Whitewash | KCET
The ghost of a socialist, anti-imperialist painter wanders Olvera Street, riding the stationary painted donkey, stealing some tacos and playing with the Mexican peasant puppets for sale.
His soul's been wandering ever since Los Angeles city fathers painted over the mural that depicted his rage against U.S. imperialism in Latin America. The artist: David Alfaro Siqueiros. The mural: "America Tropical" painted in 1932 on a second story outdoor wall. Jackson Pollock's brother was at the mural unveiling, so were culture celebrities Millar Sheets, Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler. Olvera Street was about to become The Grove of it's time, a reinventing of a past that never really existed for the benefit of commerce.
About 150 people came together last night at the L.A. Central Library's Taper auditorium in a kind of séance for Siqueiros. To the conservators from the Getty, L.A. elected officials, and Mexican American artists and activists who were there, the mural has become more than a piece of art that was censored. The faded mural is an archeological piece that's a testament to the city's Mexican history and of the efforts of L.A.'s 20th century capitalists and boosters to downplay and hide that history. "We have to uncover this beautiful mural and show it to the world." L.A. councilman Jose Huizar told the audience.
A list of those I recognized in the audience: filmmaker Jesus Treviño, artists Patssi Valdez, John Valadez, Francesco Siqueiros, Raul Baltazar, Judy Baca, Leo Limon, graffiti artist Nuke, CSULA prof. Victor Viesca, Mexican culture maven Gregorio Luke and art curator Pilar Tompkins. Treviño and art historian Shifra Goldman were among the first people, in the 1970s, to call attention to the historic value of the mural and to urge public officials to begin its conservation.
The interpretive center will open in about three years. It'll be up some stairs next to "America Tropical." Getty conservator Leslie Rainer said the idea behind the center is to tell the story of the mural and its times: debates in L.A. about socialism and fascism, deportations of Mexicans and Mexican Americas because of the economic Depression, the 1932 Olympics, and Siqueiros on his way to becoming a giant in the Mexican mural movement.
When finished, the interpretive center will present an incisive counterpoint to the very folkloric approach of most of Olvera Street.
As the presentation ended, people were upbeat that "America Tropical" and its ideas would see the light of day again. The crowd reassured the lost soul that it's days wandering the huarache stalls and other Mexican tchotchkes shops would come to an end.
Photo of "America Tropical" courtesy of J. Paul Getty Trust. Event photos courtesy: ARMANDO ARORIZO/PRENSA INTERNACIONAL