Continuing through June 2, 2019
If you are familiar with the Chicanx flavored antiwar slogan “Make Tacos Not War,” this exhibition provides an opportunity to learn more about an artist who popularized the phrase within the contemporary art world. New York-based San Antonio native Alejandro Diaz is represented here by what he calls his “greatest hits,” a survey featuring selected works from 2002 to the present that use language and common materials as tools for witty sociopolitical commentary. Included among the targets of Diaz’s humor are South Texan and Mexican culture, the art market, and social issues pertaining to the artist’s identity as a gay Chicanx man.
Diaz’s Chicanx roots are particularly evident in his employment of a “rasquachismo aesthetic,” a popular approach among Mexican-American artists that involves using whatever crude or common materials are at hand to achieve a desired form of expression. In “Assorted Cardboard Signs,” a salon-style grouping of marker on cardboard signs created over the past twelve years, Diaz juxtaposes “Make Tacos Not War” with a number of other simple short ditties, such as “Mexicans Without Borders” and “Happiness Is Expensive.” They provoke reflection about inequalities that continue to beleaguer Chicanx and LGBTQ+ communities.
Diaz frequently pokes fun at sanctimonious blue chip art that finds its way into museums and top tier collections. Sharing an affinity with ceramics akin to the late Bay Area funk artist David Gilhooly, Diaz’s “Judd with Fried Egg” depicts an egg frying on top of one of the modules of a replica of a typical Donald Judd stacked wall sculpture. A similar antipathy towards the market value of high art is expressed in “Future Site of Expensive Painting,” where the words of the title have been sloppily stenciled in black paint over a scruffy white background, with a black ring left from an object pressed against the canvas at lower right.
Although Diaz works in several media, his one-liners have a distinctive staying power when presented in neon, perhaps because the medium itself is so familiar and immediate. While only art aficionados may get the in-joke in Diaz’s spelling out “Dan Flavin” in neon (Flavin was a pioneer of fluorescent light sculptures), everyone should have a response to the timely and relevant neon signs that read “Homos Welcomed!” and “No Shoes, No Shirt, You’re probably rich.”