Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987

(Los Angeles, August 31, 2011)—The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987, the first retrospective to present the wide-ranging work of the Chicano performance and conceptual art group Asco (1972–1987), co-organized with Williams College Museum of Art and on view September 4 through December 4, 2011.

Geographically and culturally segregated from the still-nascent Los Angeles contemporary art scene and aesthetically at odds with the emerging Chicano art movement, Asco members united to explore and exploit the unlimited media of the conceptual. Creating art by any means necessary—often using their bodies and guerilla tactics—Asco merged activism and performance and, in doing so, pushed the boundaries of what Chicano art might encompass. Asco: Elite of the Obscure includes nearly 150 artworks, featuring video, sculpture, painting, performance ephemera and documentation, collage, correspondence art, photography (including their signature No Movies, or invented film stills), and a series of works commissioned on occasion of the exhibition.

Asco: Elite of the Obscure was organized by Rita Gonzalez, LACMA’s curator of contemporary art, and C. Ondine Chavoya, Williams College associate professor of art and Latina/o studies. The exhibition is also a part of Pacific Standard Time, an unprecedented collaboration, initiated by the Getty, bringing together more than sixty cultural institutions from across Southern California for six months beginning October 2011 to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene.

“This is the first opportunity to expose the nearly fifteen-year output of this important yet underrated art group,” said Gonzalez. “Asco’s retrospective will include works by the artists and an extended network of collaborators, many of which have not been seen since they were produced.”

“The exhibition will provide revelations and surprises for both those who are familiar with Asco’s work, as well as those just discovering it,” said Chavoya.

The core team of artists, Gronk, Willie F. Herrón III, Harry Gamboa, Jr., and Patssi Valdez, met in and around Garfield High School in East Los Angeles in the late 1960s.The emerging artists took the name Asco from the Spanish word for disgust or nausea, and set about expressing this shared feeling through performance, public art, and multimedia in response to turbulent socio-political issues in Los Angeles, and in dialogue with a larger international context. Asco eventually expanded to include a larger group of artists and performers; and the exhibition will highlight the contributions of the group’s many participants and collaborators including Teddy Sandoval and Jerry Dreva, among others.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Asco developed a sophisticated body of work attentive to the specific neighborhoods of Los Angeles and, in particular, its urban Chicano barrios. Their work circulated more as rumor than as a documented historical account, due in part to the group’s interest in hit-and-run tactics, but even more so due to their location outside of the designated geographic centers of conceptual art production. However, the group eventually inserted themselves into a broader circuit as they became engaged with an international cast of artists involved in correspondence art. 

Image credits:

Asco, Instant Mural, 1974, Courtesy Harry Gamboa, Jr. 1974, © Asco/Photography, © Henry Gamboa, Jr. 

Asco, Asco Goes to the Universe, 1975, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, © Asco/Photography, © Henry Gamboa, Jr. 

Gronk, Untitled, circa 1978, Courtesy of Sean Carrillo and Bibbe Hansen © Gronk 

Harry Gamboa Jr., X’s Party (fotonovela), 1983, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Photograph © 1983 Henry Gamboa, Jr. 

Exhibition: Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987 On View: September 4–December 4, 2011 Location: BCAM, Level 2
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