Carlos Almaraz, the noted Chicano artist who died of AIDS in December, 1989, is not forgotten in Los Angeles.
The artist will be the focus of a solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, scheduled for June 18-Aug. 30. The exhibition, "A Tribute to Carlos Almaraz: Selections From the Permanent Collection," was prompted by the donation of about 70 works on paper from the artist's widow and daughter, combined with the museum's recent purchase of one of Almaraz's major car crash paintings.
"I had always hoped that, somehow, Carlos would have his own show at LACMA," said Elsa Flores, Almaraz's widow. "He had his first museum show in the city there with 'Los Four' (a collaborative group including Chicano artists Frank Romero, Gilbert Lujan and Beto de la Rocha) in 1974, and then he was in 'Hispanic Art in the U.S.' there in 1989. But he was never really showcased as one of L.A.'s best-loved artists, even though he captured the city so vividly."
Featured in the upcoming showcase will be 28 of the drawings and prints donated by Flores, plus two major paintings: "Early Hawaiians," a 1983 work that was donated to the museum by William H. Bigelow III in 1991, and "Crash in Pthalo Green," a 1984 work purchased by the museum's 1992 Collections Committee.
According to Bruce Davis, the museum's curator of prints and drawings, the latter painting fulfilled an item from the museum's long-held "wish list" that had included one of Almaraz's car crash paintings. And the works on paper mark a "significant addition to the museum's long history of . . . exhibiting in real depth the works of local contemporary artists," Davis said.
"He was one of the major artists of the last 20 years in Los Angeles," Davis said of Almaraz, noting that following the exhibition, the collection will join 35,000 other works on paper that are in the museum's holdings.
Featured in the collection are 41 drawings, including early pencil sketches from the 1960s and studies for some of Almaraz's public murals. Also represented are 28 prints, including most of the intaglios Almaraz produced with Efram Wolff, and the popular serigraphs printed by Richard Duardo at Future Perfect.
Curator Davis noted that the exhibition may provide a "surprise" for many Almaraz fans, who are most familiar with the artist's colorful, painterly works from the 1980s.
"(The early works represent) more abstract, minimalist, New York-school kind of work, and to see these in the context of his development provides both a contrast and a harbinger of his later style that was to come," Davis said. "Now we can document, almost step by step, his development."
"I've always thought that LACMA should have a selection providing a historical perspective on his work," said Flores, who noted that she selected the museum because of the institution's past support of Almaraz's career.
Flores valued her gift at about $400,000, and hinted that more was to come: "I'd like to endow LACMA with some major works later on, but I'd still like to live with them for awhile."
The collection of works on paper, along with the two paintings and two pastels that were purchased by the museum in 1985, makes LACMA's Almaraz collection the largest of any public institution.
The next largest collection is at UCLA's Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, which owns 20 lithographs and intaglio prints, many of which were gifts either from the Almaraz family or from Wolff. (The collection was shown a year ago when UCLA mounted "Moonlight Theater: Prints and Related Works by Carlos Almaraz.")
Other public collections featuring Almaraz works include the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, Otis/Parsons Art Institute, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Archives of American Art; private collectors of his work include Eileen and Peter Norton, Jack Nicholson, Jerry Weintraub and Bruce Springsteen.
A prolific painter who also produced or contributed to more than a dozen public murals, Almaraz produced several thousand works in his lifetime (Flores has documentation of more than 2,000 pieces). About 700 of those, including a few major paintings, are still held by the artist's estate.
Although Almaraz was represented for many years by Los Angeles dealer Jan Turner, Flores has recently left Turner, handling many sales herself, and working through consignments with private consultants and independent dealer Julie Rico.
But Flores, an artist in her own right, said she is now ready to work "exclusively" with one gallery, and is currently in negotiations with "one of L.A.'s biggest galleries to represent the entire estate."
Flores plans to hold a memorial event for Almaraz during the LACMA show, and hopes at that time to begin fund-raising for a Carlos Almaraz Memorial Scholarship fund to be used for Latino students entering art school.
In addition, Flores is currently at work on a memorial sculpture to Almaraz in Echo Park that she hopes to have completed by June.