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MCASD To Celebrate Renowned Chicana Artist With Exhibition at Newly Reopened Downtown Location
Yolanda Lopez self portrait, she runs outside of the canvas, behind her is the USCD campus.

First Solo Museum Show for Yólanda Lopez, San Diego-born Feminist, Activist, Artist

After several Covid-related delays and closures, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego will celebrate the reopening of the Jacobs Building downtown with Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist. This will be the first solo exhibition in a museum for Yolanda López (1942-2021), the path-breaking artist, activist, and educator whose career in California spanned five decades.

López, who passed away in early September, was celebrated for her role in the Chicano art movement and for her iconic Guadalupe series. MCASD had planned to present Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist in fall of 2020 at its downtown San Diego location and instead pivoted to online programming. López’s much-anticipated exhibition will open to the public on October 16 with a community celebration of the artist’s life and work.

All are welcome to experience the exhibition and join in celebrating López’s legacy with a reception on MCASD’s Figi Family Concourse from 4-7PM. The exhibition will fill the large Farrell Gallery of MCASD’s downtown location, which opened in 2007 in the former baggage terminal of the historic Santa Fe Depot. Born and raised in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego, López spent the 1960s in San Francisco and was based there permanently from the late 1970s on. The artist traced her formation to the student activism of that era and to her prominent role as a cultural worker within the Chicano civil rights movement.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist presents a compendium of López’s work from the 1970s and 1980s, when she created an influential body of paintings, drawings, and collages that investigate and reimagine representations of women within Chicano/a/x culture. In The New York Times’s recent Fall Preview, Holland Cotter calls the exhibition “A long overdue career tribute,” noting that López’s “1978 self-portrait painting as a marathon-running Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the great images of revolutionary joy.”“López leaves behind a profound legacy and it is a special honor, here in the artist’s hometown, to present the first solo museum exhibition of this lauded figure in the worlds of art and activism,” explained Kathryn Kanjo, the David C. Copley Director and CEO of MCASD. “Many of López’s commanding drawings received essential conservation treatments, allowing, at last, for the public display of these formative artworks. The outsize portraits of the artist, her mother, and her grandmother will be a revelation for many visitors.” Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist concentrates on a transformative period in López’s production beginning in 1975, when the artist entered graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, and continuing into the 1980s, when she created the final works in her iconic Guadalupe series.

The exhibition brings together approximately fifty works in oil pastel, paint, charcoal, collage, and photography, including never-before-exhibited large-scale self-portraits. In her best-known work, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe (1978), López depicts herself wearing running shoes and Guadalupe’s star-patterned mantle, embodying a defiant joy. One of the most iconic artworks to emerge from the Chicano movement, López’s anthemic Portrait challenges the colonial and patriarchal origins of the Guadalupe iconography, transforming the image into one of radical feminist optimism.

Curator Jill Dawsey said, “López’s Guadalupe series represents one of the earliest feminist reinterpretations of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which, in the following decades, became a major focus of Chicanx art and literature—owing much to the influence and prevalence of López’s work.” Also on view will be two exhibitions of works from the Museum’s collection, including The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things, a five-channel video installation by Joan Jonas (United States, born 1936), and Abstract Vocabularies: Selections from the Collection. The community celebration of Yolanda López on Saturday, October 16, will feature food and beverage provided by Mujeres Brew House and live music by Bambula, a South Bay music collective “dedicated to homage and tribute through the liberating ways of music.” Remarks by Museum and community representatives will begin at 5 PM. This celebration is presented in association with Centro Cultural de la Raza. Masks will be required indoors and will be highly recommended outdoors.

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.

A catalogue for the exhibition will be available, featuring contributions by Jill Dawsey and Irene Lara, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University and a reprinting of Yolanda López’s 1978 “Artist’s Statement.” Published by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Price $20. 128 pages. 5.5 x 8 inches. ISBN: 9780934418751 The exhibition runs October 16, 2021 – April 24, 20221100 Kettner Blvd. San Diego, 92101