WHILE YOU-KNOW-WHO attempts to separate us with walls and reversals, Los Angeles is locating protest and empowerment in inclusivity, and rewriting art history through a grand rejection of borders, thanks to the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. This colossally inspiring five-month initiative, featuring exhibitions, performances, and programming at more than seventy institutions, extends the post–World War II art-historical conversation launched with “PST: Art in LA 1945–1980” (2011–12) into the shared history between the region and Latin cultures, not only within Los Angeles, but throughout Southern California.
Who could have imagined the politically fraught timing of these openings, given that this iteration was at least four years in the making? For four days last week, I experienced a fortifying pride in the reassertion of a kinder American identity. Never before have I heard curators take such overtly politicized stances in their toasts; unprecedented was the camaraderie among exhibitions in heavily funded, refined museum surveys and DIY artist-run spaces, where “radical hope,” as Junot Díaz recently called it, tends to dwell. PST: LA/LA is about leveling ground and celebrating those who have been ignominiously left out. By building access to under-the-radar work, viewers must consider why and how borders form in the first place, and what we’re going to do to thwart future exclusions.
It is fitting that when I started my marathon last Wednesday, at LACMA’s preview for three exhibits, including “Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985,” a group was forming around the coolest guys in the section examining Chicano civil rights: Johnny Gonzalez, aka “Don Juan,” and David Botello, who helped launched LA’s Chicano mural movement around 1971. Describing their collaboration El Monumento de la Raza, 1970, a drawing for a never-realized architectural monument that would have featured a pyramid-shaped fountain flashing Mexican-flag colors with red, white, and blue, they compared themselves to ambassadors, gathering public-art ideas as they drove their VW Bug from East LA to Mexico City. The Don handed me his slick business card: “Don Juan Initiatives: Revitalization, Innovations, Community Cultural Educational Tourism.” I paid my tributes to El Monumento’s neighbor, Yolanda Lopez’s classic activism poster—Who’s the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?, 1978, featuring an Aztec warrior pointing angrily at the viewer in an Uncle Sam pose—and then wandered across to another exhibition, “A Universal History of Infamy,” featuring sixteen US-based Latino and Latin American artists. Highlights here include El NuMu, an egg-shaped portable museum from Guatemala, and Carolina Caycedo’s Serpent River Book / Libro Río Serpiente, 2017, a snaking accordion book rich with maps, texts, and photography investigating the socio-environmental impacts of river dams on Brazilian indigenous cultures. How little has changed.
The rest of my viewing day was dedicated to ICA LA’s phenomenal show of Martín Ramírez and Hauser & Wirth’s “Building Material. Process and Form in Brazilian Art,” which aligns contemporary materialists such as Erika Verzutti with 1950s and 1960s Brazilian Neo-Concretists. The evening’s Hammer Museum dinner, held at the gallery for a mere two hundred people, was supercharged after Ann Philbin’s remarks about “speaking truth to power” in America’s oppressive political climate, a situation not exactly shocking to the artists featured in “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985,” who have worked, unfortunately, through worse regimes. Omayra Alvarado, the director of Bogotá’s Instituto de Visión, graciously invited me to her table to sit with artists Sandra Llano-Mejia and María Evelia Marmolejo. María and I discussed her life in Queens and hummingbirds in her native Colombia. Which pieces in the show were hers? “Oh, the period, the placenta . . .” What a treasure to meet a spirit sister of Carolee Schneemann’s!
Grand Park’s PST: LA/LA launch party downtown on Thursday morning was packed with civic energy thanks to cheerful volunteers and the Afro-Cuban band Ori dancing to usher in a Brazilian goddess of creativity. Apt context for Helen Molesworth’s heady, feminist walkthrough of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Anna Maria Maiolino retrospective: five decades of work made in Venezuela and Brazil, at times under military dictatorship. This buoyant and triumphant exhibition features material charting starvation, oppression, and sexism, all while introducing viewers to a heretofore underappreciated luminary of Conceptual art, Minimalism, and even Pop. Inspired by Maiolino’s indefatigable attitude, I made several gallery stops, including GAVLAK for a nostalgic glance at an installation by Los Super Elegantes. But this day’s clear champion was JJ Stratford’s packed-like-sardines performance at Human Resources in Chinatown, starring F.L.O.W., or the Future Ladies of Wrestling. This local crew wipes out traditional machismo in an infamously bawdy sport with their queer, trans-feminist takeover. In the ring, when Candy Pain karate-chopped a series of wooden signs labeled “I.C.E.,” “PATRIARCHY,” and “DACA,” the crowd booed, hissed, and cheered with collective joy.
Days three and four were dedicated to exciting, newly opened shared spaces. ProyectosLA, a nineteen-gallery commercial popup, is an innovative architectural revision of hamster-like art-fair booth gridding. Its “no borders” open floor plan, architects Ezequiel Farca and Cristina Grappin proudly explained, now has double meaning given DACA’s recent challenge. Ruberta, a tiny, garage-size exhibition space next door to the Pit in Glendale, is shared among galleries from Mexico City, Guatemala City, and Bogotá. It opened with a group exhibition that will be followed by five successive two-month residencies dedicated to each gallery, ingeniously and economically availing their exposure. Next, Timo Fahler, cocurator of BBQLA, showed me around the downtown area bordering Boyle Heights. BBQLA brings collectivity to curation and generously mentors underserved kids. Wunderkind Max Oppenheimer, who heads BBQLA’s Meatgrinder initiative, a “youth-oriented art club community building contextual conversation,” escorted us to nearby Ibid Gallery to offer his astute opinions about Alejandro Almanza Pereda’s sculpture Sticks and Stones (California Decline), 2017, featuring precariously teetered palm-tree trunks and faux-classical column ruins as an ode to LA, which, thanks to earthquakes and global warming, might be swallowed into the ocean any day now. But, hey, what else is new?
The grand finale was the Hammer’s “Radical Women,” which is much too brilliant and consequential to summarize here. As pivotal to art history as was LA MoCA’s 2007 “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” this survey brings together more than one hundred artists from fifteen countries. Just outside the show is an elaborate time line charting victories of women’s liberation in the nations represented by each artist. The opening event was truly ecstatic; witnessing so many artists, fists raised, gathering for a photo brought teary-eyed hugs. A message board near the bar, where women anonymously pinned highly personal answers to questions about women’s rights, and particularly violations of those rights, reinforced a sense of solidarity and lent the whole event—which estimated two thousand guests before the night was through—an emancipatory universality. I could write a book about how great this show is, but first I had to Instagram Regina Silveira’s Arte, 1976/2017, an edible piece displayed for munching: Cookie language, we all speak it. Yes, we all speak the language of boundlessness, and must continue to, regardless of what’s to come.