One of the nation’s top art exhibitions opens this week at UNLV’s Barrick Museum of Art, which is taking the opportunity to cement connections to the broader Southern Nevada community.
A public reception Friday evening kicks off the three-month run of “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” It features works produced between the ’60s and the ’90s, amid the rise of gay culture and the AIDS crisis.
“This exhibition brings together a network of over 50 artists," said Alisha Kerlin, interim director of the Barrick, "The work was being made between the late 1960s and early 1990s in L.A. That was a time of inspiring political activism around identity and social justice.”
"Axis Mundo" — which draws its name from Mundo Meza, an artist in the show who died of AIDS-related complications in the 1980s — features painting, zines, video, music, fashion, and photography
“What seems to be an intensely local exhibition about Southern California can be intensely relevant to our community,” Kerlin said.
Curating the exhibition are David Evans Frantz, associate curator at the Palm Springs Art Museum, and Professor C. Ondine Chavoya of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. Its national tour has been organized by the Independent Curators International, with funding from the from the Getty Foundation.
The curators of the exhibit actually reached out to the Barrick to bring it here. Kerlin said the diverse student body population at the university is one of the reasons the curators wanted it to come here.
She said the decision to bring the exhibit here speaks to the importance UNLV has in the wider national arts community.
Kerlin said the show has gotten more support from the university community and outside groups than anything else she has worked on in her near-decade at UNLV.
Las Vegas-based artist and co-host of the podcast "Latinos Who Lunch" Justin Favela said having the exhibit here is important because of the people who call Nevada home.
He pointed out that 30 percent of state's population is Latino and UNLV is one of the most diverse campuses in the country.
Plus, the subject matter turns a spotlight on a history that is rarely - if ever - seen.
“Queer history. Chicano history. The stories of people with AIDS and how they dealt with it through art a lot of that is hidden still to this day. So, I think to have this in Las Vegas is going to be so powerful for UNLV and for the rest of the community,” he said.
Favela said if an exhibit like "Axis Mundo" had been around when he was going to school at UNLV it would have had "huge impact" on him. He said as a person of color and queer man, he faces roadblocks all the time and seeing people like him being validated by a major museum is important.
“It’s not only educational but it is also inspiring for a lot of young artists that have never seen themselves in a museum, have never seen themselves in these institutions that don’t care about them,” he said.
Kerlin admits that some of the content may be outside some people's comfort zone. For instance, the use of the word "queer" made some of the stakeholders at the museum uncomfortable, but she said that is what art about.
“We’re okay with disagreement. We’re okay if someone comes in and disagrees with what they see on the wall. We’re ready for that," she said. With that disagreement, she hopes people are open enough to connect and talk.
Favela believes many artists and intellectuals in Las Vegas are ready to be challenged.
“I hope that this show challenges Las Vegas and maybe challenges the idea of what a museum like the Marjorie Barrick can be for the community,” he said.
The Association of Art Museum Curators named "Axis Mundo" one of the top traveling exhibitions of 2018.
"Axis Mundo" runs through mid-March at the Barrick.
Alisha Kerlin, interim director, Barrick Museum; Justin Favela, Las Vegas artist