Destructivist artist Raphael Montanez Ortiz to receive UCLA Medal | Forum

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The 83-year-old artist and justice
advocate earned acclaim for destroying
household objects and creating sculpture from the
detritus
Remi Villaggi
Ortiz’s Deconstructivist conceptual practice drew from
Latino, indigenous and non-Western cultures to merge
ritual with archaeology.
Raphael Montañez Ortiz, a Puerto Rican American
pioneer of the 1960s Destructivist art movement, and
founder of the first Latino museum in the United States,
will receive the UCLA Medal from Chancellor Block in a
special ceremony June 8 celebrating Chicano art and
culture in Los Angeles.
Hosted by the UCLA Institute of American Cultures and
the Chicano Studies Research Center, the event
coincides with a week of activity for the artist, including
the opening of a career retrospective at LAXART in
Hollywood and the opening of the group exhibition
“Home — So Different, So Appealing” at the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art.
Ortiz, 83, is the longest-practicing artist in the LACMA
exhibition, which features work by U.S. Latino and Latin
American artists since 1957 on the topic of “home.” The
exhibit is co-curated by Chon Noriega, director of the
Chicano Studies Research Center, and co-organized by
the resource center in collaborations with LACMA and
the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Materials from the
Raphael Montañez Ortiz Papers, which are part of
Chicano Studies Research Center’s library will be on
display at the event, along with selections from other
the center’s archival collections.
“In 1957 Ortiz created his first major work of art, which
is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum,”
Noriega said. “His continued achievements in art,
education and social justice merit recognition. For him
to receive the UCLA Medal at the same time his work is
on display at LACMA and LAXART is a great tribute to
the artist, who, despite having made a tremendous
impact on world art and American popular culture, has
been largely overlooked in contemporary art history.”
John Prosser
“Terrace Mattress Destruction” for the Destruction in Art
Symposium. London, England, 1966.
Born in 1934, Ortiz grew up on the lower eastside of
Manhattan with a commitment to social and cultural
equity. In late 1950s he pursed formal art training at
Pratt Institute, and by the 1960s became a pioneer of
Destructivist art. Ortiz’s practice involved destroying
household objects, including pianos, and creating
sculpture from the detritus. At the time, his was one of
the few non-white voices recognized in contemporary
art grappling with the effects of global conflict, rampant
consumerism and the threat of nuclear war. His
conceptual practice drew from Latino, indigenous and
non-Western cultures to merge ritual with archaeology
as a way of reconciling rational thought with the brain’s
primal impulses.
Ortiz’s mixed-media art practice, which includes
painting, recycled films, sculpture, music, installation,
performance and computer art, quickly drew international
attention. But the artist, who served in the military
during the Korean War, was particularly interested in
affecting change at home. In the late 1960s, he
integrated Latino artists into the Art Workers’ Coalition
protesting the exclusionary practices of major museums
in New York City. As a way of countering racial
inequality in the arts, and committed to the idea that art
is fundamental to the human experience, in 1969 he
founded the first Latino art museum in the United States:
El Museo del Barrio, in East Harlem, New York. Ortiz’s
mission for the still-active museum was to represent an
underserved Latino community, and to do so as a
contribution to world art and culture.
“Dr. Ortiz’s work embodies the diversity and global
reach of American culture and art,” said David Yoo, vice
provost for the Institute of American Cultures at UCLA.
“It’s a pleasure to see this acknowledgement of Ortiz’s
achievements but also of the long-term presence and
mainstream impact of Latinos in U.S. and world art.”
Undergirding Ortiz’s work is his interest in neo-Freudian
psychoanalysis. His destruction performances at the
“Destruction in Art Symposium” in London in 1966
became the inspiration for “primal therapy,” which is
known for its use of the “primal scream,” developed by
Arthur Janov, who received two degrees from UCLA,
including his masters in psychiatric social works in
1948, and adopted by, among others, John Lennon and
Yoko Ono. In the 1980s, Ortiz developed innovative
computer and digital art, while he has engaged with
such topics as pre-emptive war, the environment and
childhood trauma. He pursued these ideas through
academic research as well, and in 1982 he received his
doctorate in education from Columbia University
Teacher’s College. Today Ortiz is a distinguished
professor of visual arts at Rutgers University.
“In addition to having this incredible history, Ortiz is
now influencing a new generation of artists seeking both
political and spiritual relevance in the world,” Noriega
said. “UCLA will play a part in their success, as artists
as well as students and scholars will soon be able to
access an extensive collection of Ortiz’s papers and
ephemera at the Chicano Studies Research Center.”
Active in the arts and education for 60 years, Ortiz’s
work is included in major museum permanent
collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the
Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tate Art Museum,
the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the
Hirshhorn Museum. Work from a destruction performance
at the 2017 LA Art Show was recently acquired by
Chicano Studies Research Center community partner the
Vincent Price Art Museum in Monterey Park. The
exhibition “Raphael Montañez Ortiz: Shred Your Worries
and Other Destructions,” which includes photographs,
video, and papers from his archival collection, is on view
in 144 Haines Hall through the summer.