November 2–December 16, 2006
In 2005, the Millard Sheets Gallery presented Latino Artists of Los Angeles: Defining Self & Inspiration, which examined the diversity of styles, issues, and imagery expressed by Latino artists currently working in Los Angeles, from traditional iconography to contemporary aesthetics. The exhibition began with an introduction to some of the major artistic influences on these artists, and included works by Mexico’s José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Guadalupe Posada, as well as Los Angeles’ own Frank Romero Carlos Almaraz, and Gilbert “Magu” Luján. These artists not only established important artistic and cultural foundations on which to build, but also broke new ground socially and politically with their art, and their legacies continue to be felt. As Cristeen Martinez, Millard Sheets Gallery’s Public Programs Coordinator, and curator of Latino Artists of Los Angeles said in her introduction to the exhibit catalog,
“Seasoned veteranos are working alongside young emerging artists, mentoring and influencing them and passing on a new heritage to augment the traditional.” It is that new heritage we continue to explore in Beyond Heritage, building on the idea that many artists of Latino descent are continuing to define themselves as artists by creating work that speaks from their heritage, but not exclusively about their heritage.
Having just addressed this theme so recently, we also wanted to move beyond the geographical limitations we imposed on ourselves in presenting Latino Artists of Los Angeles for the L.A. County Fair. While Los Angeles itself is finally being recognized internationally as the artistic hub it has been for decades, it is still too easy to neglect the work being created outside its center. As one of the fastest growing regions in the country, the Inland Empire is home to a vibrant community of artists who deserve greater attention. Located in Pomona, the Millard Sheets Gallery is situated within a shifting border, still in Los Angeles County, but having much in common with the communities of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
As we develop the Millard Sheets Gallery into a vital center for the arts, one that is a relevant cultural resource in the community, we must reach out to new partners. Our collaboration with the Riverside Art Museum, and other area arts organizations in Pomona and Riverside, to produce this exhibition has initiated what we are certain will become a long-standing working relationships. These new connections were encouraged by a generous grant from the James Irvine Foundation (the Gallery’s first) in support of Beyond Heritage, particularly this bilingual catalog, as a way for us to expand our capacity and to reach a broader audience.
--Dan Danzig, Executive Director, Millard Sheets Gallery
Despite the metaphor of the “melting pot,” American culture is more of a stew than a purée. Ethnic identity has long colored this country’s artistic expression, and especially in the years since the Civil Rights movement, such self-conscious identification, such acknowledgement of a hyphenated culture and hyphenated character, has helped drive artistic discourse throughout the country, especially in centers of immigration and non-Anglo civilization. The southern California region is one such center—indeed, the epitome of such a center. A magnet since the 1960s for immigrants from around the globe, especially outside of Europe, southern California also lies at the heart of the vast territory wrested from Mexico by the United States in 1848. In these parts, the Yankees constituted the second wave of immigrants, and they couldn’t eradicate the entrenched Hispanic culture, only move it aside as best they could.
For every town named Riverside, there’s one named San Bernardino. For every mountain, there’s a cañon. For every Martin there’s a Martinez. The Inland Region, no less than southern California’s other parts, speaks Spanish as readily as English and eats tacos as readily as hamburguesas. There may not be as many different dialects of Spanish spoken out here as there are in Los Angeles, but there are proportionately as many people who claim Spanish as their mother tongue. Latinos figure significantly in nearly all sectors of the population—artists not least.
Given the politics of identity, the arts of ethnicity, and the dynamic that drives their discourse, it’s not surprising to find many artists of Latin heritage active Inland—nor to find even that many of them are rising to local prominence. We must remember, however, that, no less than their brethren elsewhere in the state and country, the Latino artists of Riverside and San Bernardino (and Imperial and Inyo and Kern) Counties do not speak with one voice; they barely speak with one accent—and a few do not speak much Spanish at all. Some advance their ethnic identity—or identities—as their key subject matter, while others seem to ignore it altogether. Some artists look to styles that have become associated with Latino cultural expression, while others connect to styles that descend directly out of European traditions. Some artists have grand social, cultural, and even religious concepts to convey, while others look to the energy of the streets. Some artists embrace the political, others keep it personal. Some artists seek the transcendence of pure abstraction, while others seek a different transcendence in popular culture, even kitsch. Some artists make pictures, others make forms. Some artists formulate books, others print pages. Some artists work with things they find, others make things they want to find. In our ongoing age of artistic pluralism, Latino artists, out here and everywhere, practice as many styles as possible.
The artists in Beyond Heritage have been assembled under this rubric because they neither hide nor vaunt their Latino heritage. Their art arguably displays earmarks of “Latino styles,” but it maintains a cool relationship with subjects and approaches that have become associated with Latino art in the United States. In fact, we find more of a connection here with the art done in Latin American countries themselves, from the agit-prop stylizations of the Mexican muralists to the crisp, lively geometric abstraction of northern South America, from the spicy surrealism of the Caribbean to the soft-edged abstract and figurative forms of the Andean countries, from broadly rendered impressionism to quickly rendered pop, from mediations on narrative to mediations on design, it’s all to be found in this round-up of Inland artists who are Latino but whose art doesn’t have to tell that to the viewer.
This work refuses to answer the quickly asked questions. It does not tell us what makes Latino art Latino, only what makes it art. It does not distinguish between art by Spanish-speaking artists native to the United States and those native to countries to the south. It does not reveal trends among Latino and/or Chicano artists, locally or nationally. Although it clearly employs techniques and subject matter that recur frequently among “Hispanic-surnamed” artists in this country—stylized symbologies, for instance, or block printing—this art does not provide formulas for making, or recognizing, “Latino art.” It does not deny that such formulas might be available, but it moves well beyond them. The message is one of individual affirmation tinged with the expression of heritage rather than heritage affirmation tinged with individual expression.
--Peter Frank, Senior Curator, Riverside Art Museum
Artists participating in Beyond Heritage
- Andrew J. Castillo
- Carlos Castro
- Cosme Cordova
- Jesús Cruz Jr.
- Susan Elizalde-Holler
- Jorge Fernández
- Monica R. Landeros
- Manny Le Gaspe
- Jacalyn Lopez Garcia
- Oscar Magallanes
- Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein
- Joe Moran
- Rachel Murillo
- Luz Maria Perez
- David Rosales
- Ray Gonzales Sloan
- Meagan Maureen Smith
- Lorien Suarez
- Macarena A. Tapia
- Juan Thorp
- Alberto Varela
- Marco Zamora
The essay excerpts above, written by Dan Danzig and Peter Frank, can be read in their entirety in the Beyond Heritage full-color bilingual catalog available upon request through the Millard Sheets Gallery. ISBN: 9780978911119 Please refer to the Store link on the sidebar for more information on purchasing a catalog.
Many Le Gaspe, Fish Tacos 12:01, 2004
acrylic on panel