Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.
Responding to my first PST, A to Z post Armando Baeza wrote, “CALL IT ‘ART BY CHICANOS’ AND IT MAY CLARIFY THINGS.” I assume he was referring to my claim that I was looking forward to learning more about “Los Angeles’ role in the Mexican avant-garde.” I probably should’ve just mentioned “MEX/LA” by name. (There are at least three other Pacific Standard Time shows focused on “Chicano” art.) But as it turns out, neither of us got it quite right.
“MEX/LA” is not a show of art by Chicanos, and it is not a show about the Mexican avant-garde, although it includes works that fit both of those descriptions. Rather, it is a show about what the curators—artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres and scholar Jesse Lerner—call “Mexicanidad,” or “Mexican-ness.” To that end, it explores both the work of Mexican artists who made art in L.A. (not all of whom would identify as Chicano) and that of artists (Chicanos and others) who lived in Los Angeles and were influenced by Mexican culture or tried to interpret it for U.S. audiences.
As you can see, it’s a complex topic, but that is in large part the point of the show. Stretching the time frame of Pacific Standard Time (1945-1980) back to 1930 and forward to 1985, it begins with the Mexican muralists, in particular David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, who both created iconic, influential works in Southern California in the 1930s. A particularly nice sequence pairs Orozco’s drawings for his “Prometheus” mural at Pomona College with studies by Italian-born artist Rico Lebrun for his “Genesis” mural, also at Pomona. Although Lebrun’s work was created in the 1960s and is far more abstract, the influence of Orozco’s twisting, muscular forms is clear.
The show also touches on the emergence of “Mexican” aesthetics in architecture, design, and popular culture, including a “Day of the Dead” video by Ray and Charles Eames, a suite of beautifully rounded chairs by British-born designer and artist Po Shun Leong, and cartoons and individual cells from Disney animations.