When the pioneering Chicano art group, Asco, hit the streets of Los Angeles 40 years ago, the community did not know what to make of their performance pieces, which tackled the day’s issues, including racism, head on.
Today, work by Asco (Spanish for “nausea”) and its members — California State University, Northridge Chicana/o studies professor Harry Gamboa Jr., Gronk, Willie F. Herrón III and Patssi Valdez — are part of a special exhibition, “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art,” that opened last weekend at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. At about the same time, the Nottingham Contemporary in Nottingham, England, opened an exhibition spotlighting Asco’s work.
“I am excited about the acquisition of my work for the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum,” Gamboa said. “I am hoping that many people will have the opportunity to view the exhibition, as well as to participate in the local, national and international dialogue regarding art and Chicano culture.”
For the past four decades, Gamboa has documented and interpreted the contemporary urban Chicano experience through his art, whether in photographs, videos or performance pieces.
The initial reaction to his work as a member of Asco was resistant and political. Over the years, art collectors, museum curators and academics have hailed Asco and Gamboa for presenting the realities of a community that was long ignored and provocatively translating the universality of its experience.
The Smithsonian exhibition presents the rich and varied contributions of Latino artists since the mid-20th century, when the concept of a collective Latino identity began to emerge. It explores how artists such as Gamboa and Asco shaped the artistic movements of their day and recalibrated key themes in American art and culture. The Smithsonian show runs through March 2, 2014.
The Nottingham show builds on Asco’s acclaimed retrospective, “Elite of the Obscure,” held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Williams College Museum of Art in 2011 and 2012. The Nottingham exhibition runs through Jan. 5, 2014. The show will then travel to De Appel arts center in Amsterdam and then the CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux, France.
Despite the international acclaim for his work, Gamboa continues to teach four classes in CSUN’s Department of Chicana/o Studies and is a faculty member in the photography and media program at California Institute of the Arts.
For more about Gamboa and his art, visit his website http://www.harrygamboajr.com.