History of Art and Architecture

Nicole F. Scalissi Colloquium

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 - 12:00pm

Frick Fine Arts Building, Room 202

"think of them as rotting flesh": ASCO's Decoy Gang War Victim and the Art World's Consumption of the Chicanx Body

Created by the Chicanx collective Asco in late 1974, Decoy Gang War Victim was produced in a context of stark economic disparity and racialized social stratification in Los Angeles during the final years of the Vietnam War. Originally a live performance of a “dead” man staged for the camera, the photograph was circulated—as the legend goes—on television news as a document of the “last death” in the media-hyped East L.A. “gang wars.” It is this image of a presumably-slain Chicano man that has—only in recent years—achieved art world stardom for Asco: Decoy has graced the covers of international magazines and books, is shown in major exhibitions, and is used, over and over, in marketing materials for high-profile exhibitions and museums. And yet, the inescapable focus of Asco’s most famous artwork—arguably the most visible work by any Chicanx artist—is a “dead” Chicano. 

How it is possible, and what does it mean, that an image implying serious violence against the Chicanx body became so popular as to stand in for Chicanx art, American art, and contemporary art more broadly?This talk traces the life and afterlife of Decoy Gang War Victim to consider the stakes of its recent artworld ascension—after nearly forty years of art historical invisibility—and how this rise implicates a much broader and pervasive relationship to the victimization of Latinx or “Brown” Americans.