At the opening night gala of the 25th annual LA Art Show on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, the “Chouinard – 100 Years of LA Art” exhibit attracted an enthusiastic crowd. Chouinard alumni, the California Locos, Art at The Rendon alumni, and fellow artists gathered to swap stories about the Chouinard school and its influence.
Chouinard – 100 Years of LA Art was curated by Mat Gleason of Coagula Secondary and Dave Tourjé of the Chouinard Foundation to illuminate the impact of Nelbert Chouinard, the pioneering woman who founded the original Chouinard School of Art in 1921. Many of the historic works in the show are from the Chouinard Foundation’s archive, including pieces by Frederick Hammersley, Ynez Johnston, John Altoon, and Emerson Woelffer. The exhibit also featured recent works by current Chouinard artists including John Van Hamersveld, Judy Stabile, Robert Williams, Jill Sattler, Chaz Bojorquez, and Gary Wong, among others.
How did the Chouinard Foundation get started?
I thought I was just buying an old farmhouse in South Pasadena, when really I bought this huge piece of LA art history in buying Nelbert Chouinard’s home. Though I had other plans for my life at that time, I could see that something just had to be done about the Chouinard legacy and Nelbert Chouinard, so I launched the Chouinard Foundation, first with Robert Perine, then many others that jumped in to help over the years.
What do you want people to know about Chouinard – 100 Years of LA Art?
It’s a small and very compact booth. We are really happy about how we were able to curate the walls and get so much work on them without creating a sense of overcrowding. The art and artifacts really show an incredible cross-section of Chouinard from 1921 to the present. We are trying to show this forgetful, fast-moving city that there is a deep art history here, and that it’s for everyone to share in and appreciate.
What kind of response did you get to the LA Art Show exhibit?
Amazing! So many people love it. They can’t believe the scope of Chouinard ran so broad and deep. We hung everything from photos and art originating before 1921 to the skateboard collaboration between Robert Williams and the California Locos that just recently released. So the Chouinard legacy is extremely active even now.
What do you hope people took away from it?
I think history is important. It’s not just about shiny objects. To know what came before and how it impacts what happens now and in the future is important, not as nostalgia, but as a part of the soul of a culture. I hope people enjoy seeing that Los Angeles isn’t really the shallow and provincial place it has often been depicted as.
Can you talk a little about the relationship between Chouinard and the California Locos?
I’m a typical LA urban rat, born in 1960 and raised in Northeast LA. That timeline put me in the epicenter of two important movements: vertical skateboarding, which took off in the mid ‘70s, and the LA punk rock scene, which exploded in the late ‘70s into the ‘80s. Being in NELA and in those worlds, as well as studying art formally for a time, I crossed paths with every Loco in one way or another. My dad pinned up an Endless Summer poster in our garage when I was 7. I would bump into Wong hanging art since around 1980. Norton and I were both performing in the punk world and Chaz lived and worked near me in NELA, so his work was an ever-present influence. Later, as we had these meetings to revive the Chouinard legacy and all it meant, these guys started showing up and really helped. As we talked, it was a revelation that they all went to Chouinard and we had so much in common.
“Chouinard was like the magnet that pulled us all together. No Chouinard, no Locos!”– Dave Tourjé, executive director, Chouinard Foundation
What can you tell us about the Chouinard Foundation’s future plans?
We have some major projects on tap. First, to keep expanding our social media so that the public can learn about this history in whatever flow works. Also, we plan a major Chouinard retrospective at a major museum coming up within a few years. We have identified the Chouinard works that changed the world and are rolling it forward. Along with that, we will release a catalog for the show. Additionally, we are working on a major Chouinard book release.
We tried the “brick and mortar” school and gallery route—it was too much to handle! But today, it’s a digital world and about information flow. We are learning about the confluence of analog and digital realities and how to make it work for us.