Make 'Em All Mexican

Linda Vallejo's new series playfully and satirically reappropriates Western civilization and American icons, May 14-June 5

Published on LatinoLA: May 4, 2011

Make 'Em All Mexican

Avenue 50 Studio is pleased to announce an exhibition of new works by LINDA VALLEJO titled Make 'Em All Mexican on view from May 14 through June 5, 2011. The artist's reception will be held on Saturday, May 14th, from 7 ÔÇô 10 pm. An artist interview with Armando Dur??n will be presented on Saturday, May 21st at 4 pm and a lecture by curator Karen Mary Davalos will be offered on Saturday, May 28th at 4 pm.

"My Kind of Joke" by Karen Mary Davalos - associate professor at Loyola Marymount University, scholar of art and visual culture, and author of numerous books and articles on Chicano and Chicana art.

Excerpts from the curator's essay

"Pulsing with a postmodern sense of humor, Linda Vallejo's provocative new series, Make 'Em All Mexican, playfully and satirically reappropriates Western civilization and American icons. Vallejo does this by repainting as Mexican figures found in Norman Rockwell paintings, Disney animation, Hollywood movies, television sit-coms, classical European portraiture and sculpture, British and French monarchy, and the school primer, Dick and Jane. The artist makes them all Mexican by painting directly on vintage photographs and advertisements, fine art reproductions, mass-produced offset prints, and collectable figurines, changing their color and facial features using brown and black gouache or oil paint.

Certainly, Vallejo's series is quietly disorienting. It invokes uncertainty and fiercely defies closure. As the series title announces, Mexicans are not simply the dominant public image, they are the only public face on this reimagined Western visual landscape. She forces viewers to ask: If the lack of representation resulted in Mexican and Chicano disenfranchisement as well as exclusion from and invisibility in public space, then what is gained by an abundance of representation, by complete representational dominance? And why does the visual abundance of Mexicans make us laugh?

The artistic technique of repurposing and deconstruction permeates Linda Vallejo's work. As a master of recycling, Vallejo began as early as 1978 to reuse objects in new ways. Her found-object suite of sculptural forms made from tree limbs and her more recent recycling of Styrofoam into mixed-media works are two examples. The consistent strategy to reuse objects and images, including her own artwork, has become one of her hallmarks. Vallejo wreaks havoc on the modernist fascination with the original, and in this postmodern spirit, she turns away from western notions of originality and authenticity.

As the artist reveals, the series started as a joke. Linda Vallejo noticed, as many postmodern scholars have, that we are bombarded with images, but the messages are not always coherent. The multiple perspectives, proliferation of images, and expected rapidity of observation create visual chaos. The artist formulated in her mind a playful question intended to simplify the morass: what would it look like if we were all Mexican? That is, if she specified the lens and created images from the point of view of one Chicana/Mexican American/indigena? The idea--just the idea alone--of making everyone Mexican made Vallejo burst into laughter. It tickled her to re-imagine every image, everything she had ever seen in museums, books, magazines, or on television and the movie screen, as brown, like her.

The invention of an alternative history is the same creative strategy used in Atomik Aztec (2005) by speculative fiction writer Shesshu Foster and in the video performances Indig/urrito (1992), by visual artist Nao Bustamonte, and El Naftazteca: Cyber Aztec TV for 2000 AD (1995), by Guillermo Gomez-Pe??a and Roberto Sifuentes. The twist is important, because Vallejo's alternative history alleviates social anxiety by reducing oppression, whereas Arau's fiction produces collective angst as it draws into the spotlight a national economy that relies on the cheap labor of Mexicans. As Fred Wilson declares about his work in museum collections, Vallejo's series is an effort "to root out  denial" and thereby to begin "a healing process" of the collective human psyche.

As I finalized the design of the exhibition, I was pulled back into the series' humor by the diptych based on portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip cast on porcelain plates. Collectible plates circulate as commerce, which may be ironic and somehow beneath the Queen's dignity, but Vallejo redeems them when she paints them Mexican. Vallejo wittingly reminds us that ironic appreciation can emerge from the kitsch, a style Mexicans and Chicanos have perfected and known as rasquache aesthetic. The plated images are a perfect pun on an archaic obsession with British royalty. If Mexicans are the central figures of this antiquated fascination, then they also enjoy the last laugh from their perch. And that is my kind of joke."

Armando Dur??n, renowned Southern California collector says, "Make 'Em All Mexican are reconstructed memories--a life as we had hoped it had been. This work represents memories hidden in the deepest recesses of our minds evoking an almost visceral reaction of pain in memories repressed. After the initial euphoria of seeing the world we had wished for - true emotion sets in, and it packs a wild punch."

In 2010 Vallejo presented a forty-year retrospective, Fierce Beauty, curated by Betty Ann Brown at Plaza de la Raza. She is included in The California/International Arts Foundation's new encyclopedia L.A. Rising: SoCal Artists Before 1980 compiled by Lyn Kienholz and supported in part by the Getty Foundation. Her work is schedule for inclusion in two exhibitions of the Getty Foundation's city-wide initiative, Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980. Vallejo will appear in Mapping Another LA: The Chicano Art Movement curated by Pilar Tompkins Rivas opening October 2011 at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. This exhibition is part of L.A. Xicano, a unique collaboration between UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center and three museums. Vallejo will also be included in Doin' It in Public: Art and Feminism at the Woman's Building in October 2011 at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art.

Make 'Em All Mexican by Linda Vallejo at Ave 50 Studio, Highland Park, California
curated by Karen Mary Davalos
Exhibition Dates: May 14 through June 5, 2011
Opening Reception: May 14, 7 ÔÇô 10 pm
Artist Interview with Armando Dur??n: May 21, 4 pm
Curator's Lecture: May 28, 4 pm
a full color catalog will accompany the exhibition

Ave 50 Studio, 131 N. Avenue 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 258-1435 or ave50studio@sbcglobal.net

Author's website

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