No Grupo, pictured above, formed in Mexico City in 1977 and were active until 1983. They did conceptual collaborative art actions, but preferred not to be called a collective. They arrived uninvited to the Paris Biennial in the form of photographic face masks, they interviewed elder artists then harpooned their work in video or performance pieces, they did mail and paper art, they "patented" the act of appreciating the taco.
An exhibit on No-Grupo is up for only days more at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. It opened in October last year and closes on March 13. I finally caught it recently. It's an exciting show because you can make an immediate parallel to the work of a similar group doing similar work at the time in Los Angeles, Asco.
No-Grupo consisted of four core artists, like Asco, three men and one woman, also like Asco, and collaborated with several transient members, again like Asco. Melquiades Herrera, Alfredo Núñez, Rubén Valencia, and Maris Bustamante (who led the taco-patenting project) made conceptual gestures that played off popular, "low-brow" culture in Mexico City. They rejected dominant norms in a stratified state-dependent art-world of the day in performances in galleries and museums. They had fun.
No-Grupo were less street- and action-oriented as Asco was in East L.A. (See my post on my feature story in the LA Weekly on Asco's history here.) But after seeing this show, I couldn't help imagining what would have happened if the two groups had somehow crossed paths.
At the time, there was very little recorded contact between experimental art-makers in Mexico and those of Mexican descent in the United States. In stark difference to now; in 2008, the Museo Tamayo in D.F. welcomed "Phantom Sightings," the major exhibit by LACMA on conceptual Chicano-made art, a "post-Asco" movement that continues in Southern California to today. See here.
While Bustamente was commodifying and eroticizing the taco in Mexico City, in Los Angeles, Asco was creating "walking murals," "instant murals" and filming "no-movies." It was part of a wave of conceptual art practice that swept Latin America in the period, when many countries in the region were under military regimes. In Brasil they were up against the junta, in Chile they operated under Pinochet, and in East L.A., Gronk, Harry Gamboa Jr., Patssi Valdez, and Willie Herron III were working among a population under attack by the LAPD.
No-Grupo was invited to Colombia for a non-object art encuentro in Medellin, where they did work on the guerrilla army M-19. Imagine if they had gone to East L.A., or to Houston or Dallas or San Diego or Chicago, and were confronted with the Chicano political and cultural renaissance? With the period's systematic state repression tactics against Mexican Americans?
What would they have made? Conversely, what would Asco have created if they had a chance to gather in Mexico City?
For more on this period, these currents, and how these regions intersect, see my discussion of "Arte No Es Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas, 1960-2000," an exhibit by the Museo del Barrio, here. Asco is included among "the Americas" in the show. Historic justice?
And more is coming up. Next summer, curators Rita Gonzalez and C. Ondine Chavoya will unveil at LACMA the first big retrospective on Asco, "ASCO: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987."
Sounds like it's gonna be good.
Will No-Grupo, those sly agents from D.F., be there in spirit?