Orange County’s Godfather of Chicano Art, Emigdio Vasquez, completed the mural “El Proletariado de Aztlán” for his master’s thesis at Cal State Fullerton in 1979. It’s an impressive sight: an 8-foot-by-40-foot wall painting spanning two exterior sides of a modest one-story triplex apartment on an unassuming side street in Old Towne Orange.
Aztlán is the mythical home of the Aztec people, and the mural depicts workers—el proletariado—from ancient times to the late 1970s. Larger-than-life figures grace the walls, including a warrior, a miner, a man on strike, and a dapper fellow in a zoot suit. And they are not all anonymous. Vasquez depicted people from the neighborhood, such as Hank Luna, who volunteered at the Friendly Center, which used to be a community gathering spot. Then there is his daughter Rosemary, who is depicted standing next to Luna. Vasquez grew up here; his parents’ home was a block away.
This month, three years after his death, Vasquez and his work will be spotlighted in a comprehensive exhibition organized by Chapman University. The exhibit is part of a much bigger picture: the Getty’s behemoth “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” an exploration of Latin American and Latino arts.
More than 70 cultural institutions from Santa Barbara to San Diego have planned visual and performing arts events. In Orange County, Laguna Art Museum, Muzeo, and UC Irvine, in addition to Chapman, will have Pacific Standard Time events. Laguna Art Museum and UC Irvine received funding from the Getty Foundation, which distributed more than $16 million in planning and research grants for the massive initiative.
Representatives from each of the O.C. institutions say they would not have been able to mount as expansive a show, or in some cases any show, without the Getty’s financial and other assistance.
Natalie Lawler, the curator of art collections at Chapman University, says she and others there feel great satisfaction about the display of Vasquez’s work because he has not received the plaudits he deserves.
“I’m from Orange County, so this, for me, is a really personal thing,” Lawler says. “I feel really happy and proud to be part of a project like this that’s highlighting a bit of O.C. history that’s not as advertised. I had no idea there were murals around me. I always think of murals as being an L.A. thing.”
There are so many blue chip arts festivals overseas, such as the Venice Biennale or Germany’s Bayreuth Festival, it’s exciting when something as impressive in scope and sophistication is organized on our doorstep. In the case of Pacific Standard Time, it’s not just arts patrons who are celebrating. The organi- zations taking part are, too.
The ability to hook your wagon to the Getty is highly prestigious and helpful on many levels. Take the first Getty Pacific Standard Time, which was called “Art in L.A. 1945-1980” and ran from October 2011 to March 2012. In a post-festival study, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. determined that it generated $280 million in business activity (money spent on hotels and retail, for example) and supported 2,490 jobs (curators, designers, maintenance workers), in addition to providing other financial benefits.
The Getty name and its marketing muscle also acts as a tail wind. This is particularly important for the Orange County institutions, which are small or mid-size.
“We’re hoping they’ll bring (busloads) of journalists from L.A.,” says Malcolm Warner, director of the Laguna Art Museum. “It would be hard to imagine any museum wouldn’t want to be part of it really.”
(Orange County Museum of Art chief curator Dan Cameron had received a Getty grant to research kinetic art from Latin America. But then he and four others were fired in a March 2015 “restructuring.” OCMA director Todd D. Smith said: “We knew that our museum building would be on the market for a potential sale and we felt it would be imprudent for the museum and the Getty to go down a path toward a full-scale exhibition.” “Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969” is being presented instead at the Palm Springs Museum of Art.)
Deborah Marrow, president of the Getty Foundation, notes that there is an advisory committee assisting all the institutions, large and small, and the process begins with funding artistic research and scholarship. After the institutions reported back with thoughtful proposals, the Getty then gave them the thumb’s up—and perhaps more financial assistance—for an exhibition.
“I think we’re going to see that the small and medium organizations have set the bar really high and then will jump over it,” she says.
So what will be on display in Orange County? Here’s a look:
Muzeo’s “Deconstructing Liberty: A Destiny Manifested” (through Oct. 15) was curated by Marisa Caichiolo, who selected 14 conceptual artists from eight countries, including the U.S. and nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. She included photography, video, installation, and performance works that question traditional notions of liberty. One of the artists will set up a radio station at the museum, and the public will be able to speak on the air.
“This will be a very interactive exhibition with the educational programs and students (coming from) Anaheim,” Caichiolo says.
While providing a comprehensive look at Vasquez’s oeuvre, the Chapman show has a wider focus. Entitled “Emigdio Vasquez and El Proletariado de Aztlán: The Geography of Chicano Murals in Orange County” (Sept. 13 to Jan. 5), it has five components, and Chapman students have a big hand in them. Vasquez’s easel paintings, as well as works by living Chicano artists, will be displayed in the university’s Guggenheim Gallery. The Argyros Forum will have a student-curated exhibit about Vasquez’s life and times.
Three Chapman computer science students have created a downloadable app that allows users to take a self-guided tour of 34 of Vasquez’s murals in Orange County, including images of nine that were either damaged or destroyed. Starting this month, Vasquez’s son Higgy begins work on a new 10-by-20-foot mural in the university’s Moulton Courtyard. A public symposium on Chicana(o) murals is also planned.
Gilbert Luján is the subject of UC Irvine’s “Aztlán to Magulandia: The Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert ‘Magu’ Luján” (Oct. 7 to Dec. 16). The University Art Gallery show will include more than 150 paintings, drawings, and other objects by the UC Irvine MFA graduate, who was one of the founding members of the Chicano artists collective Los Four. Luján, well-known for his bright colors and his celebration of low-rider culture, died in 2011.
This exhibit was already in the works, but being a part of PST enabled UC Irvine to produce a hard-bound catalog, says associate professor and co-curator Rhea Anastas. The show’s other curator, Hal Glicksman, was the University Art Gallery director when he met Luján in 1972. Together they organized the first Los Four exhibit, which later went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Laguna Art Museum is presenting a historical exhibit, “California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820-1930” (Oct. 15 to Jan. 14). Most of the show’s more than 100 pieces are borrowed from other collections. But it kicks off with an 1832 painting from Laguna’s own collection called “San Gabriel Mission,” by German artist Ferdinand Deppe, who traveled the state when it was a part of Mexico.
“It is a thematic show. That’s one thing I value,” Warner says. “There is something very exciting about looking at an idea. You’ve got the wormhole world of images to form the exhibit from.”