Museum highlights Chicano art

By Jason Emerson, Tribune

Tom Wilson believes the mainstream art world and the general public have overlooked works by Mexican-American artists for too long.

Wilson, director of the Mesa Southwest Museum, said it is time for the works to take their place in the context of American art history.

Earlier this month, the museum at 53 N. Macdonald opened an exhibition of 95 works by Mexican-American artists from across the United States. "Chicano Art for Our Millennium" runs through September.

Arizona State University professor Gary Keller called it the largest, most diverse exhibition of work by Mexican-American artists ever displayed.

"The richness of this art has really opened eyes," said Keller, who worked with Wilson to assemble the works. "It brings a whole new dimension to the community."

Wilson, who became director 10 months ago, said he wants to make the museum one of the prominent cultural institutions in Arizona and the Southwest.

Most of the works are from ASU’s Hispanic Research Center. Some were donated by professors, artists and collectors.

The exhibition will travel nationally and internationally to highlight the importance of Hispanic art, Keller said.

The influences of Goya, Sargent, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Duchamp and Vermeer are recognizable in some of the works, Wilson said. The works are grouped into themes, such as spirituality, biculturalism and family.

Wilson said Chicano art is able to bridge ethnic barriers and evoke a range of emotions and thoughts. Two years ago, when he was director of the Museum of New Mexico, Wilson witnessed the power of Hispanic art.

"Our Lady," an image of the Virgin Mary by Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez, had sparked public outrage at a state-run museum in Sante Fe.

Lopez’s "Our Lady" was a digital photograph of a woman wearing a bikini-style outfit set in the traditional imagery of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Lopez’s virgin — head raised and hands on hips — projected the power of womanhood.

Wilson rejected demands from the Catholic Church and Hispanic New Mexico lawmakers to remove it.