Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Rita Gonzalez spoke about her professional identity Tuesday night at a talk hosted by the Roski School of Art and Design. As the Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head of Contemporary Art at LACMA, Gonzalez has curated various LACMA exhibits, including “Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement” (2008) and “Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987” (2011), among others.
At the event, held at the Roski MFA Art Studios, Gonzalez chronicled her journey of becoming a curator, talked about some of her projects and emphasized her passion for the Latinx community.
She explained that she did not always plan on becoming a curator. At first, she believed she was going to be an artist. However, being an MFA student at UC San Diego in the late ’80s caused a shift in her career because the artists, curators and activists were, as she puts it, “finally having an impact.”
One work in particular that was presented during the MFA program orientation shifted the way that she thought about herself with respect to art. The piece was “Incite,” by the Installation Gallery, a thematic project centered on the borders between nations in the Americas.
“[For ‘Incite’] there would be curators from the Americas … from the United States, from Canada, Latin America and from Mexico,” Gonzalez said. “There would always be a curatorial team made up from these regions and that really would invite artists in to come and have some kind of interaction and involvement. Every time it happened it would redefine itself and reconsider the space of what it meant to come in and do a project on the border or reacting to the border.”
According to her, assisting colleagues with projects — such as a video for a work done by artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres — changed the way Gonzalez thought about art. Through these collaborations, she said she believed she was developing as an artist, but in reality, her thoughts leaned more toward the “curatorial respects” of art.
The work done by the Adobe Group, a team of Latino urbanists, architects, scholars and artists, also heavily impacted Gonzalez as a curator. The Museum of Contemporary Art called “Urban Revisions: Current Projects for the Public Realm” and the Adobe Group’s work for this project stood out to Gonzalez, for it encompassed the type of work she realized she was attracted to.
“[The Adobe Group was] drawing a lot from vernacular street art, body art,” Gonzalez said. This is the type of documentation — documentary tactics but also with an interventionist edge — that I’ve been really attracted to as a curator.”
A significant development in Gonzalez’s curatorial career was the creation of Artists in Los Angeles Reconceptualizing Media Arts with art historian and Williams College professor C. Ondine Chavoya. A.L.A.R.M.A. was a sensationalist magazine that comprised people with backgrounds in film, cultural and visual studies who were interested in “bringing in reflection on transnational media,” Gonzalez said.
According to the A.L.A.R.M.A. manifesto read aloud by Gonzalez, the group comprised Chicano and Chicana video artists and scholars in Los Angeles formed in 1996 who worked together to depict the “manic train of the urban backdrop.”
Gonzalez’s passion for bringing to light the lives of the Latinx community is evident in all of her work. Now, as the head of contemporary art for LACMA, she continues to pursue this goal and place Latinx artists on the global stage to be respected and admired.