One of the oddest ideas at play here — even if it is Pasadena — is the one that attributes exoticism to this kind of painting, when you can find thousands of compelling examples on the Eastside or just by driving far enough down Beverly Boulevard. I personally know of at least four artists who regularly photograph their favorite hand-painted street graphics. Graphic styles and elements borrowed from Third World sign painters have been cropping up regularly in high-end graphic design for more than a decade. There’s a series of — ironically very badly designed — books by Barry Dawson documenting global street graphics, and at least one blue-chip artist — Donald Baechler — has based his entire career on mimicking the style. Nevertheless, the curators of “Sensacional!” are not wrong in presuming the persistence of this high-low gap.
Early in his career, on a road trip to L.A., Warhol had an epiphany. As he recounted in POPism: The Warhol ’60s, “The farther West we drove the more Pop everything looked on the highways. Suddenly we all felt like insiders because even though Pop was everywhere — that was the thing about it, most people took it for granted, whereas we were dazzled by it — to us it was the new Art. Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.” Ideally, a show like “Sensacional!” functions (as does Pop and, when you get right down to it, all art) to open our eyes to the world, but it’s still a shorter, smoother journey for a painting of a burrito to wind up in a museum than it is for the average person to view the same image painted on a barrio wall as Art.
Sensacional! Mexican Street Graphics | At the Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 792-5101 | Through February 15