Make ‘Em All Mexican
Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH)
September 13-November 9, 2014
Los Angeles-based artist Linda Vallejo consolidates multiple international influences gained from a life of study and travel throughout Europe, the United States and Mexico to create paintings, sculptures and installations that investigate contemporary cultural, political, spiritual and environmental issues. Critically acclaimed as breakthrough work, Vallejo’s Make ‘Em All Mexican re-contextualizes familiar iconography through a culturally personal lens by re-purposing objects ranging from postcards and posters to figurines and statues. Karen Mary Davalos, Professor and Chair of Chicana/Chicano Studies Department, Loyola Marymount University notes:
“Vallejo has produced a provocative new series that re-appropriates Western and American icons. Using widely recognized images, such as Hollywood celebrities, Norman Rockwell paintings, Victorian figurines, classical European portraiture, and the school primer, Dick and Jane, Vallejo repaints the figures as Mexicans. From one perspective, Vallejo creates the fear of every anti-immigration activist and recolors the world with brown skin and black hair and eyes. Vallejo is conceptually performing two critical acts, first she defaces the work that she recolors, and second, she takes the image (and its history, power and meaning) and changes it for her own purpose.”
Vallejo carefully selects her objects from antique stores, yard sales and estate sales then gives them new identities with auto body paints, acrylic, gold leaf, oil and Wite-Out. By transforming figurines of pop icons such as Elvis and Marilyn Monroe into chocolate-skinned El Vis and Mariela, Vallejo imbues her figures with the polarities between the iconic and kitsch and tongue-in-cheek humor while questioning the politics of color. These transformed characters bring questions of race and class to the forefront.
Each item is potentially comical and unfamiliar all in one glance. For Vallejo these issues hit close to home; she states “even as a third generation American, I remain invisible in the cultural landscape. Thus, Make ‘Em All Mexican creates a space that is inclusive of the Latino community while at the same time exposing its absence and the cultural divides that exist in our country.”
Highly accomplished, Vallejo has enjoyed numerous solo exhibitions of Make ’Em All Mexican at the Soto Clemente Velez Cultural Center in New York in 2014, the George Lawson Gallery and the University Art Gallery of New Mexico State University and at Arte Americas in collaboration with the Fresno Art Museum and the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art at California State University, San Bernardino. In 2014, Vallejo received the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs COLA Individual Artist Fellowship. She has exhibited at the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art New York, the San Antonio Museum and Mexico City Modern Art Museum. She was included in two exhibitions associated with the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945–1980 initiative: Mapping Another LA: The Chicano Art Movement, at the UCLA Fowler Museum; and Doin’ It in Public: Art and Feminism at the Woman’s Building, at the Otis College of Art and Design Ben Maltz Gallery. Her work is in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard, California, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the California Multicultural and Ethnic Archives at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Chicano Studies Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. The George Lawson Gallery in San Francisco, California currently represents Vallejo.
My kind of joke
Karen Mary Davalos, Professor and Chair of Chicana/Chicano Studies Department, Loyola Marymount University
Pulsing with a postmodern sense of humor, Linda Vallejo’s provocative new series, Make ‘Em All Mexican, playfully and satirically re-appropriates 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 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.
El Duende, 2014
acrylic, metal flake, repurposed aluminum
37.5 x 16 x 10 in.
Dolls: A Story of Displacement and Hidden Brownness, albertini 2014 the kite, by Rosanna Albertini