Randy Kennedy

The New York Times

Late one December night in 1972, three members of an art collective here clambered out of a battered green Volkswagen bug and spray-painted their names — “Herrón, Gamboa, Gronkie” — on a footbridge of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, appropriating the entire museum as their own work of art simply by signing it.

The next morning Harry Gamboa Jr. returned with the fourth member of the group, Patssi Valdez, and immortalized the act with a glam shot of her posing in tight pants and a red top near the signatures, looking away coolly and seductively like Anna Karina in a Godard movie.

The stunt by the collective known as Asco exhibited all the hallmarks of the group’s outrageous style: angry, illicit, deftly and economically conceptual, and shot through with the high camp of Hollywood, whose sign they could see in the distance from the streets of East Los Angeles. The act was also pretty much noticed by no one except the four members themselves, who were always their own best audience. The paint was whitewashed before day’s end; the Los Angeles art world went on its way, paying little attention to a group of artists whose street performances and other unclassifiable productions were as compelling as practically anything bubbling up out of the urban dereliction of SoHo or other parts of Los Angeles during those years.

Almost four decades later, the same museum the collective defaced because its doors weren’t open to artists of their kind — Mexican-American, working class and poor, highly irreverent and politicized — is not just finally welcoming them inside but rolling out a red carpet for the occasion. “Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972-1987,” the first survey of the group’s work, opens Sept. 4 as one of the Los Angeles County Museum’s main offerings for the sprawling Pacific Standard Time event, more than 60 collaborative shows opening throughout Southern California in the late summer and fall to tell the story of postwar Los Angeles art.

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