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‘Summer of Siqueiros’ Kicks Off Friday

To the casual observer, a wall above several shops along Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street may seem just like any other. But the wall, facing out to traffic traveling north on a one-way stretch of Main Street, is actually one of Los Angeles’ most important art treasures, a mural by famed Mexican Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Tomorrow, prominent Latino artists, authors and historians will gather at the Mexican Cultural Institute, at El Pueblo Historic Monument —Olvera Street — for the first of three free, open to the public multi-media lectures exploring Siqueiros’ life and work.


Artist David Alfaro Siqueiros’s Olvera Street mural “America Tropical’, pictured left, is being restored for public viewing.

Known for his bold and politically impassioned works, Siqueiros has influenced artists around the globe for three quarters of a century.

The first panel discussion — “America Tropical At Last” — will focus on the controversial Depression-era work by the master muralist that is scheduled to open in 2011 to the public for the first time in more than 70 years.

Panelists, including Los Angeles mural advocate Judy Baca, will discuss the ground- breaking techniques and provocative message of “America Tropical,” the 18 x 80-foot masterpiece painted by Siqueiros in 1932 in the heart of Olvera Street. The mural was completely whitewashed six years later.

But after a painstaking conservation effort by the Getty Conservation Institute during the 1990s and an arduous fund-raising effort, construction is expected to begin this summer on a viewing platform overlooking the site on a second-story wall of the Italian Hall, and an interpretive center in an adjacent building. Once completed in 2011, the project will allow visitors to view the original mural for the first time since it was covered over in 1938. The interpretive center — located on the first floor of the restored Sepulveda House — will offer a multi-media exhibition on the historic and artistic significance of Siqueiros and his mural.

Joining Baca on Friday, are veteran artist John Valadez and two art historians Raul Herrera and Isabel Rojas-Williams. The fifth panelist is Luis Garza, a writer and documentarian who met and photographed Siqueiros in the 1970s. Garza is also curating a world-premiere exhibition at The Autry National Center, entitled “Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied,” which features rarely seen work by the artist, who died in Mexico in 1974. The panel will be moderated by artist Raoul De La Sota, the first Chicano artist to receive a Fulbright Fellowship.

Panelists will discuss the artist’s lasting impact on Chicano artists in Los Angeles, who first rallied to restore the censored work during the cultural awakening of the 1960s.

Two other panels are scheduled in the summer series: “Artist Warrior” on July 16, also at the Mexican Cultural Institute, and “Freedom of Speech and Censorship” on August 20, at the offices of MALDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The Mexican Cultural Institute is located at 125 Paseo De La Plaza, LA 90012. Call (213) 624-3660 for more information, or e-mail Armando Vazquez-Ramos, avazque4@csulb.edu.