Outlaws and In-laws, Chismes y Pedo
Harry Gamboa Jr., my husband, was the focus of the tabloid-style article in the L.A. Weekly titled The Art Outlaws of East L.A. [June 814]. Marisela Norte was described in Daniel Hernandezs article as Harry Gamboas mistress. For the record, she was not the exclusive lover, nor financially supported by him in any way, but was one of numerous casual lovers Gamboa was simultaneously involved with at that time. During that period, Gamboa lacked respect for the institution of marriage and for Ms. Norte. More than two decades later, Ms. Norte continues to be bitter over the end of a meaningless extramarital affair, and has joined forces with like-minded individuals, including Gamboas own sister, Diane, to publicly attack Gamboa in a desperately immature outburst.
Harry Gamboa Jr. has matured considerably since 1985 and has made concerted efforts to finely tune his art making, dedicate himself to university lecturing and maintain a stable family life. Harry and I have been a couple for 22 years (including 14 years of marriage). He is a loving husband, father and grandfather. It is time for Ms. Norte and my sister-in-law, Diane, to let go of the very distant past.
Not only was The Art Outlaws of East L.A. composed in bad taste, but it has done very little to promote interest in Chicano arts.
At the beginning of the article one is led to believe this is an unbiased look into the formation of one of the most influential groups in the Chicano art world. It isnt long into Daniel Hernandezs writing that it becomes apparent his agenda was to zero in on Harry Gamboa Jr. in a cheap-shot attempt at character assassination. I wonder if the L.A. Weekly will consider making this the first entry into a four-part series where each of the other founding members of Asco are subjected to the same form of scrutiny? Will Hernandez track down scorned ex-lovers, peers and angry family members to interview?
Since the articles publication it has come to my attention that other highly credible individuals from the Chicano community were also interviewed. But only three persons (Gronk, Diane Gamboa and Marisela Norte), with a deep love for overplayed dramatics, were profiled. This does not make good journalism. It does, however, make good trashy tabloid material. Is this whats become of the L.A. Weekly?
After reading Daniel Hernandezs article on Asco, it occurred to me that there were a few things missing. Missing was the idea that the institutional racism that Asco initially encountered from LACMA has been continued by MOCA, which did not include Asco in its survey of performance groups and could only find one Chicana worthy of the Wack! show. Missing was the institutional racism of academia that lauded Chris Burden for his 70s performances but ignored Asco even though they often employed the exact same tactics. Finally, missing is the Harry Gamboa Jr. whom I have observed on numerous occasions giving of his time and ideas with younger writers, artists and performers. What I did find in the article was an attempt to dredge up old personal battles and chisme that had nothing to do with the art that the members of Asco produced and continue to produce. Harry Gamboa Jr. continues to produce amazing, ephemeral video and performance work. His work as an artist, educator and someone who refuses to be co-opted is an inspiration to more people than he will ever know. Too bad Daniel Hernandez missed all that.
Daniel Hernandez deserves kudos for narrating a dynamic history of Asco culled from multiple perspectives, an ambitious task considering Harry Gamboa Jr. once described how Asco productions were created in transitory or easily degradable materials that crumble at the slightest prodding and fade quickly upon exposure to any glimmer of hope.
Ascos work had an uncanny way of representing the dangers and perils of language and action in a way mimicking the dangers and perils of hearsay and rumor. However, to fail to recognize the play with those forms of unbridled and illicit underground media is to take gossip and innuendo at face value. When you do that, Asco is relegated to something tawdry and almost banal rather than as a series of unexpected and radical gestures.
Hernandezs article focuses on competition and conflict over issues of authorship and historical legacy. He suggests on more than one occasion that underlying tensions and conflicts were inherent to Chicano art while conceding that these dynamics are the nature of collaborative efforts. What the new scholarship is attempting is to pose Ascos place in a broader history of artist collectives and networked communities of artists within, alongside and beyond the Chicano art movement.
Certainly, the frustrations echoed by the artists interviewed are common to those who have been historically marginalized. But rather than focus on who is left in or out or who can claim authorship on an ephemeral piece or action, the efforts should be to contextualize art collectives and interpret their practices that often run counter to the demands of the art market and the constraints of art historical categories and movements.
Just when we thought that a reappraisal of Ascos output could help us undo some of the polarizing debates that persist about art after the Chicano movement, his article foregrounds the paranoia and pedo that ultimately fuels such binaries.
Assistant Curator, Special Exhibitions
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Assistant Professor ,Contemporary Art and Latina/o Studies
If I had a hundred hats I would take them off to Daniel Hernandez for his brilliant, insightful and thoroughly engrossing article. As a member of Asco B and witness to this spectacular debacle I must say he has captured some of the perfidy, drama, madness, careerism, exploitation and mania that were hallmarks of the Asco that I knew and lived. It is not his fault that he was not able to conjure the many performances when we held the audience in the palm of our hand followed by Rat Packesque after-parties, the effortless collaboration, the unbridled laughter, relentless joy and youthful exuberance that I knew and loved. Nonetheless, the article was like a bullet train to ones past where the destiny is known, cherished and avoided. As I sit alone at my computer writing this I hear a faint rumble in the background like the murmur of a roomful of ghosts. Maybe it is just the sound of a hundred hats hitting the floor.
In The Art Outlaws of East L.A. the performance artist Cyclona was incorrectly referred to as a drag-queen artist. Before the founding of the group Asco, Robert Legorreta adopted the Cyclona persona as a performance project. Also, Harry Gamboa Jr. and his family live in Culver City.
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