LACMA: Phantom Sightings

Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement.

LACMA, Los Angeles, Apr 6 – Sept 1, 2008

Museo de Arte de Zapopan, Guadalajara
Nov. 25, 2009 – Jan. 31, 2010

El Museo del Barrio/Americas Society, New York, NY
Mar. 24  – May   9, 2010

 

Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement is the largest exhibition of cutting-edge Chicano art ever presented at LACMA. Chicano art, traditionally described as work created by Americans of Mexican descent, was established as a politically and culturally inspired movement during the counterculture revolutions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This exhibition explores the more experimental tendencies within the Chicano art movement—ones oriented less toward painting and declarative polemical assertion than toward conceptual art, performance, film, photo- and media-based art, and “stealthy” artistic interventions in urban spaces. The exhibition includes approximately 125 works in all media, including painting and sculpture as well as installation, conceptual, video, performance art, and intermedia works that incorporate film, digital, and sound art. Artists featured are photographer Christina Fernandez, who documents the poetic and “phantom” in the urban landscape; Mario Ybarra Jr., who creates performances, site-specific installations and intermedia works; the “intermedia synaesthesia” of the seminal conceptual art group Asco; and the New York-based artist Nicola López, who creates dramatic installations with drawings that extend from the wall into the gallery.

Installation view of Erased Lynching Series #1 and The Wonder Gaze (St. James Park) in positive and negative in custom built space for the exhibition.

Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement. LatinArt.com
by Ruben R. Mendoza

Deciphering the Decoy: Phantom Transformations and the Decolonial Imaginary of Chicana/o Art

In The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History, Chicana theorist Emma Pérez argues that the unique colonial history of Chicanas/os has resulted in our being caught in a time-lag “between the colonial and the postcolonial, the modern and the postmodern, the national and the postnational”. Caught up in a quest for the dubious “equality” of sameness with white ethnic groups,” many Chicanas/os are perpetually longing to make the leap into the “post-” in order to pursue “the ontological wish to become that which would allow a liberatory future promised by the postcolonial, postmodern, postnational”. The result is often a process of internal self-colonization/institutionalization. As Pérez laments, “[i]t is almost as if we are doomed to repeat the past, to move, not ahead, and certainly not dialectically, but in circles, over and over, as our communities ’become’ another kind of colonized/colonizer with the colonial imaginary overshadowing movements”. Instead, Pérez proposes the “decolonial imaginary” of “a rupturing space – that interstitial space where differential politics and social dilemmas are negotiated”. This space operates through an agency that is simultaneously “oppositional and transformative.” Like Cultural and Queer theorist José E. Munoz’s similarly articulated mode of disidentification, which maps an escape from the false binary of assimilation versus rebellion, Pérez’s decolonial imaginary functions to push “beyond the limits of assimilation, beyond the hopes of cultural adaptation”.

 

Quite a dense framework of theorization to begin a review, no doubt – but appropriate in addressing the issues of internal institutionalization raised by Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement (through September 1st). More to the point, it’s perhaps unavoidable, given the overshadowing academic conceits and meticulously theorized curatorial framework of the exhibition.

The point here: Any approach to the work in Phantom Sightings must first contend with a knotty barrier of theorization that begins with the curatorial “provocation” of the subtitle’s academic leap into the “post-“. Rather than position her or himself in relation to the work, the viewer is pre-positioned by the inescapable prepositionality of “after.”

Of course, in catalog writings and public talks, curators Howard N. Fox, Rita Gonzalez, and Chon A. Noriega, have insisted that their contextualization was never intended as a divisive closing off, nor as a declaration of death to the (here reified singular, monolithic) Chicano Movement. Instead, the use of “after” was intended as affirmation of the movement, as provocation to further exploration and discussion, and as the articulation of just the kind of possibility suggested by Pérez’s decolonial imaginary. Curators argue this contextualization as an apt problematization of contemporary Chicana/o art and identity. It appropriately addresses the shifting complexities of migration/immigration, “glocalism,” the transnational, neocolonialism, the psychogeography of 21st century urbanism, and other hot topics of our so-called “post-race,” “post-identity,” “post-” moment. Indeed, our particular geospatial history of immigration and colonization has resulted in our being in a position to make unique contributions to the current international discourse surrounding these issues. Additionally, a whole other array of complexities arises from the pressure of putting together the first major show of Chicana/o artists mounted specifically for LACMA since the mid-1970s.
But no amount of verbal facility and theorization can get around the stark temporality of “after,” and its lineally historicist reading of Chicano politics and art. Furthermore, the same underlying logic shapes the extent to which Phantom Sig

Installation view of work by Ken Gonzales-Day in foreground

 

Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement is the largest exhibition of cutting-edge Chicano art ever presented at LACMA. Chicano art, traditionally described as work created by Americans of Mexican descent, was established as a politically and culturally inspired movement during the counterculture revolutions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This exhibition explores the more experimental tendencies within the Chicano art movement—ones oriented less toward painting and declarative polemical assertion than toward conceptual art, performance, film, photo- and media-based art, and “stealthy” artistic interventions in urban spaces. The exhibition includes approximately 125 works in all media, including painting and sculpture as well as installation, conceptual, video, performance art, and intermedia works that incorporate film, digital, and sound art. Artists featured are photographer Christina Fernandez, who documents the poetic and “phantom” in the urban landscape; Mario Ybarra Jr., who creates performances, site-specific installations and intermedia works; the “intermedia synaesthesia” of the seminal conceptual art group Asco; and the New York-based artist Nicola López, who creates dramatic installations with drawings that extend from the wall into the gallery; Ken Gonzales-Day’s Erased Lynching Series and a selection from the Searching for California Hang Trees Series.

 

 

Installation view of Erased Lynching Series and The Wonder Gaze (St. James Park), in Phantom Sightings at LACMA

 

To read review by Nizan Shaked in American Quarterly

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