Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum

Chicago, IL



Luis Jiménez: Working Class Heroes: Images from the Popular Culture

January 14 - May 28, 2000


The colorful exuberance of Working Class Heroes: Images from the Popular Culture features 56 pieces, ranging from large-scale fiberglass sculptures to paintings, drawings, and prints by this celebrated Mexican American artist. This exhibition unmistakably covers 30 years of the artist's career, from 1967 to the present. Featuring work inspired by personal history as well as contemporary social and political issues, it is the second traveling exhibition of Jiménez work which is traveling nationally. (left: Fiesta Dancers, 1996, fiberglass with urethans, 114 x 96 x 59 inches, Collection of University of New Mexico)

Over the past thirty years, Luis Jiménez has become one of North America's most celebrated Mexican American artists. Jiménez was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, where his family settled after crossing the border in the 1920s. From the age of six, Jiménez worked with his father and uncle in a sign shop. While there, he helped create elaborate signs (including a 20' horse head whose eyes lit up) that made an indelible impression on the young artist.

Jiménez made his first fiberglass sculptures in the early 1960s. Like the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and other Pop artists, Jiménez's work of this time drew its inspiration from American popular culture. Unlike the cool, distanced attitude of these artists' work, however, Jiménez used his barbed wit to satirize everything from apathetic sunbathers to the American love affair with cars and television. (right: Border Crossing, 1989, fiberglass with urethans, 122 x 34 x 54 inches, Courtesy of the artist)

At the end of the 1960s, Jiménez turned his attention to the history and culture of the Southwest. Cowboys, coyotes, and honky tonks blazed to life in brilliant color. Within these Southwestern themes, Jiménez also honored the Mexican and Mexican American contribution to North American culture. Vaquero, Southwest Pieta, Fiesta Dancers, and his Lowrider series all celebrate various aspects of Mexican and Mexican American mythology and culture often absent from history books.

In 1971, Jiménez moved to Roswell, New Mexico, to concentrate on making public sculpture. Starting with Progress I and Progress II, these monuments paid tribute to ordinary people---the "salt of the earth." Appropriately, Jiménez fixed their memory in fiberglass, a material of the people. Several of these monumental works, including Mustang, Sodbuster, and Southwest Pietà, are on view in the exhibition. (left: Stardust Ballroom, 1996, watercolor on paper, 44 x 52 3/8 inches, Courtesy of the artist)

Although best known for his Southwestern icons, Jiménez is also an adroit draftsman equally comfortable with the personal and introspective side of human nature. His watercolor portraits of friends and family reveal an intimacy not apparent in his monumental work. And with his recent self-portraits, Jiménez turns his gaze inward to create pensive ruminations on mortality.

Working Class Heroes: Images from the Popular Culture is Luis Jiménez's first touring retrospective exhibition. The exhibition covers thirty years of his work, from 1967 to 1997. This collection of working drawings, watercolors, prints, and sculpture not only illustrates the range of Luis Jiménez's skills, but provides a glimpse into his creative process as well. His potent blend of the traditional and the contemporary embodies a new American art that blurs the line between high art and popular culture, America and Mexico, history and mythology.

Some selected public collections of Jiménez' impressive works include: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Chicago Art Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington D.C, Jiménez' work has been featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago, France, Belgium, and Tokyo.

Luis Jiménez has also been commissioned by the MFACM to design the National Memorial Plaza honoring all Mexican American Veterans who have served in the US armed forces. Due to be completed by 2002, Luis Jiménez will further commemorate Mexican American Veterans by creating a sculpture for the plaza which will be adjacent to the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum.

See also our article Luis Jimenéz: Working-Class Heroes: Images from the Popular Culture (7/27/98)

The MFACM, the largest Latino cultural institute in the nation, is located at 1852 W. 19th St., Chicago.


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