Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist

Digital programs begin fall of 2020, Exhibition...

Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe
Yolanda López
Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe
1978, Oil pastel on rag paper, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Grandmother, from the series Tres Mujeres/Three Generations
Yolanda López
Grandmother, from the series Tres Mujeres/Three Generations
1976, Charcoal on paper, 8 x 4 feet. Courtesy of the artist.
Runner: On My Own! from the series ¿A Dónde Vas, Chicana? Getting through College series
Yolanda López
Runner: On My Own! from the series ¿A Dónde Vas, Chicana? Getting through College series
1977, Oil and acrylic on paper, 60 x 106 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
from the series Tableaux Vivant
Yolanda López
from the series Tableaux Vivant
1978, Color photograph, 14 × 9 1/4 inches. Photography: Susan Mogul. Courtesy of Yolanda López.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist will be the first solo museum presentation of one of the most important Chicano/a/x artists working in California over the past five decades. The exhibition presents a compendium of López’s work from the late 1960s through the early 80s, when she created a vivid body of paintings, drawings, and collages that investigate and reimagine representations of women within Chicano/a/x culture and mainstream society.

In her best-known work, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe (1978), López depicts herself wearing running shoes and the Virgin Mary’s star-patterned mantle, an embodiment of physical agency and defiant joy. One of the most iconic artworks to emerge from the Chicano Movement, López’s anthemic Portrait rejects the colonial and patriarchal origins of the Guadalupe iconography, transforming the symbol into one of radical feminist optimism.As an image of self-determination, it is as much a collective portrait as it is an individual one. López would use herself, her mother, and her grandmother as models in a number of conceptual drawing projects during in the 1970s, bringing visibility to women of distinct roles and life stages through strikingly unsentimental, larger-than-life portraits.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist explores the legacy of an artist whose earliest works were created in the service of political movements and left unsigned. López’s work was pervasive and influential within the activist context of 1960s San Francisco, taking the form of posters, flyers, buttons, and graphic works for newspapers.The exhibition includes early graphic artworks that were instrumental in publicizing the case of seven young Latinx men known as Los Siete de la Raza, who were accused and later acquitted in the murder trial of a San Francisco police officer.

In addition, the presentation features the series ¿A Dónde Vas, Chicana? Getting Through College, in which the figure of a solitary runner—the artist herself—is set against a backdrop of brutalist architecture on a university campus. The outsized paintings are personal in subject matter, representing López’s journey to physical fitness while attending graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, where she was the only student of color in her department. More than an autobiographical narrative, the paintings offer an allegory of survival and agency in the face of a formidable institution.

Long celebrated in the history of Chicano/a/x art, López has nonetheless remained underrecognized by museums and the contemporary art world.Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist brings together over 50 works in oil pastel, charcoal, collage, printmaking, and paint, centering on the artist’s Guadalupe triptych and related works. The exhibition examines López’s profound influence as a political artist and activist whose works are characterized by their incisive analysis, indelible imagery, and wit.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist is organized by MCASD Curator Jill Dawsey, PhD and made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Institutional Support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund.

This exhibition is part of the Feminist Art Coalition, a national platform for art projects that seek to generate cultural awareness of feminist thought, experience, and action. Working collectively, art museums and nonprofit institutions from across the United States will present concurrent events beginning in the fall of 2020.