'Always in her youthfulness and in her hunger': Yolanda López at MCASD
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Just six weeks after the death of the San Diego born Chicana artists and activists, you'll land a Lopez, the museum of contemporary arts, San Diego. We'll reopen this weekend with an exhibition of Lopez work, surprisingly the first solo museum exhibition of her long and celebrated career. Jill Dawsey curator at the museum of contemporary arts, San Diego spoke with KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dickson Evans. And we hear from artists and curators as a Sandra Moctezuma and Latitia Gomez Franco.
Speaker 2: (00:35)
I want to start with the profound impact of Yolanda Lopez beginning with Latisha Gomez, Franco, who is executive director of the Bubba art conservation center, who has also curated Lopez works in the past.
Speaker 3: (00:50)
One of my favorite visions of Yolanda Lopez has always been the photograph of herself inside of the Viacom developmental mental, just the look on her face and to imagine her always in her usefulness and in her, her hunger and her eagerness and that, and that passion that she always had, but to try to put myself, you know, I always think, what would I have done if I had been alive in the seventies and during the height of the Chicano movement, what role would I would have played? Uh, and I, I love imagining myself as a, as a young and vibrant Yolanda Lopez. Um, but I'm, I'm really excited to see, um, her, we can do a loop, um, series, uh, because those were the first of her pieces that I saw. And, and those were the first of the pieces where I saw myself and I saw ourselves
Speaker 2: (01:42)
Jill Dossey from the museum of contemporary art, San Diego. On that note, can you give us a look into the art of Yolanda Lopez
Speaker 4: (01:51)
As I loved what Leticia was sharing in conjuring, uh, Lopez's exuberant 1978 performance that was called Tableau Vivaan, which she appeared again as Guadalupe and Guadalupe here is both an athlete and a cultural producer. And, um, it's a series of photographs that, that document Lopez his performance in which, you know, it's sort of conceptual art beats improv comedy meets political revolution because she's wearing her UCS D track shorts. And she has a handful of paint brushes, which are the tools of her trade. And she's clasping them like a bouquet, or she's holding them up in the air like a trophy. And you really have this sense of the contagious exuberance that defines many of her works. And in her most, uh, her most iconic work, which is the oil pastel portrait of the artist is the Virgin of Guadalupe, you know, in which she famously depicts herself as, as Guadalupe and in running shoes, bounding off a black Crescent moon.
Speaker 4: (02:54)
And, and Guadalupe's a star pattern. Mantle is billowing behind and she's smiling broadly. And, you know, there's this sense of defiant, joy and a kind of almost rebellious joyfulness. And if we think of, you know, the Virgin of Guadalupe as a figure who was, you know, both this kind of lofty and unrealistic vision of femininity, uh, you know, one of the associated with, um, uh, her own suffering and grief, I think we get a sense of, of why Lopez his self portraits have been, you know, so, so popular and so beloved and have inspired, you know, so many other iterations of the image. So,
Speaker 2: (03:40)
Um, the works that you're including in this exhibition are from the 1970s and the 1980s, why these years, and what was the backdrop for Lopez, then
Speaker 4: (03:52)
Our exhibition explores roughly a decade period in, in Lopez's production. It was an incredibly transformative period when she had returned to San Diego in the early 1970s, after a decade in San Francisco, a period in which she became, you know, an artist and activist of tremendous statue within the Chicano civil rights movement. Um, so she comes back to San Diego to complete her education first at San Diego state, where she gets her BA and then in 1975, she enters the department of visual arts at UC San Diego. And it's this period in which she, you know, really through her embrace of Chicana feminism produces this feminist Corpus of work that investigates and reimagines representations of women within Chicanex culture and society at large. And so, you know, during this period, she produces many of her most iconic and beloved works. We have more than 50 paintings, collages, photographs, and large scale drawings in the show. And many that will be well-known and others that have never before been exhibited. Uh, the exhibition extends into the late 1980s when she concluded her well-known Guadalupe series. And by that time had returned to San Francisco. And so it's this kind of, you know, very, it's, it's very much a compendium of, of her work from, from this period.
Speaker 2: (05:24)
A lot has been said about the respect Lopez received during her lifetime in San Diego, as well as the role of women in Chicana history, in their region. Here's Alessandra Moctezuma, who is the gallery director and museum studies professor at San Diego Mesa college, who also teaches Chicano art and teaches Lopez's work.
Speaker 5: (05:46)
One of the most important things that I took from Yolanda's work was seeing how she challenged, uh, the whole concept of patriarchy. And that was not just in terms of the American patriarchy, but also in terms of being Latina and a Chicana artists. She encountered a lot of resistance sometimes from, you know, from the men that you can artists. This is well documented. There's a documentary about Chicano park, where there's a whole section where she talks about how hard it was to, you know, to get to paint the murals and how she supported a group of young women who wanted to paint in Chicano park.
Speaker 2: (06:27)
Jill, what do we know about Lopez's activism and how she brought that into her art?
Speaker 4: (06:35)
So Lopez has roots in political activism were foundational to her artistic practice and it retained throughout her career. She had moved to San Francisco in, in the early 1960s and in 1966, enrolled in San Francisco state college now San Francisco state university at a moment of just historic activism on campus and student groups were mobilizing in response to the Vietnam war, as well as to, you know, systemic racism at the university. And she was part of, um, the five month strike at S F S U that, uh, shut down the university and resulted in the establishment of ethnic studies and black studies departments. And, you know, in the late 1960s, she was part of the larger, you know, Chicano civil rights movement. And so when she returns to San Diego in the early seventies, she really is an extraordinarily accomplished artists and activists. And I would just highlight the way in which it parallels, you know, that her work as an activist and artist parallels the movements of our own day and, um, and really, you know, paved the way for those movements.
Speaker 2: (07:48)
And I, I asked Leticia Gomez Franco, whether you'll end to Lopez is life without major museum recognition until now is, is a symptom of Lopez priority of being in the community of being an activist, or whether it's a symptom of, of a bigger systemic and institutional oppression. And here's what she said.
Speaker 3: (08:11)
Being wary of institutions, is there not Chicano DNA, wanting to make things accessible to the community and wanting to decentralize things so that they, uh, appeal to us on an everyday level, I think is a big part of who we are as a community, but it doesn't mean that, that it isn't necessary to have a seat at that table. Um, and within the institutions and, and within the larger American cultural Canon. So it is disappointing to think that, that we are now, you know, everybody's now hearing about Yolanda Lopez has work grateful to MCAC for giving her that space. Yeah,
Speaker 2: (08:52)
This is the first time the museum of art is reopening its stores since the pandemic. This is a long closure, and of course so much has changed in the last year and a half. How is the museum handling a changed public and an changed art world?
Speaker 4: (09:12)
So it has been a period for us to do a lot of soul searching as an institution. We are talking a lot about, you know, how we can be a more visitor centric institution, a more welcoming museum, um, where audiences can come and, and, you know, see themselves reflected. And I hope that that is, you know, is, is what can happen. Um, with the exhibition Yolanda Lopez portrait of the artist
Speaker 1: (09:39)
That was Jill Dawsey curator at the museum of contemporary arts, San Diego speaking with KPBS as Julia Dixon Evans you'll land, a Lopez portrait of the artist opens Saturday at MC a S D.
"Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist" opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego this weekend.
This weekend, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego reopens for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020. They will open with a major retrospective of work from Chicana artist and activist Yolanda López, who died Sept. 3 at the age of 79.
López's art — and her activism — had a profound impact on the region.
"One of my favorite visions of Yolanda López has always been the photograph of herself inside of the Virgen de Guadalupe, just the look on her face, and to imagine her always in her youthfulness and in her hunger and her eagerness in that passion that she always had," said Leticia Gomez Franco, executive director of the Balboa Art Conservation Center who has curated López's work in the past.
"But I always think, what would I have done if I had been alive in the '70s, during the height of the Chicano movement? What role would I have played? And I love imagining myself as a young and vibrant Yolanda López posing for her roommate and what feels like such a natural installation piece of performance art. But I'm really excited to see her Virgen de Guadalupe series because those were the first of her pieces that I saw. And those were the first — the pieces where I saw myself, and I saw ourselves," Gomez Franco said.
Jill Dawsey, curator at the MCASD, said the piece Gomez Franco describes is one of López's significant works, a sort of performance piece from 1978 called "Tableau Vivant."
"It's a series of photographs that document López's performance, in which it's sort of conceptual art meets improv comedy meets political revolution. She's wearing her UCSD track shorts, and she has a handful of paintbrushes, which are the tools of her trade. And she's clasping them like a bouquet. Or she's holding them up in the air like a trophy. And you really have this sense of contagious exuberance that defines many of her works," Dawsey said.
A transformative period
The exhibition focuses primarily on López's work made during the 1970s and 1980s, when López returned to San Diego. The exhibition focuses on this time at UC San Diego through her return to the Bay Area in the late 1980s, and it's when López produces some of her more celebrated and notable works, like her Guadalupe series.
"It's this period in which she — through her embrace of Chicana feminism — produces this feminist corpus of work that investigates and reimagines representations of women within iconic culture and society at large," Dawsey said.
Dawsey added that in the 1960s, López was part of the Third World Liberation Front and involved with the Los Siete de la Raza movement in the Bay Area. López returned to San Diego first to get her bachelors at San Diego State, then in 1975, she enrolled in the visual arts program at UC San Diego.
"When she returns to San Diego in the early '70s, she really is an extraordinarily accomplished artist and activist," Dawsey said."The work that she did in the 1970s completely informed everything she did after."
Also on view is the iconic "Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe (1978)" work and her "Getting Through College" series — self-portraits of running through the eucalyptus-studded hills of UC San Diego with bold buildings depicting the institutions of the education system.
Works from her series, "Three Generations/Tres Mujeres" are also in the exhibition, plus drawings and collage works. It's a mix of well-known and never-before-seen works, nearly 50 works in total, said Dawsey.
Activism, the patriarchy and Chicano Park
Alessandra Moctezuma is gallery director and museum studies professor at San Diego Mesa College, and she teaches López's work in her Chicano art courses.
"I want people to understand that she was also an activist as much as she was an artist, she was struggling, fighting right now for renters rights against evictions in the Mission District. The work that she did with community is, I feel, as relevant as the work that she did as an artist," Moctezuma said.
Moctezuma said that what impacted her the most about López was the way she tackled ideas of the patriarchy. "And that was not just in terms of the American patriarchy, but also in terms of being a Latina and a Chicana artist," Moctezuma said.
López was never asked to paint a mural at Chicano Park but found a way to do it anyway — by empowering young women to help.
Gomez Franco said that she asked permission from the men involved with the Chicano Park murals but was denied. "So then they went at night and they painted a mural that still stands there today. They represented what it was like to be a woman during the Chicano movement and the lineage of women and powerful women in our heritage," Gomez Franco said.
Moctezuma said that despite López's accomplishments, she didn't get the degree of recognition she deserved from the art world during her lifetime.
"I think again that's the fate of a lot of Chicano artists in general, Chicana artists in particular," Moctezuma said. "I think she struggled a lot to even make a living. And I just feel it's a sad part about it. I know that she was amazing and she accomplished so much in her life, but I just still feel that it's hard for that generation of artists to get recognized. I don't think, for example, there's ever been a big show here of the Chicano muralists that painted at Chicano Park. And I just hope that we don't wait until people die to recognize that."
The exhibition at MCASD was originally planned for the fall of 2020, but during the pandemic, it was postponed, meaning López did not live to see her exhibition.
With the added time, the works were sent to a conservation studio in Oakland.
"I just wish that Yolanda could have seen them, because as I walk through the show, I think of the many conversations we had about every single detail, the framing of every single work, and I believe that she would have been really happy with it," Dawsey said. "So in some ways, the show itself, really, her spirit is alive in it, and the works themselves have so much presence."
As the downtown museum reopens, finally, after the long pandemic shutdown, they're also looking towards reopening their newly renovated La Jolla campus.
"We are talking a lot about how we can be a more visitor-centric institution, a more welcoming museum where audiences can come and see themselves reflected. And I hope that that is what can happen with the exhibition, 'Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist,'" Dawsey said. "For the museum field as a whole, we are feeling the need to to think about the colonialist origins of collecting institutions. What is the nature of an institution? How do we redress the cultural biases that have structured museums in this country for centuries and that are visibly reflected in our collections and our exhibitions?"
Dawsey added López's work is an example. "Lopez's self portraits were meant to invite identification with new visions of ordinary womanhood, and they were also meant to invite a kind of radical self appraisal and were inspired by the artist's own embrace of Chicana feminism," she said.