Renegade Artists Get Museum Retrospective
Friday, September 23, 2011
On a spring night in 1972, a group of young artists from East Los Angeles spray-painted their names on the front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). They managed to slip away without getting caught. But this was no routine tagging, this was an art action. At the time there were no Mexican-American artists in LACMA's collection and this was the group's guerilla way of changing that.
The group called itself Asco — in Spanish, to feel “asco” is to feel nausea or disgust. As Mexican-Americans living in East LA they felt powerless. "We’re being harassed by the cops,” founding member Pattsi Valdez remembers. “The school system sucks. Most of our men are dying in Vietnam."
While other Chicano artists were making murals of Aztec warriors and Mexican folk heroes, Asco went in a much more absurd direction. The group created happenings and conceptual art to vent their frustrations. In flamboyant costumes made out of tin foil and cardboard, they staged irreverent Dada-like parades.
So what happened to those tags on the LACMA wall? The museum painted over them within hours. But they made Asco a word-of mouth sensation. And 40 years later, the group has an official retrospective at the same museum they once vandalized.
Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987 is on view at LACMA through December 4.
Slideshow: The Art of Asco