as well. Also in attendance that evening were members of the “Bloc of Painters,” those American artists who had assisted Siqueiros in the painting of América Tropical and his first L.A. mural, Mitin Obrero (”Worker’s Meeting” – painted at L.A.’s Chouinard School of Art in 1932). The Bloc included some twenty painters, including the likes of Millard Owen Sheets, Philip Guston, Barse Miller, Phil Paradise, Fletcher Martin, Harold Lehman, Reuben Kadish, and Luis Arenal. Hartman indicated that the accounts of some of the Bloc painters would be included in the center’s interactive displays.

In addition, Mr. Hartman mentioned that Dean Cornwell attended the public unveiling of América Tropical. Cornwell would be responsible for painting the 1933 monolithic mural series, California History, still located on the second floor interior rotunda of L.A.’s magnificent Central Library. Cornwell and Siqueiros both painted murals in L.A. that told the history of the Americas; with América Tropical Siqueiros told a story of imperialist expansion, colonialism, and resistance – Cornwell on the other hand painted a mural that extolled a benevolent and civilizing Western colonialism. The two visions could not have been further apart, needless to say Cornwell’s mural was enthusiastically supported by L.A.’s upstanding citizens and civic leaders, while Siqueiros’ work received a coat of whitewash. In truth the two artists had genial relations, in fact, Cornwell not only helped sponsor the Siqueiros mural, he assisted in its painting (In 1994 L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote about the two murals in his article, Two Murals, Two Histories. You can see a portion of Cornwell’s Central Library mural here).

The closing remarks of the program were given by Gregorio Luke, the former Director of the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach and currently the Executive Director of Amigos De Siqueiros. I have had my disagreements with Mr. Luke, and I made them public in June of 2007 when I wrote Chicano Artists Need Not Apply, a critique excoriating Luke for his “protracted refusal to exhibit or otherwise collaborate with Chicano/Mexican American artists” at MOLAA. Perhaps Luke has changed his ideas regarding Chicano artists, I am not certain, but his remarks at the L.A. Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium indicated an enlightened position – in fact, I found his lecture inspiring. Luke revealed an obvious passion for the works of Siqueiros, and he spoke with the animated gestures and energy of an old fashioned orator; he can really be quite engaging and persuasive, so Amigos De Siqueiros will no doubt benefit from his leadership.

Self-Portrait – David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1945. Pyroxylin on masonite. A reproduction of this painting will be one of the many reproductions of the artist’s works to be displayed at the Mural and Interpretive Center.

Self-Portrait – David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1945. Pyroxylin on masonite. A reproduction of this painting will be one of the many reproductions of the artist’s works to be displayed at the Mural and Interpretive Center.

Aside from his grand rhetoric in praise of maestro Siqueiros, Luke let loose a few salient remarks I found of great consequence. He divulged that he has been approached by Chicano artists who made it known that in part, they pursued art because of Siqueiros’ influence. I would place myself amongst this group. I discovered Siqueiros in 1968 when I was fifteen years old, and I do not hesitate to say that without his influence I would have been a very different artist. Luke also commended Siqueiros for his revolutionary activism on behalf of the downtrodden, noting that the artist made no distinction between painting and his political acts, to Siqueiros the two were seamlessly integrated. Observing that Siqueiros’ example provides today’s artists with a way forward, Luke chastised those who only want to “paint like the old masters of the past,” but he reserved his ire for today’s detached and indifferent crowd of postmodernists, “who are imprisoned by their own limitations” and “want to be so avant-garde that they become irrelevant to the people.”

Mr. Luke ended with a powerful assertion regarding the soon to be reborn América Tropical mural: “We will reverse an act of censorship, and provide inspiration for another, future revolution.” With that the event ended, but what transpired that evening will provide food for thought for months to come – at least until that promised end of summer groundbreaking for the David Alfaro Siqueiros América Tropical Mural And Interpretive Center.

I admit feeling an amused but wary skepticism regarding the whole affair. I can only imagine what Siqueiros, the implacable communist militant, would make of his legacy being blessed by a Catholic Father, warmly embraced by U.S. politicians, and enshrined by a major Yankee art museum. Oh, the contradictions! If Frida Kahlo had painted a mural in Los Angeles during the 1930s, the L.A. city government would have long ago wrapped it in an edifice designed by Frank Gehry. “Gringolandia” might wish to give Siqueiros the Frida Kahlo treatment, i.e., to turn him into a chic handbag or a trendy coffee table book, but the art of Siqueiros may prove difficult to commodify, since it directly speaks the urgent and uncompromising language of revolution. His works continue to be controversial, and goodness knows how we need a contentious and oppositional force in today’s art world – not to mention the rest of society.

I leave you with the inspired words of news reporter Don Ryan, who covered the original 1932 official unveiling of América Tropical in the October 11, 1932 edition of the L.A. Illustrated Daily News, Ryan wrote of that ceremony;

“This night that we are living seems to be fifty to one hundred years in the future. The artist Siqueiros, whom the federal authorities seem so anxious to deport, is without doubt a dangerous type; dangerous for all the snarling and pusillanimous spectators and retailers in art and life. The federal agents justly claim that his art is propaganda, for when the youth confront this gigantic dynamo that pounds in the night under the rain, or clamors boldly when the brilliant sun of midday shines in the plaza, they will possibly find it the inspiration to rise in rebellion in future revolution, in art and in life, exclaiming; ‘Off the road conservatives and old ones, here comes the future!’”

Both Sides of the Border: Update

Approximately 300 people showed up for the Nov. 19th opening of the group show, Both Sides of the Border, the premiere contemporary art exhibit at Carlotta’s Passion Fine Art gallery. As a participating artist in the exhibit I was thrilled to see such a large turn out, and over the course of the evening I talked to dozens of art lovers, artists, and other notables in L.A.’s vibrant Latino arts scene.

Excitement over the exhibition continues to grow, and the owner of the gallery, Mr. Robert Squires, informed me that camera crews from Telefutura/Univision will be at the gallery on Saturday the 26th to film the exhibit. Readers of this web log are encouraged to come to Carlotta’s Passion for the 2 pm filming - you’ll see some wonderful art and you just might get yourself on television. As an extra enticement to come to the gallery on Saturday - I have just published a Giclée print edition of Folklorista, one of the oil paintings I have on display at Carlotta’s Passion. The prints will be available for purchase for the first time at the Saturday filming, but if you can’t come by you can always purchase a print online.
Folklorista - Oil painting by Mark Vallen
[ Folklorista - Oil painting by Mark Vallen. Click here for
a larger image and more information on the painting ]
During the opening night artist’s reception, I was delighted to meet Sybil Venegas, art historian and co-curator of the just-concluded Mirando al Sur - Mirando al Norte exhibit at the art gallery of California State University of Northridge. Ms. Venegas and I talked for a short time about the inclination towards activism historically found in Chicano art, and she expressed great interest in my upcoming lecture on the subject to take place at Carlotta’s Passion. My talk, which includes a slide projector presentation of images, takes place on Fri., Dec. 16th at 8:00 pm - all are welcome to attend.
Art lovers viewing the works of Latin American masters on opening night
[ Art lovers viewing the works of Latin American masters on opening night ]
Interestingly enough, another special guest dropped in to see the show, a woman Ms. Venegas sited as a mentor and major influence - Dr. Shifra Goldman. Ms. Goldman is a renowned art historian specializing in modern Latin American and Chicano art, and the author of quite a few important books on the subject. It was a real pleasure to see her at the opening, as I’ve long admired Ms. Goldman’s scholarship. In our conversation she revealed to me that she’s working on publishing a new anthology of her essays - something aficionados of Latin American/Chicano artwork can definitely look forward to. In addition, I had the pleasure of meeting artist Diane Gamboa, who is also exhibiting works at Carlotta’s Passion. A mover and shaker in the Chicano arts movement since the 1970’s, Gamboa and I discussed another one of our shared interests - our having been active participants in the original 1977 L.A. punk rock explosion. We both agreed there is great interest in that period, and decided to discuss in the near future the possibility of some type of collaborative artistic project around the theme of punk.
Looking through the bin of fine prints at Carlotta's Passion
[ Looking through the bin of fine prints at Carlotta's Passion ]
All in all the opening was a tremendous success, and everyone who attended or participated in the exhibit shared the opinion that Carlotta’s Passion Fine Art gallery could become a leading art space in L.A. It is certain you’ll be reading more about Carlotta’s on this web log, as the gallery has some interesting shows planned for the months to come. In the meantime, check the gallery’s listings of scheduled events for the Both Sides of the Border show, and perhaps I’ll see you there.