González Poster display at 11-11-16 Intersections event—on southwest wall.
So after several seemingly endless days of email and Facebook promotions, but only three days after an election that left so many feeling paralyzed and terrified, to the point of no longer watching CNN or UNIVISION, no longer reading the newspaper, no longer FACEBOOKing, or (god forbid) tweeting, trumping, dumping or doing anything, the multi-layered event that Marc Zimmerman and Len Dominguez had cooked up and worked so hard to put together, Intersections Literature and Art 11-11-16, finally took place at the Carlos & Domínguez Fine Arts Gallery before an audience that was probably much smaller than it might have been had the event been held at a date prior to 11-8, but which by 8 p.m. , was, nevertheless, quite sizeable indeed.
The event began with a showing of the literary sections of the LACASA website, featuring its large section on Chicago Chicano writing and another developing section on Latinos in Chicago writing, featuring Zimmerman’s Martín and Marvin, from which the author then proceeded to read a few sections.
Martín and Marvin and the LACASA website (www.lacasachicago.org) have been subject to discussion in previous articles to appear in El BeiSMan (see www.elbeisman.com/article.php?action=read&id=1130 and http://elbeisman.com/article.php?action=magazine&view=2016-10).
So here, we will focus on the González photo and poster collections as well as the Guerrero CD, matters featured in the second part of the program.
In a roughly twenty year period between 1972 and 1992, José González, co-founder of Chicago’s Movimiento Artístico Chicano (MARCH) and subsequently Mi Raza Arts Consortium (MIRA), felt it was his responsibility to document the world of Midwest Latino art works he saw virtually exploding around him first by collecting every poster he could afford and then by taking photos of what he could, and getting photos of what he couldn’t. The result was a massive collection of posters and photo slides that, along with countless boxes of books and documents, clogged his living quarters on 19th and Carpenter (future home of Calles y Sueños and Contratiempo magazine); and then, when the artist grew ill and had to move to an assisted living facility, everything came to be housed in the basement of the home owned by his sister Helen and his brother-in-law, Cayetano García, in Hammond, Indiana.
There the posters and transparencies sat for years, along with José’s art work, even after his autobiography and CD appeared, and even after Zimmerman, his editor, photographed and inventoried his own art work, and arranged for a selected series of documents to be donated to the Midwest Latino Art Collection of the Latino Studies Center at José’s alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. It was only a few years ago, on a visit to the house with Len Domínguez, that Zimmerman gathered up several boxes of photos from an even broader collection and took them back to Chicago. It was during this same visit that he and Domínguez realized that the posters themselves constituted a treasure that would make a wonderful exhibit and sale that might even help cover some of the ongoing costs of preserving González’s overall collection.
In the next few years, Dominguez made some reprints of selected slides which revealed the quality of early Chicago Latino murals; and Zimmerman proceeded to sort out and select the core elements of the collection, enlisting the scan equipment and support of John Pitman Weber and Jon Pound of the Chicago Public Art Group and then Nicole Marroquín and her student José Reséndez at the Schol of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was only after months of scanning, sorting and annotating, that Zimmerman finally came up with the series of digitalized images which were launched 11-11-16 as the José Gamaliel González Chicago and Midwest Latino Art Photo Collection, or GCOL.
First we should note that this is not the only collection of Chicago Latino art that exists. Other artists, arts organizations and collectors have slide collections, and some of them may be larger than the GCOL. However, this is to our knowledge the first collection to have gone digital and public, and it represents in this sense a collection brought together by the most important promoter of Midwest and Chicago Latino and specifically Mexican or Chicano art, in the period prior to the full rise of what is today the National Museum of Mexican Art. Representing what Gonzalez indicates is only 60% of the original collection (he claims many pictures were stolen, but there may be more still to be mined among the materials in Tano García’s Hammond basement), GCOL includes work by almost every major Chicago Latino artist known to the community between 1968 and 1990.
The first outdoor murals of Mario Castillo are the first public art works represented; however there are also designs by Castillo that he will use in subsequent work—and there are also portraits that we hardly ever see in his mature phases. There is a forgotten González sketch dating from 1966-69, plus his Northwest Indiana and Chicago mural work from the early 1970s on; almost all of Ray Patlán’s Chicagoland mural work (including his original façade for Casa Aztlán) is represented, as is the early work of the younger artists who came to dominate Pilsen’s walls even before Patlán left town: José Guerrero, Marcos Raya, Salvador Vega, and the ubiquitous he who sought to leave his mark on every building he could: Aurelio Díaz. GCOL is also remarkable for its presentation of the mural and poster art of Alejandro Romero, Mexican Chicago’s great master of complex modernist neo-barroque styling, and of Carlos Cortez, our master of simple linocut gems meant for popular consumption, education and empowerment.
José G. González. Moving Right Along-Indiana U. NW Student mural-Gary 1972.
Marcos Raya, Painting on May Street 1972.
Many other Chicago Mexican artists are represented—sculptors Alex Garza and Román Villarreal, muralists Ricardo Alonzo, Oscar Moya, Vicente and Francisco Mendoza—and even Héctor Duarte and Nicolás de Jesús, with their earliest Chicago work.
Also present is Cuban American artist Paul Sierra. But the Puerto Rican representation is also important—with muralists, Mario Galán, Oscar Martínez, Aníbal Rojas, and Gamaliel Ramírez, and then the surprisingly large number of images representing the work of internationally recognized Puerto Rican artist Arnaldo Roche Rabell, taken during his years at the SAIC in the early 1980s. Finally, with regard to Puerto Rican representation, we have a fairly large number of examples of the Puerto Rican and Latino-themed work by John Pitman Weber, in collaboration with Óscar Martínez, José Guerrero and countless others.
Gamaliel Ramírez. Untitled. 1974.
José Guerrero and Oscar Martínez. Smash Plan 21. 1978.
Other important aspects of GCOL are:
1) the several murals-in-progress we see as well as photos of mural launchings, with community singers, dancers and politicos all performing; and
2) the designs submitted by Castillo, Cortez, Díaz, and González for the Benito Juárez mural competition that was finally won by Jaime Longoria with Malu Ortega.
Still another aspect is the presentation of Latino artists from elsewhere in the Midwest: St. Paul’s Armando Estrella, who died in 1980, leaving very little record of his work; then too, David Thorez and Nora Chapman Mendoza, two key figures from Michigan.
And here we touch on another, albeit limited feature of GCOL: the presentation of early Chicago women artists. What we have in the collection is more than we have seen brought together before, but it is still disappointing. GCOL provides a few handicraft pieces by Mario Castillo’s mother, María Enríquez de Allen, as well of some photos of her working with students; we have two pieces by the late Marguerita Ortega, the first Latina artist member of MARCH in the early 1970s; we also have a graphic piece by Chicago born Mariana Yampolsky, a few Southwest tejidos by Juanita Jaramillo, as well as her collaboration in a mural directed by Aurelio Díaz.
María Enríquez de Allen, working on handicraft with two women, as José González looks on. Early 1980s.
There are several photos of art works presented at a Casa Aztlán Mujeres show, but neither Jose González, Marc Zimmerman nor any one else has been able to indicate which pieces are local and what artists are actually represented—what are local, Midwest, male or female (we can recognize images of women by Cortez, for example). CMAP and company have already gone beyond the collection in finding some additional images of Chicago Latina art from before the 1990s, but much more has to be done on this score. Finally with regard to this collection, there is no representation of Mexican artists prior to 1968, nor of artists like Luis Ortiz or any of the pre-1960s Chicago Latino painters or for Luis’s son Errol Ortiz or Dan Ramírez, whose art was outside of the barrio circuit and remained largely unknown and unrecorded by González and others. CMAP has amply filled some of the voids in recent months, with ample photo shoots and interviews.
However, the recent additions to the collection related to the 11-11 Intersections event had to do with Marc Zimmerman’s snapshots of wall settings and individual works serving as components of the González poster exhibition featured among the many images on the Carlos & Domínguez gallery’s walls and tables which created the greatest sensation and source of enthusiasm at the show on 11-11. Here, those attending could see several examples of Alejandro Romero’s posters, of Carlos Cortez’s posters and prints—the work of Aurelio Díaz countless other artists and art organizations that were key elements of the Chicago Latino art scene in the 1970s and beyond.
It should be stressed once again, that while many of the photos in GCOL were taken by González himself, many were also taken by John Pitman Weber for his own personal undigitalized collection as well as for the collection of the Chicago Public Art Group which he co-founded as the Chicago Mural Group in the early 1970s. In addition, many of the slides seem to have been acquired from a now discontinued master-compendium of art slides entitled the Rosenthal Collection, and listed in the massive pages of the Collection’s catalog. González and Weber were not professional photographers, and they didn’t work with the best photographic equipment. The same may be said for the unnamed photographers in the Rosenthal collection. So the photo record we have, while providing glimpses of murals and other artworks near the time of their inception and public presentation, is far from perfect. There are, however, a few special shots, that are clearly labeled as the work of Malu Ortega (see Raya self-portrait above), who was an advanced SAIC photography student and whose photographic vision was a major element in Jaime Longoria’s winning design for the key Benito Juárez High School mural. Her fine work points to some of the limitations of the photo record we have.
We might wonder if in the uncollected work of Diana Solís, Roberto Arredondo or other local photographers, we might have a better photographic record waiting to be developed and presented. We know, for example, that the most complete and best photo record of the Casa Aztlán murals developed by Harold Allen, photographer husband of María Enríquez de Allen, remains in the hands of Mario Castillo and John Pitman Weber, among others. Hopefully there will be some future effort to coordinate all existing photo records into one comprehensive total collection. Until such a time, GCOL takes us a long way. Plans are underway to house the original photos at or through the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution; the scanned versions, including the poster snapshots, will soon be available on the LACASA website or through collections held at the Chicago Public Art Group, Depaul University, and other locales in the Chicago-Northwest Indiana area.
Cover Photo: John Kim. Courtesy of Chicago Sun Times.
With Esther Soler’s arroz con carne and the GCO poster and art photo collections dominating much of the evening, the multi-layered event reached its culmination with the presentation of a CD dedicated to recently deceased José Guerrero, his life and art. Taking its title from the cover photographed by John Kim, as a Chicago Sun Times, this CD in a DVD box is an effort to present Guerrero’s story through pictures of all his major murals and prints, along with extended interviews with the artist, with his closest artist collaborator, John Pitman Weber, and long time public art free lance writer Jeff Huebner. Edited by Weber and Zimmerman, the CD stands as an example and template of the use of CMAP’s extended series of interviews and of GCOL collection and other visual collections in producing definitive works about veteran Chicago Latino artists.
What can we say about José Guerrero and the CD? For starters, we can do little better than cite extensively from Part I of the CD introduction:
Cartoonist, muralist and printmaker, mural tour leader, teacher and mentor, factory and park worker, gentle but committed activist—in sum a warrior or guerrero. These are the labels that characterize the public life of Mexican Chicago Chicano José Guerrero. José came to the Midwest from San Antonio, Texas in the mid 1960s, took a factory job with Sunbeam and honed his self-taught cartooning skills in drawings he did for rank-and-file factory publications. Soon after, he launched his first mural, Sí se puede, and then brought his growing capacity as a public artist to the “Solidarity Murals” executed with professional artist John Pitman Weber on the walls of the Chicago United Electrical Workers’ Union Hall (UE).
Guerrero then joined Weber and other artists of the Chicago Mural Group (CMG, now Chicago Public Art Group-CPAG), and embarked on other mural projects on his own and in collaboration. With Weber and other CMG members like Lynn Takata, Cynthia Weiss, and Celia Radek, as well as fellow Latino artists Óscar Martínez, Marcos Raya, Héctor Duarte, and others, he executed a number of murals; then in the 1980s, he joined with René Arceo, Carlos Cortez and several others to develop his graphic skills in Pilsen’s Taller de Grabado Mexicano, finally holding a one-man show at the Prospectus Gallery and joining in a second show at Prairie State College.
Over the years, José executed his art projects while working at Sunbeam and then taking on his long-term employment with the Chicago Park District. In his later years, he became well known for his art classes at Taller Mestizarte Carlos Cortez (formerly the Taller Mexicano de Grabado), and above all his mural tours, bringing countless groups of students and art-lovers to see and appreciate the works of his fellow Pilsen artists. He succumbed to cancer in the fall of 2015.
Guerrero was known for his radical politics and his long-term commitment to Maoist and post-Maoist concerns. However, in spite of his militant stances, and some very militant artwork, he was also known for his gentle and mischievous sense of humor, his warm solidarity with his fellow artists, and his humility with respect to his own work. This CD presents photos of Guerrero’s principal mural contributions and prints; it includes an extended interview with the artist, John Pitman Weber’s conversation with Guerrero about his mural and graphic work, and an extended interview with Weber about Guerrero’s overall career. The CD also includes articles and obituaries written by Weber, Lydersen and others, several online links to other materials, and a portfolio honoring Guerrero with prints by various Pilsen artists. The CD marks the culminating tribute to and record of the work of José Guerrero. It will serve as a treasure for … all who are interested in Chicago Mexican art.
The CD begins with a prologue, including brief statements by Guerrero and Weber about the former’s “contribution” to local Latino muralism, followed by videos featuring Guerrero talking about his art and Pilsen in English and Spanish. It is only then that Zimmerman’s formal introduction begins—first what has been cited, and then a personal narrative of how the CD material including the interviews was gathered as Guerrero entered the last phases of his fatal disease. Next come an extensive presentation and analysis of all his major individual and collaborative mural projects.
A Sequieros corner in Without Sruggle there is no progress at UE by John P. Weber and José Guerrero.
The section on murals is followed by a look at his graphic work as well as his development as a graphic artist from the time of the Mexican Taller de Grabado on Halsted Street, to the time of his first and only public graphic shows. What is most remarkable in this section is a narrative of snapshots leading us into the APO building to Guerrero’s workshop, to a walk around the workshop until we find Guerrero himself, who then shows and discusses most of his prints, including those portraying Pilsen, Texas, Chicago and International politics, aspects of Mexican culture and a final sequence on death, culminating with his print of Carlos Cortez having a drink with death, as Guerrero reflects on his own impending end.
Guerrero print showing his mentor, artist Carlos Cortez, toasting “Death.” (Photo: J Burger)
The next three parts involve discussions and photos of Guerrero’s work as mural guide, his shows of his graphic work, and finally the several obituaries, which appeared upon his death. A penultimate part of the CD is dedicated to presenting Juan Cruz’s photographs of drawings by local Latino artists as contributions to a portfolio paying homage to Guerrero and organized by Héctor Duarte and John Pitman Weber, upon a suggestion by Alexy Lanza. The photos reveal remarkable tributes by three generations of artists to a Guerrero named Guerrero, and their presentation as part of the overall CD became a further highlight of Intersections 11-11-1`6. A final part, not presented that night provides an epilogue, consisting of two full-scale recorded commentaries summing up Guerrero’s achievement. Zimmerman introduces these commentaries as follows:
What more can be said about this Chicago Chicano artist and worker that hasn’t been said already and better in the materials brought together in this CD? Luckily, we are able to present John Pitman Weber’s carefully considered evaluation of Guerrero’s contribution. This fine, knowing commentary can only be surpassed by José’s own words, as elicited by Jeff Huebner’s questions and considerations, in which José gently mocks the whole notion of “making a contribution” and “leaving a legacy.” José speaks out of his sense of modesty and his unconscious debunking of the nineteenth century theme (or paradigm, as Huebner phrases it) of the artist struggling, now with the Death of God, to find his soul in a universe bereft of meaning, in favor of one in which, at least as community muralist, Guerrero seeks to articulate and reach out toward what Lucien Goldmann, following George Lukács, referred to years ago as the potential as opposed to the real consciousness of working people. Through these words and the CD as a whole, the reader should arrive at a final sense of the achievement and significance of an artist who was, as he claims (was he pulling our legs?) not even aware that he was making or trying to make a “contribution” or, finally, leave a legacy.
In sum, Intersections 11-11-16 ended brilliantly in spite of the events of 11-8. To cap off the evening, all were served glasses of champagne in a final salute to the gallery, slated to close this month, and to CMAP which should finish its pioneering work at the same time. Paying tribute to the gallery and CMAP even as a dark cloud, product of 11-8, settled in over Pilsen, the event hosts also urged friends to join them in a bus ride to Guadalajara. “Why wait?” he asked with a touch of bitter sarcasm. “What have we got to lose?”
William Simbolov, a Guatemalan with Russian and Rumanian roots, has written several articles on general cultural theory and Latino studies.
Those wishing to see the poster show in December may do so by calling the Carlos & Dominguez Gallery at 773-580-8053. Those wishing to purchase the Guerrero CD or Martín and Marvin may do so by contacting LACASA CHICAGO at firstname.lastname@example.org. A special CD version of GCOL, including several interviews with John Pitman Weber, José Gamaliel González and Marc Zimmerman, should be available through LACASA in the next year. Meanwhile most of the images will be integrated into a revised version of the LACASA website, which will appear in early 2017.