los-angeles

“Phantom Sightings”

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

IN 1972, under cover of night, three members of Asco, the Chicano conceptual-art collective from East Los Angeles, tagged the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with their last names. The work was prompted, so the story goes, when a LACMA curator told Harry Gamboa Jr.—who founded Asco (“nausea” in Spanish) with Willie Herrón III, Patssi Valdez, and Gronk (Glugio Nicandro) in 1971—that Chicanos were not represented in the museum because they were gang members, not artists. Asco’s graffitied signatures were at once a fuck-you defacement and a sly Duchampian appropriation—claiming authorship of an institution that stereotyped and excluded them.

The graffiti was removed the next day, but its impact lingered. Now, more than thirty years later, a photograph of Spray Paint LACMA greets visitors at the opening of the museum’s “Phantom Sightings.” From illegal outsiders to celebrated insiders at the

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