Under the Getty-led Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the University Art Galleries at California State University Northridge are host to The Great Wall of Los Angeles: Judith F. Baca's Experimentations in Collaboration and Concrete. Like PST:LA/LA, which has 60 galleries partnering to take a stab at an all-encompassing introduction of Latin American and Latino art in concert with Los Angeles, one venue for muralist and educator Judy Baca is simply not enough.
On loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is Baca's "Las Tres Marías" (The Three Maries) (1976), on exhibition in "Radical Women; Latin American Art, 1960-1985" at the Hammer Museum of Art. Photography for "Documentation of Vanity Table," Baca's performance at the Woman's Building in 1976, is on display in "Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano LA" at MOCA Pacific Design Center. Finally, at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, her "Pancho Trinity" are napping in the gallery in "The U.S.- Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility."
At the campus gallery, her solo show comes close to being a legacy exhibition made of mural images, sketches, archived film and administration artifacts, including her 1980 Master of Arts abstract from CSUN. These documents of the Great Wall and mural programming guide you through the process of experimentations with collaboration that transferred the teachings of Los Tres Grandes, specifically David Alfaro Siqueiros, to the walls of Southern California.
The thesis abstract, titled "Great Wall of Los Angeles," is reprinted in the exhibition's catalog by Mario Ontiveros and published by Angel City Press, and includes essays by Ontiveros, Anna Indych-Lopez, Carlos Rogel, and Amelia Mesa-Bains. Of historic cultural significance is the essay by Andrea Lepage, who tracks Baca's studies at El Taller Siquerios and notes how the institution become aware of the work from "Chicana/o artists from Los Angeles ("la comunidad chicana de Los Ángeles"). They understood that artists from Los Angeles had "the capacity to export Siquerios's aesthetic ideals and ideology to international audiences," writes Lepage.
Baca took time away from the Great Wall in 1977 to attend the Siquerios workshops, which reopened after his death in 1974. The exhibition and catalog show how The Great Wall, and Baca herself, are a direct link to the Mexican mural tradition.
What is also compelling is to see renderings next to large-scale reproductions of later segments of The Great Wall. That is a testament to Baca's role as a teacher in guiding artists, some untrained, to create a mural for the people, led by the traditions of the masters, and driven by the stories of Los Angeles. History was moved forward with the help of LA's youth while they made a transition into adulthood with paint brushes.
At the exhibition are also samples from many of her major works. In true Social Public Art and Resource Center (SPARC) method of what I call the "Quad-M Aesthetic" — Mexican-Mural-Metaphor-Madness — there is a detail that is very telling. In "Balance," a segment of the portable World Wall, under the painted symbol of harmonious balance where man becomes one with the world while holding on to respect for all life, the child cradled by hands is also seen as a soft reflection on a body of water with a poetic horizon line. Walk up to it at eye level and you will see the image in the passive waters is made with fierce emotional brush strokes. Fury makes up the quiet reflection.
"The Great Wall of Los Angeles: Judith F. Baca's Experimentations in Collaboration and Concrete" closes December 16. Baca and Amalia Mesa-Bains will talk about the exhibition at a free event in the CSUN Art Galleries on Saturday, December 2, at 2 p.m.
Radical Women; Latin American Art, 1960-1985 closes December 30.
Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. closes December 31.
The U.S.- Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility closes January 7.