A permanent Asco mural is slated for City Terrace
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The 1970s Chicano art group Asco, which is the subject of a fine retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is known for its wry take on the 20th century tradition of Mexican murals. Asco’s distinctive versions were at once celebratory and critical of the genre, committed to the public posture of mural art but skeptical of its institutionalized status.
They were also mostly temporal performances acted out by Asco’s members, rather than fixed wall paintings meant for permanent display. Somewhere between street theater and living tableaux, these ‘Pop-conceptual murals’ survive today as photo-documents of events that took place more than 30 years ago.
Which is not to say that making wall paintings was alien to all members of the group. Willie Herrón III, one of Asco’s four primary artists, painted one of the most noteworthy -- 1972’s ‘The Wall That Crack’d Open,’ a pictorial cry of anguish painted in response to a near-deadly assault on his brother. Now, in conjunction with LACMA’s show, the Getty Foundation and the Culver City nonprofit space LAXART are co-sponsoring a new Herrón mural. Called ‘Asco: East of No West,’ it’s scheduled for completion in late October.
The twist: This fixed and painted mural is based on Harry Gamboa Jr.'s photograph of ‘Walking Mural,’ an Asco street performance. Asco fabricated props, donned elaborate costumes and, on the busy afternoon of Christmas Eve 1972, paraded for bemused onlookers along Whittier Boulevard in East L.A.
Herrón, in an email describing the image he’ll be painting, explained his and his colleagues’ presentation: ‘U will see on the left Patsy [sic] Valdez as the ‘ghost of the Virgin Mary.’ In the center u see (me) Willie Herrón as the ‘Walking Mural of lost/forgotten souls.’ On the right u see Gronk as the ‘Xmas tree past’.’ Think Dickens’ tale of moral transformation, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ reconceived and rewritten for a latter-day urban posada.
Patssi Valdez wore a partially see-through costume, which tweaks the virginal character. Herrón’s lost souls are embodied as Mexican masks and pre-Columbian heads, made of painted and sculpted paper. Gronk’s Christmas tree disports in semi-drag, a holiday evergreen fashioned from dresses of blue chiffon.
The new mural will go up in the alley at 4125 City Terrace Drive, behind Alvarez Bakery, just off Interstate 10 south of Cal State L.A. If the address sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the site of ‘The Wall That Crack’d Open’ and, down at the corner, a second Herrón mural, 1972’s ‘Plumed Serpent.’ (Both earlier murals have undergone substantial restoration work, although the heavily damaged lower portion of ‘Plumed Serpent’ remains mostly painted out.) LACMA plans a bus tour from its retrospective to see the mural trio on Nov. 19.
-- Christopher Knight