Phantom Sightings Art Talk with Sandra & Harry

On May 4, 2008 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) hosted an art talk with Sandra de la Loza and Harry Gamboa, Jr. as part of the Chican@ art exhibit called Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement.

There is work in Phantom Sighting that is amazingly brilliant, other pieces are poorly crafted and their meanings fall into the shadows. Written text to explain each piece and concept is posted in English and Spanish throughout the exhibit. The artwork is simply displayed with few supporting overall design concepts to enhance it. Some pieces are mated to echo each other, some relations seem distant and strained, giving their space a sense of emptiness, as if something is missing. Moveable walls separate the serene vistas by over-bearing rasquachismo pieces. Perfectly placed and thought-provoking, pleasurable art is also found there.

When asked why the curators chose the exhibited artists, Sandra de la Loza said that this is just one realm of Chican@ art—and there are many realms. Harry Gamboa, Jr. noted that some artists that were asked to be a part of this exhibit declined, not wanting the stigmatism of being part of a ‘race-focused’ exhibit. Only time will tell if this was a smart decision, especially on the eve of the state of Arizona wanting to obliterate the word “Chicano” and all its related programming from their educational institutions. Naturally, Homeland Security supports the eradication of the term “Chicano” as a possible nation-wide mandate. This governmental decision and invasion of freedom could sound the alarm to refortify the age-old struggle that Chican@s have had, to remain radically self-identified.

Part presenter, part teacher, Harry was quite charming during the talk, with his wit and politics sharpened to a point. He quipped about his work, his life, his tequila tasting in DF, about learning the entire dictionary in elementary school so that he could verbalize his outrage towards school injustices, and why people are drawn to the early documentations of ASCO (ELA art collective: Harry Gamboa, Jr., Patssi Valdez, Gronk & Wille Heron). The talk had a comfy close feeling, like sharing a cup of coffee with a family member.

Sandra in her usual straightforwardness, handled all the questions with deep thought and diplomacy. Her installation in the exhibit, part of her Pocho Research Society work, focused on the phantom aspects of history, especially the history of Los Angeles. It informed us that real and fictitious history can weigh equally in our world—because no one questions the validity of true history and manufactured history. Her idea was that humans have the ability to transcend social restraints by creating their own history—and her custom-made-to-fit installation supports that concept.

Vintage films of ASCO enchantingly recanted their street performances from the 1970’s. These art actions and documentations were the flame that set the tone for the entire exhibit concept. Phantom Sightings is a direct quote from Harry Gamboa, Jr. regarding the invisibility/visibility of Chican@s in American culture.

Phantom Sightings will be touring to New York, Texas, and other areas of the United States. It will be very provocative to those who are accustomed to seeing Chican@ art in a certain light. A veteran and renown Los Angeles Chicano muralist felt that the Phantom Sightings exhibit was purposefully white-washed to interject Chican@ art into the international world of high art. Many other Chican@ artists and their collectors are baffled by being excluded. Still other Chican@ artists feel that they have to take a pause, and wait for the main stream to catch up with what is going on in our art scene.

Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement runs through September 1, 2008 at LACMA. I highly recommend that you see it for yourself.