Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Yolanda Lopez: Portrait of the (Late) Artist at MCASD

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. Photos by Maurice Hewitt. 

Running: On My Own (1977). A large-scale self-portrait of the artist on the UCSD campus, where she developed an interest in running while pursuing her MFA.

After a long Covid-caused shutdown, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) has opened its downtown doors again with a fascinating exhibition of some of the groundbreaking works of Yolanda Lopez, a Chicana artist and activist who was born in San Diego and received her MFA from UCSD in 1979.

Sadly, the artist died at 79, just a few weeks before the show was due to open, having spent half a century creating art that made her people—especially the women—defiantly visible. “The work that Yolanda did as an artist, activist, and mother continues with all of us,’’ her son wrote. “Keep on getting into good trouble.” 

This exhibit is a great memorial tribute, a display of over 50 artworks, revealing her special interests and some of the “good trouble” she got into during her time in San Diego.

At the entry is an array of six larger-than-life-size charcoal portraits of Yolanda, her mother, and her grandmother. In the second three, each woman is shown imitating the pose of one of the others in the first three.

Grandmother and Artist Standing as Grandmother, from the series of six portraits in Three Generations: Tres Mujeres.

Curator Jill Dawsey, with the artist’s self-portrait from Three Generations.

Here’s what she wrote in 1978, while working on her MFA: “Such stereotypes as the Latin bombshell and the passive long-suffering wife/mother negate the humanity of Raza women. The depth and breadth of our potential for moral, intellectual, spiritual and physical courage has rarely been displayed.”

Small but mighty, this 1978 photo of the artist in performance by Susan Mogul—a UCSD friend—shows her brandishing a handful of paintbrushes, wearing running shoes and an exuberant smile. 

The Guadalupe Triptych is another look at the tres mujeres—all portrayed as the Virgin of Guadalupe, encircled by rays of sunlight, with the Virgin’s starry cloak somewhere in the picture. “Because I feel living, breathing women also deserve the respect and love given to Guadalupe, I have chosen to transform the image,” Yolanda wrote.

Her own image here—truly that of an activist artist—is the best-known, but the others are also engaging: her mother, at the industrial sewing machine she used in her job at the Naval Training Center, shown here working on the starry cloak; and her grandmother, seated on the cloak, quietly holding a rattlesnake and a knife in her hands.

The Guadalupe Triptych: Grandmother

The Guadalupe Triptych:  Mother 

The Guadalupe Triptych:  Artist

Arriba Yolanda y Las Guadalupes! Thanks to MCASD Director/CEO Kathryn Kanjo and her staff for presenting such a timely and well-thought-out show.

Afterword: There are two other interesting exhibits on view here, both drawn from the museum’s permanent collection. You can’t miss Abstract Vocabularies in the main lobby, but take time to check out Joan Jonas weird and colorful video installations in the right-side gallery as well.

YOLANDA LOPEZ, Activist Artist (1942-2021)
Born and raised in Barrio Logan, Yolanda Lopez spent most of her life in San Francisco, returning to San Diego to complete her advanced education with a BA from SDSU in 1975 and an MFA from UCSD in 1979. She returned to San Francisco to continue her work as an artist/activist, became Director of Education at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, and taught art at UC Berkeley and Stanford. But until recently, she has largely been ignored by mainstream arts institutions. The MCASD exhibition is her first solo museum show.

Yolanda Lopez: Portrait of the Artist
On view until April 24, 2022
MCASD Downtown, 1100 Kettner Blvd., San Diego
HOURS:  Thurs-Sunday, 10 am-4 pm. Free Admission.
NOTE: Free tickets will be available for two-hour time slots, but visitors must reserve in advance. Questions?  info@mcasd.org or 213-633-5351.  

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has written about arts and lifestyle for the La Jolla Light and other local media for over a dozen years. You can reach her at hew2@sbcglobal.net.

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