Chicano art is an ambivalent concept to curate. Spanning across all artistic media and covering over fifty years of artistic production, Chicano art –as an art historical designation– has had polarizing interpretations throughout its history of public display. This dissertation includes an overview of Chicano art exhibitions since the 1960s and exhibition case studies of distinct curatorial methodologies, including hemispheric, post-Chicano, and Raza Studies frameworks. I feature readings of El Museo del Barrio’s Arte No es Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas, 1960-2000 from 2008; Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement from 2008; and the McNay Museum’s Estampas de la Raza: Contemporary Prints from the Romo Collection from 2012. I argue that each museum’s translation of this nuanced political consciousness is fraught with misinterpretation aimed at historicizing, depoliticizing, or delegitimizing Chicano art’s past and present political ethos. By examining exhibitions holistically through didactic labels, press releases, exhibition design, programming, and critical reviews, I deconstruct the unique approaches curators and the host institutional staff use to interpret and present Chicano art. This dissertation’s methodological structure is informed by the Chicana/o/x exhibition case studies of Chicana scholars Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Karen Mary Davalos, drawing from their decolonial methods of museum studies. I posit that these 21st century-curatorial approaches have elements that enliven Chicano art’s study. Such original curatorial efforts broaden art historical connections and reveal unprecedented presentation strategies that recognize Chicano art’s polyvalent conceptual linkages with Latinx and Latin American art. However, in these curatorial efforts, curators engage in a problematic process to market Chicano art as neither political nor relevant in contemporary art study, often at the expense of earlier Chicana/o/x Movement artists that remain active today. Through this study, I aim to challenge the presumption that curatorial strategies must position a rejection of Chicanismo for art world inclusion. Chicano art is defined by its disruptive relationships within the art world with a lack of competitive market value, a collector base, philanthropic support, and presence in museum’s permanent collections. This subject study must then consider the alternative infrastructure that informs and sustains Chicano art’s primary method of presentation. Public exhibitions and their accompanying catalogues are one of the direct outlets for the advancement of Chicano art historical scholarship, and therefore this study is a vital pedagogical analysis that problematizes the Chicano art exhibition space as an epistemic structure.
Karen Mary Davalos
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Zapata, Claudia, "Chicano Art is Not Dead: The Politics of Curating Chicano Art in Major U.S. Exhibitions, 2008-2012" (2022). Art History Theses and Dissertations. 12.
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