The Los Angeles art scene has been buzzing all month about the triple-header at two museums and a gallery featuring the work of Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974) — which makes for more attention from a U.S. audience in one year than the world-famous muralist ever got during his lifetime.
On Saturday, that buzz amped up to a low rumble with A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros and the
Graphic Arts, an artist panel discussion at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock that was a collaboration of sorts between all three of those entities: the Autry, the José Vera Art Gallery, and the Museum of Latin American Art. About 100 people attended the event, which included a reception at Vera’s gallery that followed the discussion.
The talk featured academics — art historian Catha Paquette and curator Lynn LaBate — as well as artists — Wayne Healy, Mark Vallen, and Luis Ituarte. The moderator was MOLAA senior curator Cynthia MacMullin. And though the discussion centered around Siqueiros’ print-making work, it really ranged far — from MacMullin’s introduction that examined the concept of revolution, to
Paquette’s discussion of the painter’s entire body of work, to Vallen’s examination of how the images in one Siqueiros print relate to both Los Angeles history and the idea of a true democracy.
“I love print making,” Vallen said just before the discussion began. “Lithography is probably my first love.… When I started to study, in a very broad way, the history of lithography, that is when I discovered artists like (Honoré) Daumier. He led to the whole school of social realism, which in my experience was culminated in the discovery of Siqueiros. And then I went insane.”
Vallen lamented that, in their enthusiasm for digital formats, young new artists for the most part have forsaken printmaking, a technique that requires a significant degree of technical knowledge but may seem relatively old-world to some.
“Everyone has moved to the digital, which is terrific,” he said. “We all should have a grasp of new technology whenever it arrives. But that doesn’t mean to discard all our previous knowledge. At
the opening at the José Vera Gallery, I encountered a young man, an artist, who loved all the prints, but he didn’t know what a lithograph is.”
Vallen said that, even though he experiments with digital media, he still prefers the hands-on methods, especially because the staying power of new media is yet to be tested.
“This is the problem with the post-modern, that there’s no permanence,” Vallen said. “It’s all throw-away.”
Vallen said much of this temporary art also is devoid of political content, and he said this depolitization has contributed to the idea that murals are fair game for vandals to deface.
Healy, who spoke of how Siqueiros inspired him as a young artist in the 1970s, echoed that complaint. He described how some of his murals, as well as those of many colleagues, have fallen victim to the spray can and the whitewash brush, in much the same way that América Tropical, Siqueiros’ mural on Olvera Street, was covered up soon after it premiered.
Ituarte played the contrarian. The Tijuana-born artist, who in 1968 witnessed the Mexican government’s violent repression of protesting students in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco square, made what was probably the most dramatic statement of the evening. He said the time for mural art is over.
“Whatever problems we have now, we need to find a way of (resolving them), and it’s not going to be through murals, because that is done already,” Ituarte said. “That is like repeating something that somehow is discredited.”
Ituarte said Mexican, and later Chicano, muralists succeeded because their message and medium coincided with their political and historic time.
“The murals that the Chicanos did gave the civil rights movement that was led by the African Americans, they gave a Mexican personality to the movement,” he said. “They identified themselves with it, (saying) this is our movement. And the murals were a very important part of that.”
But that time has passed, Ituarte said.
“In the world of the arts, there are really two worlds: the world of the things that exist, and the world of the things that do not exist,” Ituarte said. “The world of the things that exist belongs to galleries, to museums, to curators of history. And the world of the things that do not exist belongs totally and exclusively to artists.”
Saturday’s talk was not the first event around Siqueiros — not by a long shot. The group Amigos de Siqueiros, the driving force behind the restoration of América Tropical, through the summer sponsored three talks around Siqueiros and issues of censorship and freedom of expression. They plan several more events to occur through the run of the exhibitions.
And then there are the exhibitions themselves. The Autry’s Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied opens this Friday and describes the painter’s short stay in Los Angeles in 1932, which became a milestone both in his development as an artist and in the growth of the Chicano art movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
MOLAA has Siqueiros Paisajista/Siqueiros: Landscape Painter, which focuses on how Siqueiros applied his revolutionary images to the rather traditionalist discipline of landscape art. And then there is the Vera Gallery’s Confronting Revolution: A Siqueiros Aesthetic, which looks at Siqueiros’ print making.