In A Paramount Pictures Backlot, Latino Artists Showcase Work On Representation

Feb 16, 2020
Originally published on February 16, 2020 10:09 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Paintings, neon art and live performances have filled Paramount Pictures' Hollywood studio for the past three days. It's the second annual Frieze Los Angeles arts fair, a showcase for contemporary artists from around the world. This year, they're using movie sets to create colorful, sometimes loud, installations. And on one particular studio backlot meant to look like New York City, several LA-based Latino artists are showing their work. Here's NPR's Mandalit del Barco.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Painter and former graphic designer Gabriella Sanchez beckons visitors to the backlot with a huge banner playing on the word homes. And she painted signs on the street. One says, this way.

GABRIELLA SANCHEZ: When you get closer, you'll see that in a gothic script it says, is not the only. So the whole thing will read, this is not the only way. I am aware that not everyone is super comfortable in art spaces. This is just one view. There's tons of other artists out there as well. There's tons of different art experiences.

DEL BARCO: Frieze Los Angeles project curators Rita Gonzalez and Pilar Tompkins Rivas chose 16 artists to show their work on the backlot where "Grease" and "Seinfeld" and numerous commercials were shot. Gonzalez says it is an unusual space for art.

RITA GONZALEZ: You first encounter this really dynamic film set that looks like New York but is smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles. So we were thinking about these kinds of layers of representation that really are emblematic of this site.

DEL BARCO: Here at Paramount, Gary Cooper once played a mountain man romancing rich Mexican Lupe Vega in the 1929 movie "The Wolf Song."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MI AMADO")

LUPE VELEZ: (Singing) While I whisper to you tenderly, I love you, mi amado.

DEL BARCO: This is just one of the many films LA artist Vincent Ramos featured in his homage to the ways in which Mexicans and Mexican Americans have been depicted in movies and popular culture. For this project, Ramos got to poke around Paramount's archive.

VINCENT RAMOS: Honestly, I thought that it was going to be a lot worse in terms of the different kinds of representations and - you know, going back to the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s. But there were some good roles that they were given - small roles, but things that they could really kind of sink their teeth into and do a good job.

DEL BARCO: Ramos points to Marlon Brando's 1961 film "One-Eyed Jacks." It's set on the California-Mexico border, and it features stuntman Larry Duran as Brando's partner and Mexican actress Pina Pellicer as his love interest.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONE-EYED JACKS")

MARLON BRANDO: (As Rio) I shamed you. I wish to God I hadn't.

PINA PELLICER: (As Louisa) You only shame yourself.

DEL BARCO: Ramos says Brando's film was an exception to the stereotypical depictions of most old Westerns, where Mexicans and Mexican Americans played outlaws. When that genre faded out in the 1960s and '70s, TV cop shows were popular.

RAMOS: Then the Mexican - he goes from the bandito to the urban criminal, right? You know, the women - maybe in some of these Westerns, they're, you know, the prostitute or they're something. So then they turn into the maid.

DEL BARCO: Ramos' project showcases his collection of movie stills, newspaper clippings and more, putting films in the political context of the times. One of his display cases includes an album cover of Pat Boone's song "Speedy Gonzales," a still from a Cheech and Chong movie and photos of the Chicano moratorium. But movie representation is not the only theme of the Latino artists at Frieze Los Angeles. On another faux New York street is an installation by Sayre Gomez - a cellphone tower disguised as a palm tree, like you see all over LA.

SAYRE GOMEZ: I made a fake fake - a fake of a fake palm tree, a fake of a fake cell tower - yeah (laughter) - on the movie studio lot. It's, like, perfect context.

DEL BARCO: And inside a fake financial center building, Mario Garcia Torres' video installation strings together coincidences - the time Muhammad Ali talked someone out of jumping off a building and connecting it to the pop song "Jump" from the '80s rock band Van Halen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUMP")

VAN HALEN: (Singing) Jump - might as well jump.

MARIO GARCIA TORRES: It turned out the jump was the center on the core of all this crazy cosmologies. You can construct a new reality. You can construct a new way of thinking. And that's what I'm really interested in.

DEL BARCO: Torres says his work falling together in time may not be the type of artwork expected from a Mexican-born artist living in LA. But to connect the dots back to Gabriella Sanchez, this is not the only way to view art.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Hollywood.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUMP")

VAN HALEN: (Singing) Go ahead and jump. Jump. Jump. Jump. Jump.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In a previous version of this report, Katy Jurado was misidentified as Marlon Brando's love interest in One-Eyed Jacks. That character was actually played by Pina Pellicer.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.