Monroe Price

Price was a professor at the UCLA School of Law and the founder of Los Angeles Lawyers for the Arts. He was involved in the negotiations between Los Four and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art during the mounting of the group’s exhibition in 1974.

It was an otherwise ordinary smoggy Los Angeles day in the early 1970s, driving to meet Carlos, or Charles as he was then known, in a relatively nondescript apartment on the way downtown. Carlos was still in his post-New York period, and enrolled at the Otis Art Institute where my wife was teaching, and where they had become friends.

He had thick folders of work, envelopes of work, sheets and sheets. The work as I remember it reflected Charles’ interchanges and influences in New York City and internationally as well. His drawings were quick, often brash and comic, raunchy and worldly. They featured narratives and showed him searching of his own visual vocabulary. It was more Hairy Who [a group of Chicago Imagist artists of the late 1960s] than inchoately Chicano.

That meeting was intense, as any meeting with him would be, intense about reentering the West Coast, about engaging with the structure of the environment for achievement, about defining himself in the fierce, even if sun-drenched, economy of making art and becoming famous in the Southern California of the time.

The next time I saw him […] I had, as part of my role as a professor at the UCLA Law School, started an organization called Los Angeles Lawyers for the Arts, providing free legal services for artists. Carlos (now definitely not Charles) had shaped or helped shape Los Four and through it a new aesthetic force in the city. He asked me to represent them in what at the time was an unusual context for legal intervention: their dealings with LACMA, which had promised a show for late fall of 1974. […]

The artists, Carlos chief among them, sensed the symbolic importance of this exhibit or at least its potential symbolic importance. Carlos was deeply and properly concerned about how the idea of Chicano art (and more particularly the art of Los Four) entered into the Los Angeles consciousness, and ultimately, of course, to the world beyond L.A. He recognized the historic possibilities of art moving from the perilously vernacular to the precincts of the sacred, the sacred here being the privileged halls of the mainstream museum. He knew what some might consider little decisions would make a substantial difference in terms of the signals sent out to viewers, the various commu­nities of interest, and patrons.

LACMA opened a stunning exhibition in February of 1974, complete with Gilbert Luján’s dazzling Lowrider’s Regime, a fabulously decorated automobile that the museum had previously considered dropping from the show. LACMA recognized, maybe not sufficiently, that this was an important moment for it as an institution and for Los Angeles as a vigorously diverse creative home. Los Four was fantastically proud of their distinctive contribution—as artists bringing visibility and institutional sanction to what was emerging. Carlos was proud of the accomplishments of Los Four, but he was conscious of the protean contributions of artist groups who were first narrowly branded, but became global figures of magnitude. He could see Los Four as an important vehicle, one that could open up imaginations and multiply creativity, not necessarily stay with a brand that could cramp it.

The tension between “Charles” vs. “Carlos” was a shorthand for the complexities of Almaraz’s identity, style, and iconography. These complexities would be present in the discussions within Los Four, in the discussions between Los Four and LACMA and be further present during his wonderfully productive but tragically short life.


Return to Other Voices: Reflections on Almaraz's Legacy  

Return to Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz