- Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement
Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement is an exhibition of contemporary conceptually oriented art that redefines notions of ethnic identity and/or community belonging while negotiating a critical relationship to mainstream art and media culture. The artists in the exhibition address a variety of topics through diverse media, approaching their analysis and interaction of political, social, and cultural phenomena through the perspective of their Chicano/a identity. Their practices engage recent tendencies in art such as nonmonumental, intellectual, post-studio, and/or relational artistic approaches that have been gaining international prominence. While the work of these artists is informed by who it is that they are, it is also very pointedly directed outward as a dialogue with a range of sites, and as such is not autobiographical in the traditional sense. Instead, these artists engage institutional frameworks to critically reflect upon art, art history, society, the environment, vernacular culture, politics, economics, gender relations, and other topics by interacting with the world around them through the work of art. The curatorial premise and attitude are part of a contemporary model of [End Page 1057] identity-specific exhibitions that work between given institutional parameters while questioning their own approaches and methods. As such they develop a dialogic curatorial model that rethinks institutional conventions as well as some of the typical commentary offered by media and academic critics. What is put into question by Phantom Sightings is the relevance of identity-based grouping to contemporary art or, by extension, the question of how the art in the exhibition, as a “kind” of contemporary art, disrupts existing formats for classifications.
In the early 1990s art informed by identity politics was featured in blue-chip galleries, enjoyed some degree of popularity, and was examined by major exhibitions such as The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 80s (1990), and the 1993 Whitney Biennial. However, despite the fact that these shows consolidated a vast range of practices, they were subsequently lumped into the category of multiculturalism, and many of them were rejected for an alleged commodification of identity politics, or for assumed essentialism. Nevertheless, as co-curator of Phantom Sightings Rita Gonzalez states: “while identity politics is now largely seen as theoretically passé in art school, some artists seem acutely aware of the problematic wholesale dismissal of discussion of difference.”1 It is imperative to reexamine why it is that identity politics have been subject to so much criticism and backlash. Thus, the importance of Phantom Sightings is that it insists on explicitly addressing these questions, in a thorough and comprehensive investigation that highlights the particularities, subtleties, humor, pain, and intricacies that are manifested in contemporary art defined by the fact that it comes “after” the Chicano movement.
The term after is the axis of the curatorial model, which, in the words of the curators, takes “the freedom to follow an idea, rather than represent a constituency.”2 The autonomy described by the curators is the license to examine contemporary tendencies in art, rather than answer to the multiple demands that come with the mandate of curating an identity-specific exhibition. Whether a temporal designation, as that which came later than the Chicano movement, or a mark of tribute, referencing art made in homage to the movement, “after” indicates an affinity but leaves the question of its exact nature open. It provides...