Category: Siqueiros

Philip Stein at L.A.’s Gallery 1927

Philip Stein with David Alfaro Siqueiros in San Miguel, Mexico, 1948. That year Siqueiros started a mural workshop with assistants that included Stein, they painted an experimental mural at the Escuela de Bellas Artes located within the San Miguel de Allende convent. The mural remained unfinished due to lack of funds and the school's closure. Photographer unknown.

Philip Stein with David Alfaro Siqueiros in San Miguel, Mexico, 1948. That year Siqueiros started a mural workshop with assistants that included Stein, they painted an experimental mural at the Escuela de Bellas Artes located within the San Miguel de Allende convent. The mural remained unfinished due to lack of funds and the school's closure. Photographer unknown.

Blind Justice is a retrospective exhibit presenting the works of Estaño (a.k.a. Philip Stein, 1919-2009).

A figure in the American social realism school of the 1940s, Stein was also an assistant to the Mexican muralist painter, David Alfaro Siqueiros. In point of fact, Stein helped Siqueiros paint eleven of his most famous murals in Mexico City from 1948 to 1958.

When the two artists first met and collaborated in Mexico, Siqueiros had trouble pronouncing Stein’s name, and so gave him the nickname of Estaño (”Tin”).

I was fortunate to have befriended Philip Stein in 2003, and a year later I found myself building a website with him that served as an online portfolio of his works and accomplishments. Also in ‘04, I conducted an interview with Stein where he told me, “When an artist is having a problem in seriously seeking a meaningful basis for their artistic endeavors, they could consider it a stroke of good luck if they should stumble on to the Mexican Mural Movement.”

Philip Stein's watercolor portrait of two indigenous men from Chiapas, Mexico, circa 1948.

Philip Stein's watercolor portrait of two indigenous men from Chiapas, Mexico, circa 1948.

I continue to believe that Stein’s perceptive words regarding the Mexican Mural Movement are correct, not because I think the movement can, or should be, mechanically superimposed over our own time, but for the reason that the movement’s spirit is applicable to current conditions.

The 1930s-1940s school of Mexican social realism stood firm on the principles that art is not removed or separate from social reality, that art must confront the pressing issues of the day, and that art is not the plaything of the money bags, but the birthright and heritage of all.

The strong interest in the October 9, 2012 unveiling of América Tropical, the Olvera Street mural painted by Siqueiros on Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street, should have also brought renewed attention to the works of Stein.

Regrettably that has not been the case, even in death recognition seems to evade him, but why? There are serious conclusions to be drawn. Aside from the political apathy and unabating anti-communism found in the U.S., those who have paid any attention to Siqueiros and the Mexican school, have done so only through the prism of identity politics… they cannot see this art outside of the “Mexicanidad” or Chicano art context. Hence, Stein, a White American born in Newark, New Jersey, simply does not fit the narrative.

"Apocalypse." - Philip Stein. Acrylic on masonite. circa 1950s. An excerpt of a much larger painting, Stein's work captured the white hot fire of an atomic explosion. The artist was no doubt reacting to the development by the U.S. of the hydrogen bomb, or "H-bomb," in 1952.

"Apocalypse." - Philip Stein. Acrylic on masonite. circa 1950s. An excerpt of a larger painting, Stein's work captured the white hot fire of an atomic explosion. The artist was no doubt reacting to the development by the U.S. of the hydrogen bomb, or "H-bomb," in 1952.

The 1930s Mexican school of social realism was no different than the German or American schools of social realism that existed at the time. Though rooted in distinct cultural and national experiences, all of the artists associated with social realism possessed an egalitarian vision and internationalist spirit. Despite the fact that Stein was American, he played a notable role in Mexican Muralism, he certainly gave his all to it.

To put what I am saying in context, it was the French artist Jean Charlot that painted The Massacre in the Main Temple, the very first wall painting of the Mexican Mural Movement. Charlot’s mural, painted in Mexico City’s Escuela Preparatoria (now the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso) was completed in 1923.

The mural depicted Spanish Conquistadors slaughtering hundreds of Aztecs who had gathered in their capital of Tenochtitlán (now modern Mexico City) for a religious ritual in 1520.

Charlot’s team of assistants taught Diego Rivera’s assistants how to plaster a wall in preparation for Rivera creating his first mural, also at the Escuela Preparatoria. Charlot of course went on to play a large role in the development of Mexican art, but my point is that history has noted his contributions, it is time that Philip Stein be similarly acknowledged.

"Moloch" - Philip Stein. Acrylic on masonite. 1993. Stein painted workers prostrating themselves before the insatiable God, Moloch, who in this case is depicted as a modern Sport Utility Vehicle. The ancient Canaanites sacrificed their children to Moloch in order to atone for their sins.

"Moloch" - Philip Stein. Acrylic on masonite. 1993. Stein painted workers prostrating themselves before the insatiable God, Moloch, who in this case is depicted as a modern Sport Utility Vehicle. The ancient Canaanites sacrificed their children to Moloch in order to atone for their sins.

People in or near Los Angeles have a unique opportunity to expand their understanding of the life and times of Philip Stein, Siqueiros, and the school of social realism, by attending the Blind Justice exhibit at L.A.’s Gallery 1927. In actuality the show is a duplication of A Civil Defense: Paintings of Estaño, an exhibit of Stein’s paintings and drawings held in 2012 at the Take My Picture gallery in downtown L.A. Both exhibits were made possible by Estaño’s daughter, Anne Stein, who has quite admirably worked tirelessly at preserving her father’s legacy.

While the so-called “art press” and the rest of the media in the U.S. effectively paid no attention to A Civil Defense, Spain’s International News Agency, EFE, interviewed me in Sept. of 2012 as part of their coverage of the exhibit. The largest Spanish language newswire service in Spain, Latin America, and the U.S., EFE is also the 4th largest worldwide newswire service. It operates like the Associated Press, offering reports that news sources pick up and publish. Reporter Fernando Mexía of EFE put questions to me concerning the life and works of Stein, details that appeared in an EFE report published by Spain’s ABC.es, Argentina’s Yahoo! Noticias, Mexico’s Siempre!, Ecuador’s El Comercio, and dozens of other Spanish language publications worldwide.

"The Cursed." - Philip Stein. Pyroxylin on masonite. 1951. Stein painted his piece in pyroxylin, the nitro-cellulose paint DuPont manufactured for painting cars, and which Siqueiros pioneered the use of in his murals and easel paintings. The Cursed gives a picture of what might be Conquistadors on their way to battle Aztecs, or a depiction of soldiers from a modern, mechanized army. Stein once told me that his painting depicted "the evil arm of wealth, the plague of this earth."

"The Cursed." - Philip Stein. Pyroxylin on masonite. 1951. Stein painted his piece in pyroxylin, the nitro-cellulose paint DuPont manufactured for painting cars, and which Siqueiros pioneered the use of in his murals and easel paintings. "The Cursed" gives a picture of what might be Conquistadors on their way to battle Aztecs, or a depiction of soldiers from a modern, mechanized army. Stein once told me that his painting depicted "the evil arm of wealth, the plague of this earth."

Based on the EFE newswire report, MSN Latinoamérica featured a Spanish language video titled Philip Stein, el desconocido asistente de Siqueiros (Philip Stein, the unknown assistant of Siqueiros). The well produced short video gives a glimpse of the Civil Defense exhibit, along with some splendid close-up shots of Stein’s paintings and drawings. If you missed the 2012 exhibit, be sure and see Stein’s paintings in the Blind Justice show at Gallery 1927. It is not known when, or if, the evocative and intelligent works of Estaño will be seen again soon.

Blind Justice runs until November 10, 2013 at Gallery 1927 at the Fine Arts Building. 811 W. 7th Street. Los Angeles, CA 90017. (Ph: 805-217-2186).

"The Temperature Has Risen." - Philip Stein. Acrylic on masonite. 1989. An excerpt of a larger painting that warns of ecological collapse. Stein said of the artwork, "Scientists have warned of an impending disaster."

"The Temperature Has Risen." - Philip Stein. Acrylic on masonite. 1989. An excerpt of a larger painting that warns of ecological collapse. Stein said of the artwork, "Scientists have warned of an impending disaster."

Unveiling América Tropical, Oct 9, 2012

Banner featuring the central motif of the América Tropical mural, posted by the City of Los Angeles on Main Street adjacent to Olvera Street. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Banner featuring the central motif of the América Tropical mural, posted by the City of Los Angeles on Main Street adjacent to Olvera Street. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

A specter is haunting the City of Los Angeles - the specter of social realism in art. That spirit stalks Olvera Street, the city’s oldest boulevard; the ghostly apparition is not a lost soul from one of the original inhabitants of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles (The Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels), the name given to the small town founded in 1781 by Spanish colonists of mixed European, Native American, and African descent.

Neither is it an apparition of someone from the ancient Gabrielino-Tongva tribe, the first people to inhabit the land that eventually became L.A., though the spirit of indigenous people has much to do with this tale of a phantom returning to the world of the living. No, the phantasm I write of is América Tropical, the Olvera Street mural painted by Mexican Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1932. The wall painting’s revolutionary narrative so terrified city officials at the time that they had it whitewashed; the censored mural remained covered up for eighty years.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, América Tropical was unveiled in a public ceremony that I was thrilled to attend. To announce the mural’s unveiling and the simultaneous opening of the América Tropical Interpretive Center (ATIC), the Getty Conservation Institute and the City of Los Angeles held a press conference on Olvera Street at the Casa Avila Adobe, which was built in 1818 during the Spanish colonial period and today is the oldest standing building in L.A. October 9 was the fulfillment of a decades long effort to have the mural restored and presented to the public. As an artist deeply influenced by Siqueiros and his fellow Mexican Muralists, and as a member of the Board of Directors of Amigos de Siqueiros, the unveiling was a joyous occasion for me, as I have been writing about Siqueiros and his Olvera Street mural on this web log since 2005. But Oct. 9 was also a collective triumph for the hundreds of people who worked so diligently to make the dream come true.

Before inviting those gathered at the press conference to visit the rooftop mural located atop the América Tropical Interpretive Center, the Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, Timothy P. Whalen; the President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, James Cuno; Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar, and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, all made poignant statements before the press about the importance of América Tropical to the people of L.A. and the world. The official 2012 unveiling of the Siqueiros mural and the opening of the interpretive center took place eighty years from the mural’s original unveiling on October 11, 1932.

The Mayor’s office and the Getty presented a commemorative plaque to Amigos de Siqueiros, for the group’s role in helping to preserve and promote América Tropical and the legacy of David Alfaro Siqueiros. The inscribed tablet was received by the Chair of Amigos de Siqueiros, Dalila Teresa Sotelo, and Carol Jacques, a commissioner for El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument and a chief liaison for Amigos de Siqueiros.

The whitewash has at last been removed from América Tropical, but it covered more than a mural painted by one of the greatest artists of the 20th century - it concealed the unvarnished truth about Los Angeles and all of the Americas. The unveiling should mark the beginning of serious dialog over the issues evident in the painting, but I hope the work also inspires a new socially engaged art for our time. That would be the real legacy of David Alfaro Siqueiros, and with the world presently in the state it is in, we should call for nothing less.

I took the following photos during the October 9, 2012, América Tropical unveiling ceremony.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©From Main Street one can partially view the América Tropical mural located on the rooftop of the historic Italian Hall. The large wing-like construction is the super-structure that protects the mural from the elements. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©View of the mural as seen from the vender’s area of Olvera Street. To some extent one can catch a glimpse of the painting from street level, but what stands out the most is the super-structure that protects the mural from weather conditions. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©From left to right: the President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, James Cuno; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and L.A. City Councilman José Huizar, announcing the unveiling of  América Tropical at the Casa Avila Adobe October 9, 2012 press conference. Photo by Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, Timothy P. Whalen (shown at right) and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the Avila Adobe press conference. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©The Olvera Street entrance to the América Tropical Interpretive Center (ATIC). The box-like structure on the center’s roof is actually the observation platform where the public can view the Siqueiros mural. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©View of one of two large exhibit rooms in the América Tropical Interpretive Center. The rooms present interactive displays, photos, informative text and other ephemera related to Siqueiros and the América Tropical mural. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©This is the view of América Tropical afforded by the observation platform atop the Interpretive Center. The mural was painted on a rooftop wall of the Italian Hall building. This photo also shows the super-structure that protects the mural. The panels on the side move to block the sun, likewise the wing-like structure above the mural can also be lowered to provide sun-shade. The domed building in the background is the Los Angeles Terminal Annex U.S. Post Office, which was built in 1939 - seven years after Siqueiros created his mural. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©This photo shows a reclining Chacmool sculptural figure Siqueiros used to represent pre-Columbian civilizations. Chacmool were common to the Toltec, Maya, and Aztec, and were utilized in religious ceremonies involving offerings and sacrifices; usually gifts to the Gods were placed on the stomach of a Chacmool figure. Pre-Columbian ruins are strewn throughout the mural, symbolizing the destruction of indigenous people by colonialism.

In the above photo, along the bottom edge of the mural, one can see how the original painting suffered deterioration over the years, which presented a major challenge to Getty restorers. The staff of the Getty Conservation Institute did a world class job of preserving América Tropical, and you can read about their conservation efforts here. This photo was shot from the viewing platform using a telephoto lens. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©This is the thematic focus of the América Tropical mural; the eagle of imperialism sitting atop a crucifix from which hangs a murdered Indian. While the mural is a faded “ghost” image, it is remarkable how bright some of the original pigment remains. There are no known color photos of the original artwork, one of the reasons why Getty conservators decided to preserve rather than recreate the painting. A telephoto lens was used to take this photo from the viewing platform. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©A close-up telephoto lens view of the armed revolutionaries Siqueiros painted in the upper right corner of his mural. Carrying bolt-action combat rifles of the day, the men ready an attack upon the imperialist eagle. In the upper right of the photo you can see how the mural was damaged in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake; the Getty Conservation Institute filled in the shattered area with plaster. I should also note that this is the area of the mural where the painting’s colors remain the brightest. This is most likely do to the fact that this portion of the mural could be seen from the street in 1932, and so city authorities had it whitewashed first before the rest of the mural was covered over. I took the photo from the viewing platform using a telephoto lens. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

Photograph by Mark Vallen ©A close-up telephoto lens view of the eagle in América Tropical. This war bird has a mechanized look about it, especially when considering the wings. The rapacious bird is prescient of another eagle Siqueiros would paint seven years later in his 1939 Portrait of the Bourgeoisie mural located in the stairwell of the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas in Mexico City. A full throttle attack against the forces of war and fascism, Portrait of the Bourgeoisie also depicted an eagle as a central design element. That metallic bird was fully mechanized and bristled with sharp knife-like edges. It sat atop a huge mechanical press that crushed humanity while spitting out gold coins. A year prior to creating the 1939 mural, Siqueiros went to Spain and joined the Republican Army in the fight against the fascist military of General Franco. Portrait of the Bourgeoisie foretold what was to befall the world with the outbreak of World War II. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

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The América Tropical Interpretive Center is now open to the public. Admission is free. The center is located on Olvera Street at: 125 Paseo de La Plaza Los Angeles, CA 90012 (click for map). The center is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can phone the center at (213) 485-6855.

Related events that I will write about in future blog posts:

A Civil Defense: Paintings of Estaño
Philip Stein, aka Estaño, was an assistant to David Alfaro Siqueiros and helped the master paint ten of his greatest works in Mexico City during a ten year period. The estate of Philip Stein is currently exhibiting paintings, drawings, and prints by Estaño at the Take My Picture Gallery in downtown L.A. This not to be missed exhibit runs until December 31, 2012.

¡América Tropical! Celebrating a Siqueiros Masterpiece - Saturday November 3, 2012.
Organized by the Getty Conservation Institute, LA Plaza de Culturas y Artes, and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, this festival takes place a short walking distance from the América Tropical mural and the América Tropical Interpretive Center. The festival will include Aztec Dancers, Ballet Folklorico, traditional Mariachi and authentic banda music, street theater, film, food, workshops, and even a performance by the UCLA Philharmonia Orchestra. The festival also includes observance of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). A perfect day to come see the Siqueiros mural! Free admission, the fun begins and 10:30 am and goes on all day. Details and full schedule of events available here.

Why Rescue América Tropical?

Flyer announcing "Why Rescue América Tropical?"

Flyer announcing "Why Rescue América Tropical?"

Amigos de Siqueiros are celebrating the 79th anniversary of Siqueiros’ América Tropical mural being unveiled on L.A.’s Olvera Street, with Why Rescue América Tropical? - conversations on the protection and preservation of the world famous wall painting.

The speakers at the forum are the renowned scholar and historian Dr. Irene Herner Reiss, and the award-winning journalist, author, and musician, Rubén Martínez.

Herner Reiss consulted the Autry Museum when it mounted its dazzling Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied exhibit of 2010. Her book, Siqueiros: From Paradise to Utopia, is considered a definitive work on the art, life, and times of the artist. Herner Reiss has devoted a large part of her career to the study of Siqueiros, so those attending her lecture are bound to leave with new insights and perspectives.

To Angelenos Martínez hardly needs an introduction; born in L.A., he is a prolific writer, a onetime TV host on the KCET (PBS Los Angeles) public affairs show,  Life & Times, and currently holds the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature and Writing at Loyola Marymount University in L.A.

In May of this year I was elected to sit on the Board of Directors for Amigos de Siqueiros. Given that the group has as its mission the protection, conservation, and promotion of América Tropical, as well as to uphold the legacy of David Alfaro Siqueiros, I am honored to play a role in the organization.

Co-presented by La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Why Rescue América Tropical? takes place on Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 2 p.m. at the newly opened La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, located at 501 North Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (map). The event is free to the public and discounted admission to the center’s galleries will be available.

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UPDATE: Approximately 70 people showed up to the Why Rescue América Tropical event held in an outdoor patio/garden setting at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes. Moderated by Amigos de Siqueiros Co-Chairs Dalila Teresa Sotelo and Dan Guerrero, the speakers roster included some surprise guests.

Chris Espinoza, representing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, assured those gathered that the L.A. City government supported Siqueiros América Tropical Mural And Interpretive Center on Olvera Street is on track and making progress. Espinoza reported that initial construction at the center has been completed and that the center’s grand opening should be around March of 2012. Los Angeles Councilmember José Luis Huizar also spoke to those gathered on the importance of the Siqueiros mural to the people of Los Angeles.

Dr. Irene Herner Reiss at the

Dr. Irene Herner Reiss at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Oct., 2, 2011. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

Next on the roster was Dr. Irene Herner Reiss, who spoke with eloquence and great passion regarding the works of Siqueiros, with an emphasis of course on the artist’s América Tropical mural.

Herner emphasized that Siqueiros’ mural depicted the ruins of Mexico’s indigenous civilizations, and that the mural itself was turned into a ruin of sorts when right-wing city authorities saw to its destruction with a coat of whitewash.

But Herner reminded those gathered that great art can spring from ruins, just as classical European art was influenced by the ruins of ancient Greece. She noted that a full restoration of Siqueiros’ mural was “impossible”, but half-joked that there was nothing “like a strong ghost” to shake things up.

Writer Rubén Martínez and playwright Oliver Mayer then joined Herner in conversation on the legacy of Siqueiros in Los Angeles, a talk that extended to the audience with its many questions and observations concerning Siqueiros and his socially conscious art. Mayer, who wrote the libretto for an opera about Siqueiros aptly titled América Tropical (you can view clips here), directly addressed the many students in the audience - challenging them to use their skills to enact creative social change.

After the event concluded I acquired a copy of Ms. Herner’s just released book, Siqueiros: from Paradise to Utopia, and then had the immense pleasure of talking with Herner for a few minutes. While the Spanish language edition of Herner’s book was released in 2010, there has yet to be an “official” English language release made available to the public. The book is a veritable treasure trove for those with a thirst for knowledge concerning Siqueiros and the Mexican Muralist School. Expect a full review of this invaluable book in a future blog post.

¡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.

Two L.A. Lectures on Siqueiros

On October 23rd and November 6th, 2010, I will be lecturing at the following two venues concerning the Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros. Press Release statements for the two talks are as follows:

 Vallen at the Siqueiros mural, Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe ©.

Vallen at the Siqueiros mural, "Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932," at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe ©.

Siqueiros & the Mexican School of Social Realism
As part of the José Vera Gallery’s cultural programming surrounding their Siqueiros print exhibit, Confronting Revolution: A Siqueiros Aesthetic, 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.

Saturday, October 23, 2010. 6:30 p.m.
José Vera Fine Art & Antiques
2012 Colorado Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90041

The second speaking engagement is sponsored by Amigos de Siqueiros and the Mexican Cultural Institute:

David Alfaro Siqueiros & the “Bloc of Painters” - American Social Realism in the 1930s
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.

Saturday, November 6, 2010. 6:30 p.m.
Mexican Cultural Institute, 125 Paseo de la Plaza - Olvera Street. L.A., California.

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: A Print Dialogue

For those unable to attend the September 18, 2010, panel discussion, A PRINT DIALOGUE: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, this web log will provide coverage of the event, including photos and a rush transcript of the proceedings. Readers can look forward to these updates in the days following the panel discussion. The image used in this short notice is the official public invitation postcard and poster being distributed for the event.

Invitation card to Siqueiros panel discussion

Groundbreaking for Siqueiros Project

Golden shovels used at the Sept. 8, 2010 groundbreaking ceremony for the Siqueiros Mural and Interpretive Center on L.A.'s historic Olvera Street. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

Golden shovels used at the Sept. 8, 2010 groundbreaking ceremony for the Siqueiros Mural and Interpretive Center on L.A.'s historic Olvera Street. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

The construction of the Siqueiros América Tropical Mural And Interpretive Center on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles grows ever closer. Carol Jacques, Commission Vice President of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Authority, invited me to attend the historic groundbreaking ceremony for the Interpretive Center that took place on September 8, 2010, and as someone who has been writing in-depth coverage on this story for years, it was an opportunity I could not pass by.

At 10 a.m. I arrived at the Avila Adobe House on Olvera Street for the scheduled press conference, and found the bungalow filled to capacity with L.A. City government officials, Getty museum functionaries, foreign dignitaries, art aficionados, news media, and many of those who have worked so diligently over the decades to “bring Siqueiros back” to Los Angeles.

The Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, Timothy P. Whalen, at the press conference held at the historic Avila Adobe House, just prior to the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

The Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, Timothy P. Whalen, at the press conference held at the historic Avila Adobe House, just prior to the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

Featured speakers who addressed the press conference included the Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, Timothy P. Whalen, and Los Angeles Councilmember José Luis Huizar. Both gave short speeches on the history of the mural, the status of the Interpretive Center project, and their belief that the center will enrich the cultural and intellectual life of Los Angeles.

The setting for the press conference was the aforementioned Avila Adobe House, the oldest house in the city of Los Angeles. It was originally constructed in 1818 by Don Francisco Avila, who was the Mayor of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles (The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels). The stucco-clad adobe dwelling was erected before the United States invaded Mexico, forcing it to cede California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming to the U.S. in 1848. The adobe also stood before Mexico won its Independence from Spain in 1821.

Timothy P. Whalen of the Getty, Los Angeles Councilmember José Luis Huizar, along with members of L.A.'s City government and the Getty Center, break ground for the Siqueiros Mural and Interpretive Center. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

Timothy P. Whalen of the Getty, Los Angeles Councilmember José Luis Huizar, along with members of L.A.'s City government and the Getty Center, break ground for the Siqueiros Mural and Interpretive Center. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

I was overwhelmed thinking that the house made from sun-dried bricks of clay and straw, a building that had seen so much history, was now the setting for a press conference announcing the construction of a 21st century interactive arts center. After completion of the news conference, the assembly was invited to move to the adjacent Italian Hall, where the rooftop Siqueiros mural is located and where the actual groundbreaking was to occur.

Susan Macdonald (left), Head of Field Projects for the Getty Conservation Institute, and Leslie Rainer, Senior Project Specialist for the Getty Conservation Institute, address the public and members of the news media on the rooftop of Olvera Street's Italian Hall, where the Siqueiros mural is located. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

Susan Macdonald (left), Head of Field Projects for the Getty Conservation Institute, and Leslie Rainer, Senior Project Specialist for the Getty Conservation Institute, address the public and members of the news media on the rooftop of Olvera Street's Italian Hall, where the Siqueiros mural is located. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

An air of expectation grew as the crowd gathered on the steps of the old Italian Hall, waiting for the historic groundbreaking ceremony to begin as photographers jockeyed for position. In due time representatives of the Getty Center, along with members of L.A.’s City government, took their golden shovels in hand to enact the symbolic breaking of the ground.

With that emblematic gesture, cheers of approval and applause rose up from the crowd, and construction of the Siqueiros América Tropical Mural And Interpretive Center was at last underway.

After the groundbreaking ceremony the media and the public were invited to the rooftop of the Italian Hall to view the current state of the mural project. Due to the precarious condition of the old building, city workers would only allow 25 people at a time to visit the roof, but the wait was worthwhile.

Susan Macdonald, Head of Field Projects for the Getty Conservation Institute, and Leslie Rainer, Senior Project Specialist for the Getty Conservation Institute, greeted those who climbed the stairs to the rooftop. The two lectured on various aspects of the project, and with great enthusiasm answered all questions pertaining to the mural venture. Presently the mural is protected from top to bottom by a metal screen and supporting armature. City officials and Getty staff both made assurances that the project would be completed and ready for public unveiling by the end of two years time.

Rendering of the Siqueiros mural shelter as seen from Union Station. Image courtesy of Pugh + Scarpa Architects ©.

Rendering of the Siqueiros mural shelter as seen from Union Station. Image courtesy of Pugh + Scarpa Architects ©.

When Siqueiros came to L.A. in 1932 as a political refugee, the U.S. was in the throws of the Great Depression. Millions of people were out of work and had lost their homes. The government was involved in the mass expulsion of up to one million people of Mexican descent, including tens of thousands of U.S. citizens; Los Angeles County alone deported up to 80,000 people to Mexico, many of them apprehended on or around Olvera Street and its environs. In 1936 the Spanish Civil War was the opening salvo of what would become WWII. Such matters were surely on the mind of the artist when he painted his mural works during his six-month long exile in L.A.

Rendering of the Siqueiros mural shelter from the viewing platform to be constructed atop Italian Hall. Image courtesy of Pugh + Scarpa Architects ©.

Rendering of the Siqueiros mural shelter from the viewing platform to be constructed atop Italian Hall. Image courtesy of Pugh + Scarpa Architects ©.

As Siqueiros’ América Tropical mural is being reborn on Olvera Street in the early 21st century, the U.S. is in the grip of unemployment rates the likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression. Millions of people have lost their homes, city budgets are collapsing and social services are being cut to the bone. Hatred of immigrants is rampant and escalating, and the nation is fighting multiple foreign wars; which is to say, the present political landscape bears an eerie resemblance to the 1930s. The question is not how David Alfaro Siqueiros would react if he were alive, the question is - how will today’s artists respond to the mounting social crisis.

Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts

Canto General - David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1968. Lithograph. 23.5 x 41 inches. This is print number 4 from the suite of lithographs created as illustrations for Pablo Neruda's epic poem, "Canto General."

"Canto General" - David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1968. Signed lithograph. 23.5 x 41 inches. This is print number 4 from the suite of lithographs created as illustrations for Pablo Neruda's epic poem, "Canto General."

On Saturday, September 18, 2010, I will be speaking about David Alfaro Siqueiros at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock California, during a panel discussion sponsored by the Autry National Center of Los Angeles and the José Vera Gallery of L.A.

Titled A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, the round-table talk will be moderated by Cynthia McMullen - Senior Curator for the Museum of Latin American Art, with fellow panelists including artists Wayne Healy and Luis Ituarte. Art historian Catha Paquette and curator Lynn LaBate, who collaborated on the Autry’s momentous exhibit Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied (which opens at the Autry on Sept. 24, 2010) will also appear as panelists.

The focus of the panel discussion at the Center for the Arts will be Siqueiros “as a print maker and graphic artist advancing a populist political agenda.” Known primarily for his monumental works of public art, Siqueiros in fact produced a number of lithographs, woodcuts, silkscreens, and mono-prints. He saw in printmaking the same capacity for revolutionary art as he did in the gigantic wall paintings that he and his compañeros in the Mexican Muralist Movement created. In my presentation I will spotlight a number of Siqueiros’ prints, the stories behind their creation, and why these socially conscious prints continue to resonate in today’s world. The panel discussion is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Later that same evening the public is invited to attend a 7:30 p.m. reception at the nearby José Vera Gallery for Confronting Revolution: A Siqueiros Aesthetic, the gallery’s showing of prints by Siqueiros that includes his remarkable suite of ten lithographs titled Canto General (General Song). Created in collaboration with the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, the prints were published as illustrations in a special 1968 art book edition of Neruda’s classic 1950 Canto General, an epic work of poetry detailing the history of Latin America. The exhibit runs at the José Vera Gallery from September 4 until October 27, 2010.

In the days subsequent to the Sept. 18th panel discussion, I will post a full assessment of the event (with photos), along with additional details concerning the prints displayed at the José Vera Gallery. The Center for the Arts is located at 2225 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041-1142 (map). Phone: 323-226-1617. The José Vera Gallery is located at 2012 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, 90041 (map). Phone: 323-258-5050.

[ UPDATE: Lecturer and author Gregorio Luke, was originally scheduled to moderate the panel discussion. Mr. Luke had to cancel his appearance in order to lecture in China on behalf of the Mexican government.]