ASCO Collective 2 Favorite 



Apr 17 1970



Beginning in the early 1970s, the Los Angeles-based multi-media arts collective Asco (from the Spanish word for nausea) created performances, street theater and conceptual art that satirized the emerging styles of Chicano art and pushed the boundaries of what it might encompass. The four original members —Harry Gamboa Jr., Gronk, Willie Herron and Patssi Valdez— moved between media and genres, producing fotonovelas, mail art, photographs, happenings, media hoaxes and poetry.

Though Asco emerged from the Chicano Civil Rights movement, the work shares little with contemporary landmarks of a similar agenda like Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez's I am Joaquín. Rejecting the kinds of murals that characterized the identity-affirming barrio arts movement of that time (typically with a cast of heroic Aztec warriors rendered in a highly dramatic expressionism-in-the-hood style), Asco reinvented muralism and other tropes of Chicano art with histrionic camp spectacles and sly conceptual works such as Instant Mural (1974), in which Valdez was taped to a wall, and Walking Mural (1972), in which the members paraded down Whittier Boulevard, Gronk dressed as a chiffon Christmas tree, Herron painted to represent a human mural and Valdez masquerading as the omnipresent icon of Chicano/a art and Mexican Catholicism, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Geographically and culturally segregated from the then-embryonic L.A. contemporary art scene and aesthetically at odds with the dominant Chicano nationalism, at times Asco found a home in the new, interdisciplinary, artist-run spaces like Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE). On other occasions they chose to bypass galleries and museums altogether, and exhibit and perform in the streets. Their 1972 guerrilla performance, Spray Paint LACMA, in which three of the members tagged the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, used the barrio turf-staking practice of graffiti as a conceptual critique, converting the museum into a work of Chicano art. Responding to a racist comment by that institution's curator about the possibility of including Chicano art in museum exhibitions, Asco created a site-specific, ephemeral reframing of the institution as a whole. The same technique of appropriation by way of a simple labeling gesture recurs in Gamboa's use of a rubber stamp reading "CHICANO CINEMA" to deface posters and billboards. Excluded from the production of commercial cinema, Gamboa claimed its products for la causa. Without the resources to create alternative film, Asco employed arte povera and Dada techniques of recycling and appropriation to make cinema by other means.

Asco was a vanguard that sprung not from the art schools but rather from east L.A. Their method of art practice was rooted in political protest that rejected the more readily legible and democratic tropes of social realism. These conceptual high jinks were often rejected by "community artists" who insisted on figurative painting as a tool of social change. For example, in Urban Exile we learn that in Cruel Profits (1974) the purveyors of barrio socialist realism responded to Asco's super-8 film of Herron (abetted by a jar of McDonald's catsup) by mutilating a large doll: "You should be making movies and taking pictures of people working and suffering, something they can relate to.... the world doesn't need any more confusion."

Posted by Mariana Davila Moreno on