In his autobiography, Bringing Aztlán to Mexican Chicago: My Art, My Work and My Life ( 2010) José Gamaliel González sets forth his version of a series of conflicts he and his organization, MIRA, Mi Raza Arts Consortium, had with the Mexican Fine Arts Center, now the National Museum of Mexican Art, especially during the 1980s. A second publication, LACASA’s recent CD, José Gamaliel González, Documenting the Work of a Chicago Mexican Artist and Activist (2012) reviewed the conflict, but also showed how the Museum began recognizing González’s role as a pioneer artist, by sponsoring the publication of a fine interview of the artist, acquiring a major drawing of his for the Museum’s permanent collection, and including that drawing in its Day of the Dead show of 2010. Documenting concludes with a photo standing by that drawing as it hung on the wall.
Now, in the Museum’s current show of Chicano works from the collection of Gilbert Cárdenas, there are three posters and two artworks by José on display. So, on May 31, I took José, now 81 years old, from his retirement home to see the Cárdenas exhibit and was able to photograph him with his work on display. I include one of José standing next to his painting of Elizabeth Taylor and the World of Hollywood—with a note behind him. The note has excellent things to say, but places the picture in the 1970s in relation to the Vietnam war, when it is in fact an early González oil painting from the early 1950’s, which places it perhaps with the Korean War. The note also speaks of the Elizabeth Taylor’s painting (probably his most important work in oil) as part of a pre-political phase of the artist’s production. In fact, very little of José’s art work was openly political, beyond his concern with Mexican under-representation—though of course some of his poster work for the Movimiento Artístico Chicano (MARCH) as well as MIRA had its political side.
As a gesture in keeping with José’s appearance with the show, gallery owner Len Domínguez joined me in donating copies of the González CD, which features the Elizabeth Taylor drawing on the cover, to the Museums’ store as part of the current fund-raising drive for the Museum.
Marc Zimmerman. Professor Emeritus Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS), U. of Illinois at Chicago. World Cultures & Literatures-Modern & Classical Languages (WCL-MCL), U. of Houston. Director Global CASA/LACASA Books.
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