Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review: Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture, and Education / Holden Caulfield missing.

Gary Keller, Joaquín Alvarado, Kaytie Johnson, and Mary Erickson. Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture, and Education. Bilingual Review Press. 2002.

ISBN 1-931010-14-5. 2 volumes, 642 pages.

If you really love the old man, or have abundant cash, Boxed Set (slipcased): $175.00/cloth set, ISBN 1-931010-11-0

Michael Sedano

Thanks to the wonders of next day parcel service, you're just under the deadline to get a fabulous father's day present that can't be beat, if you act now! That's not a sales pitch but un consejo from someone who recently discovered the existence of this 2002 treasure of Chicanarte. Vini, vidi, sold!

The volumes compel attention. Once opened, hours pass unnoticed in the sheer pleasure of exquisite color printing and generally interesting text. Oversize, the heft and feel of the book in one's lap is one of life's non decadent luxuries, multiplied by the fact of ownership. Hot damn, these are beautiful art books and they're mine!, your well-deserving papi will sing. Your less acquisitive Dad tipo will be reluctant to lend them out until he's consumed every page and all 600 plus artworks by 200 plus artists, mostly painters.

Among the best features of this encyclopedic treatment are the thematic excursions into such themes as La Virgen, Farmworkers, Dia de los Muertos, Lotería. These offer page after page of reproductions, often featuring deluxe fold-outs. In these thematic pages, Keller et al assembled sparkling gems of visual variety, interrupting the regularity of the two-column look. The sections would easily be assembled into their own book. Photographers Craig Smith and Marilyn Szabo merit special notice for their superb work handing the editors quality work. Quality-In, Quality-Out.

Gente who follow chicanarte will recognize many an artist's name and work. Ester Hernández' calavera Sun Mad raisin carton, Alma Lopéz' flower bikini'd Virgen de Guadalupe, Magú's perro character, Carlos Callejo's river crossers. Given the wide geographical spread of the artists, everyone will discover new work and new artists. In a way, I hope Dad doesn't know a lot of Chicana Chicano artists, this way every page will be new, delightful, knock him on his ass potent. Will the old man be freaked out by Alex Donis' Ché kissing César? Will he get pissed at heroic pachuco icons? Will he fall in love with that chola?

Even if Dad never reads more than a few words of the text, you will. And so will your kids and the nieces and nephews. It's an extraordinary work of research disguised as a coffee table book. The two-volume set has been designed with simplicity. Volume one publishes surnames A through G, volume two G through Z. Two page spreads cover each artist. A hundred word sans-serifed artist's statement and mug shot leads each featured artist, along with the artist's signature. Two-column body text mixes biographical information with explications of the one or two works reproduced in the spread. Most entries conclude with an exhibitions listing, reminding readers of all the shows they've already missed, but adding urgency to attending regularly from now on.

Eight years is a lifetime in an artist's productivity. Work in the two volumes is a snapshot of what the artist was doing back around 2002. Thankfully, most artists on display are still alive and exhibiting. Thanks to this collection, attentive gift-givers will recognize an artist showing at a local gallery. Invite Dad to come along for the wine and cheese snacks. Let this two-volume set be a gift that keeps on giving; that keeps you giving the old man what he deserves. Your company. The art is just a bonus.

Just as the content of chicanarte constantly manifests itself in new and familiar ways, so too will these books. Bilingual Review Press supports the contents with a rich set of web pages featuring artist and gallery directories and calendars of events. It's gratifying to see the Events/Announcements page features current data, such pages often are the first to go when an endeavor is "flavor of the month". Obviously ASU, Bilingual Review, and Gary Keller, are serious in their commitment to these outstanding volumes, and chicanarte.

The editors dedicate the collection to Sister Karen Boccalero. Sister Karen founded Self Help Graphics and Art in Los Angeles. Thanks to Sister Karen's efforts, chicana chicano artists found a market for their work and patrons found an excellent, low-cost source to buy many of the works featured in Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture, and Education. Sadly, none of Sister Karen's work made the book. I own a Sister Karen lithograph and for sentimental reasons alone, I'd like to have seen her make the artist roll call. But then, lots of outstanding Chicana Chicano artists didn't make the roll call here. Ni modo, unless you're one of the omitted. What you see is what you get, and what you've got here is an outstandingly broad selection. And you can always look stuff up on the internet.

Speaking of Not Making the Roll Call.

You may have read recently that J.D. Salinger has sued a writer for using Salinger's Holden Caulfield character in a book purporting to show this catcher in the rye as an old man. Perhaps that author has not read Salinger's "This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise." Holden went missing as a 19-year old GI in the Pacific, circa 1945. Maybe he survived. Here's Holden's brother, also a G.I., thinking about the kid:

Why, he came through the war in Europe without a scratch, we all saw him before he shipped out to the Pacific last summer—and he looked fine. Missing.

Missing, missing, missing. Lies! I’m being lied to. He’s never been missing before. He’s one of the least missing boys in the world. He’s here in this truck; he’s home in New York; he’s at Pentey Preparatory School (“You send us the Boy. We’ll mold the Man—all modern fireproof buildings...”); yes, he’s at Pentey, he never left school; and he’s at Cape Cod, sitting on the porch, biting his fingernails; and he’s playing doubles with me, yelling at me to stay back at the baseline when he’s at the net. Missing! Is that missing? Why lie about something as important as that? How can the Government do a thing like that? What can they get out of it, telling lies like that?

Read Salinger's story here.

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