Chicano power celebrated in new Latino art galleries at the Blanton Museum of Art

The Blanton Museum of Art has expanded its focus on art by Latino artists. In the inaugural exhibit of the two new Latino art galleries, visitors come “face to face” with portraits that portray themes of Chicano resilience and perseverance. 
“Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas,” by Carmen Lomas Garza, 1995, laser cut steel, 58 1/2 x 99 in., Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gilberto Cárdenas Collection, Museum Acquisition Fund, 2022, Photo courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art

During the peak of the Chicano movement in Los Angeles, Gilberto Cardenas, 17, spotted a poster on a telephone post that supported the United Farm Workers’ grape boycott. He’d just participated in a protest, one of many during “El Movimiento,” or the Chicano movement, which advocated for civil rights starting in the 1960s. Cardenas, who appreciated the artwork of the movement and how it empowered Mexican Americans, carefully peeled the poster off the pole and took it home as a keepsake. 

After gently cleaning the poster in his garage, Cardenas added it to his growing pile of posters, newspapers and photos reflecting the changing times. His keepsakes inspired a robust Chicano art collection including prints that made their way to the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin decades later. 

Today, museum visitors can see some of those prints in the new Chicano art exhibit “Cara a cara / Face to Face” at the Blanton Museum, which is undergoing an institution-wide initiative to expand its focus on art by Latino artists. So far, it has acquired over 5,000 artworks from the Gilberto Cardenas and Dolores Garcia collection. The portraits, on display until Sept. 10, range in medium and portray themes of social justice related to the Chicano movement. In the inaugural exhibit of the two new Latino art galleries, visitors come “face to face” with portraits that portray themes of Chicano resilience and perseverance. 

“Portraits were chosen so that our visitors can form a connection with the art pieces,” said the Blanton’s Curator of Latin American Art Vanessa Davidson. 

“Who’s the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?” by Yolanda López, 1981, screenprint and rubber stamp on paper, Photo courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art

Cardenas, an esteemed professor of sociology, and his wife Garcia, who advanced academic and cultural programs supporting Latino Studies at UT, own one of the largest private collections of Chicano and Latino art in the world. Now, the Blanton Museum displays artworks that once hung in the couple’s South Bend, Ind. home, and were previously stored in Austin storage areas.

The portrait “The Immigrant’s Dream: The American Response,” by Malaquías Montoya portrays a person wrapped from head to toe in the American flag and barbed wire, with a tag labeling the person as “undocumented.” Cardenas and Garcia had Montoya’s painting hanging in their living room in South Bend and people either loved or hated it. The poster “Who’s the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?” by Yolanda M. López portrays one of the iconic posters during the Chicano Art movement and shows an Aztec man pointing his finger at the viewer the same way that Uncle Sam does from the “Uncle Sam Wants You” posters. 

One heartwarming portrait, “Ofrenda para Antonio Lomas,” by Carmen Lomas Garza, depicts the artist’s late grandfather gardening in a steel medium that resembles papel picado. At one side of the portrait, “La Morena,” by Connie Arismendi, shows a woman’s face in a veil. “When she [Arismendi] saw the two portraits together, she got so emotional,” said Garcia. “She was touched because Carmen Lomas Garza was an inspiration to her,” added Davidson. 

“María de los Ángeles y los angelitos negros,” by Gaspar Enriquez, 1994, acrylic on board, 48 x 32 in., Photo courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art

Initiative for more Latino Art

The initiative for more Latino art at the museum started years ago. Florencia Bazzano, assistant curator of Latin American Art at the Blanton, and museum director Simone Wicha supported the initiative early on. Bazzano explained that the university has always shown a commitment to Latin American studies and Wicha hoped to build the collection for the galleries. 

Today, this initiative comes to life in the form of two new galleries dedicated to portraying Latino art and a new Latino art curatorial position. Funding for the new role comes from “Advancing Latinx Art in Museums,” a multi-year funding collaboration between the Mellon, Gord, Getty, and Terra Foundations, aimed to help museums amplify Latino art. 

“Latinx art is a historical recognition that is ameliorating several decades of overlooking by several institutions,” said Dr. Claudia Zapata, the new associate curator of Latino art at the Blanton. “It’s surprising that it’s still seen as historic because the communities, particularly the Mexican and Mexican American communities, have been so large and so vital to how the city defines itself.”

Veterano [Veteran]” by Lawrence Colación, 1995, screenprint, Photo courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art

The Gilberto Cardenas and Dolores Garcia Collection

By 1969, Cardenas became an activist in the Chicano struggle and turned to photography to document the movement. 

“Several images were utilized by small press publications, and later, in journals and occasionally in books,” said Cardenas. “I did not view my work at that point as artistic.” 

Cardenas joined campus organizations such as the United Mexican American Students at California State University at Los Angeles. “I was meeting people in demonstrations, protest movements, and things on campus,” said Cardenas. He made connections with Chicano artists around the city who were also actively involved in the Chicano struggle. 

“I loved the original work,” said Cardenas of Chicano art, “It talks about our culture and tells us our stories and struggles.” Cardenas saved the photographs, newsletters, newspapers and articles that covered the social movement. He also began to clean up silkscreen prints and offset prints that he stored in his garage. 

While Cardenas was in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, he began to consider his collection seriously and slowly started expanding it. However, there wasn’t a market where people could buy Chicano art.

Cardenas and Garcia started to meet artists and took interest in their work. “We got to know them,” said Garcia. “They became like our family and we’ve always established a really close relationship with most of the artists.” 

Seeing their collection displayed at the Blanton is “thrilling” to them, said Cardenas. “I’m just really happy that the work is here in a good home and protected.” 

“La Morena” by Connie Arismendi, 1990s, mixed media, pencil on fabric attached to canvas, Photo courtesy of Blanton Museum of Art

What’s next? 

The Blanton will focus on researching and digitizing all artwork and eventually expand the space of the Latino art galleries.  

The curators will be doing groundwork such as collecting information about the artworks and artists to help shape future exhibitions in the Latino art galleries.

“Just going through what we have alone is going to offer a foundation for future exhibitions and future research,” said Zapata. “Just a couple of prints can alter scholarship, let alone over 5,000.” 

Zapata explains that the Cardenas and Garcia collection will lead to more scholarship and recognition of Latino art and artists. “There’s going to be more interconnecting with other permanent collections across the country,” said Zapata. “There’s going to be more dialogue. That’s really what needs to happen, more dialogue, more scholarships, and recognizing that Austin can be a hub for it all.”


What: “Cara a Cara” exhibit 

Where: Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin

When: Now until Sept. 10

Tickets: $8 youth, $12 seniors, $15 adults

Other: “Free Tuesdays” free admission for visitors every Tuesday


What: “Forces of Nature,” an ancient Maya art exhibit from the Los Angeles County Museum of    Art, features 200 objects with themes of the supernatural world. 

Where: Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin

When: Aug. 27-Jan. 7

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