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.