Around this month sixty years ago, horror movie actor Vincent Price took a drive to the eastside--not sure if he cruised down Whittier Blvd with the radio blaring--to give a graduation speech at East L.A. College. Karen Rapp, the college's museum director says Price talked about the divide in L.A. between the haves and the have nots. "That on this side of town, so to speak, the opportunities to see works of art were very minimal," she said.
This weekend Rapp saw hundreds of people walk through the brand new, four story, state of the art Vincent Price Museum of Art on the East L.A. College campus. If you're between 30 to 50 years old you remember Price's voice in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. If you remember seeing a Vincent Price film in a movie theater when it first came out you're... cool.
The facility's named after the actor because he donated about two thousand works of art to back up his wish that people have art in the middle and working class neighborhoods around the campus. There were no Rembrandt or Van Gogh oils in the collection but lots of pre-Hispanic, African, and South Pacific sculptures and prints by Picasso and works by Rufino Tamayo. That sets this community college museum apart from most others. The previous museum was a shoe box-sized gallery. Painter Diane Gamboa, while an ELAC student in the mid 1970s browsed through the Price collection in storage. Her work is part of the museum's inaugural exhibit of alumni artists.
"Little did I know back then when I was ditching class and running around, you know with African sculptures in my arms, as I'm rustling through other things, that I would be here as part of the inaugural exhibition in a museum that I consider a very important place in this time," Gamboa said as she stood next to her paintings depicting punk rock, androgynous figures.
Kent Twitchell, whose hyper-realist murals lay moribund under tagging along L.A.'s freeways, was an ELAC grad. His work's in the inaugural show. As is the work of Gronk , Clement Hanami, Will Herrón III, Judithe Hernández, John Valadez, and Patssi Valdez.
In 1966 Judithe Hernandez was an art prodigy just out of Lincoln High School. She resolved to take a few classes at ELAC before she enrolled at Otis Art Institute, at the time L.A.'s top art school. She found that the ELAC classes were no walk in the park. "They demanded of us the very same kind of professionalism and thoughtfulness and creativity that you would have encountered in an art school," she said.
One of the museum's upper floor galleries is called Hoy Space and is reserved for emerging artists. Artist Sonia Romero is showing her consumption and overabundance-themed work in the gallery now.
Museum director Rapp says some of the cultural inequalities that existed when Vincent Price spoke to ELAC graduates decades ago still affect neighborhoods. "I'd like to think that we're going to be one of the most important venues for students to not have to travel so far to see things that mean a great deal," Rapp said.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every Tuesday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.
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