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In this document, art historian and professor Margarita Nieto discusses the 1989 exhibition, Los Angeles Latino Artists, in which fifteen Los Angeles-based Latino artists reflect on the experience of the city in their production. She suggests that Los Angeles is more than a physical place and that the works included in the exhibition help to construct a more nuanced perspective of the complex personality of the city. Nieto identifies the three major divisions of the show as: the urban landscape; figuration and portraiture; and abstract reflections on space as a spiritual and psychological phenomenon. She briefly profiles the participating artists, including Carlos Almaraz, John Valadez, Patssi Valdez, Rudy Calderón, and Willie Herrón, among others. Nieto notes the stylistic similarities among many artists in the exhibition who share common careers as muralists. She does not dwell on the references to Latino culture present in the work of these artists, claiming that although their common background certainly affects their aesthetic, the questions they pose are universal. Nieto claims that these questions shape the philosophical and aesthetic construct of Los Angeles, which according to her, it is a city determined more by cultural participation than by cultural dominance. Nieto underlines the importance of the exhibition as an attempt to change perceptions of Latino art through the display of pieces that challenge established forms and value judgments.


Margarita Nieto is an art historian and professor in the department of Chicana and Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge. She is one of the few historians to focus on the history of artists and art organizations in Los Angeles, with an emphasis on influences from American art on their work. This essay was written for the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition, Los Angeles Latino Artists, organized by United Latino Arts of Los Angeles (ULALA) and held from February 25 to April 8, 1989. While acknowledging artists’ cultural references, Nieto is representative of the art historians who contend that Chicano artists deal with universal questions, thereby moving Chicano art beyond just “ethnic” art and into the realm of contemporary art.

Chicano Studies Research Center, UCLA, Los Angeles, USA