For Renowned Chicana Artist, Feminist and Activist. San Diego-born Yolanda Lopez

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist. Exhibit at MCASD. Photo Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

After several Covid-related delays and closures, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego celebrated the reopening of the Jacobs Building downtown with Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist. 

This is the first solo exhibition in a museum for Yolanda López (1942-2021), the pathbreaking artist, activist, and educator whose career in California spanned five decades. López, who passed away in early September, was celebrated for her role in the Chicano art movement and for her iconic Guadalupe series.

MCASD had planned to present Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist in fall of 2020 at its downtown San Diego location and instead pivoted to online programming. López’s much-anticipated exhibition opened to the public on October 16 with a community celebration of the artist’s life and work. 

Born and raised in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego, López spent the 1960s in San Francisco and was based there permanently from the late 1970s on. The artist traced her formation to the student activism of that era and to her prominent role as a cultural worker within the Chicano civil rights movement.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist presents a compendium of López’s work from the 1970s and 1980s, when she created an influential body of paintings, drawings, and collages that investigate and reimagine representations of women within Chicano/a/x culture. In The New York Times’s recent Fall Preview, Holland Cotter calls the exhibition “A long overdue career tribute,” noting that López’s “1978 self-portrait painting as a marathon-running Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the great images of revolutionary joy.”

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist. Exhibit at MCASD. Photo Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

“López leaves behind a profound legacy and it is a special honor, here in the artist’s hometown, to present the first solo museum exhibition of this lauded figure in the worlds of art and activism,” explained Kathryn Kanjo, the David C. Copley Director and CEO of MCASD. 

“Many of López’s commanding drawings received essential conservation treatments, allowing, at last, for the public display of these formative artworks. The outsize portraits of the artist, her mother, and her grandmother will be a revelation for many visitors.”

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist concentrates on a transformative period in López’s production beginning in 1975 when the artist entered graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, and continuing into the 1980s when she created the final works in her iconic Guadalupe series. The exhibition brings together approximately fifty works in oil pastel, paint, charcoal, collage, and photography, including never-before-exhibited large-scale self-portraits.

In her best-known work, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe (1978), López depicts herself wearing running shoes and Guadalupe’s star-patterned mantle, embodying a defiant joy.

One of the most iconic artworks to emerge from the Chicano movement, López’s anthemic Portrait challenges the colonial and patriarchal origins of the Guadalupe iconography, transforming the image into one of radical feminist optimism.

Curator Jill Dawsey said, “López’s Guadalupe series represents one of the earliest feminist reinterpretations of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which, in the following decades, became a major focus of Chicanx art and literature—owing much to the influence and prevalence of López’s work.”

Catalogue for the exhibition

This exhibition is part of the Feminist Art Coalition, a national platform for art projects that seek to generate cultural awareness of feminist thought, experience, and action.

A catalogue for the exhibition will be available, featuring contributions by Jill Dawsey and Irene Lara, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, and a reprinting of Yolanda López’s 1978 “Artist’s Statement.” Published by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Price $20. 12# pages. 5.5 x 8 inches. ISBN: 9780934418751

The exhibition runs until April 24, 2022, and admission is free at 1100 Kettner Blvd. San Diego, 92101

Hours: Thursday - Sunday, 10 am - 4 pm