Preview: Gronk at Coagula Curatorial

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Gronk’s work in the “Quad Shot:  Renee A. Fox, Diane Gamboa, Germs and Gronk” show, opening at Coagula Curatorial this Saturday January 19, serves up an excellent blend of the artist’s vision and versatility in his unique low-brow high-brow way. Entering the gallery and seeing the brightly-colored floating Madonna is like turning a corner in East Los Angeles and seeing a beautiful street mural just ahead. His lady, though, is strictly an interior model, as with  most famous religious paintings.  This is the first of the two of the featured paintings entitled Cheap Gems.

The Madonna painting, Cheap Gems 1991, is an ironic picture of  Mary based on traditional Byzantine icon or mosaic image; here Gronk has decorated it with cheap colored rhinestones. He includes a depiction of the sacred heart within a television box. Gronk’s painted hell is blasphemous enough to include a nun as an inhabitant.  The Madonna painting refers to art and religion in general, including allusions, Gronk says, to French filmmaker Luis Bunuel’s visual criticism of the Church. This painting was originally used as a backdrop in a Los Angeles theatrical production.

The other Cheap Gems painting, this one Cheap Gems 2010, is a museum-quality formal abstraction which includes suggestions of primitive language, music, and light refraction. The limited palette contrasts with the garish colors used to depict Mary.  Connections exist between these two paintings beyond their strong lines: Both include a reliance  on art and cultural history.

Gronk’s career began in the 1970s with Asco, the legendary guerrilla performance ensemble with roots in East Los Angeles.”Asco: The Elite of the Obscure” was LACMA’s exhibition, accompanied by an award-winning catalog.  The show travels later this year to museums in Mexico City and Nottingham, England.

Gronk’s work has evolved beyond street performance over the years and he is now a painter, at work on murals, drawings, journals, illustrations, and traditional paintings.  A mural  Gronk installed as part of the “Art, Activism, Access: 40 Years of Ethnic Studies at UCLA” exhibit in 2010 at the Fowler Museum at UCLA was painted in a matter of days, with day-job hours and in a public area where I was among the enthusiastic viewers to see a fine painter at his art, documented by students.

Gronk also was commissioned to create the stage set  a few years ago for the famous producer Peter Sellars’ staging of the opera Griselda, painting a spectacular back-drop mural to represent life in Renaissance Italy.
In 2011 the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time kicked off its massive Southern California museum exhibition program with the opening of LACMA’s highly-regarded  “Asco: The Elite of the Obscure ” show which this year travels to Mexico City and to England.  Gronk’s journals and papers now reside at the UCLA Chicano Studies Resource Center, open to the public, and easily accessible.

Keep your eyes peeled for the sweet suite of Gronk’s smaller drawings, framed four at a time, at the gallery side. They are journal-like sequences, similar to a film story-board; these framed drawings could be a good way to add to, or start a collection of contemporary art, especially since artist is included in important private and public collections all over the world.

“Quad Shot”  Renee A. Fox, Diane Gamboa, Germs and Gronk; Karen Finley, Sext Me If You Can
Saturday, January 19 at through February 9, 2012
Artist reception January 19, 7pm-11pm
Coagula Curatorial 
977 Chung King Road
Chinatown, Los Angeles
Open Wed-Sat, Noon-5 p.m. and by appointment

Cheap Gems 2011, mixed media.


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