The Exhibit Vexing: Female Voices from East LA Punk at Claremont Museum Of Art was much smaller than I expected. Still, it packed the history of not only the women involved in the scene surrounding East L.A.’s Vex, but the history of early L.A. Punk scene in general as well. The Opening Reception was packed with mostly Angelinos making the trek to Claremont rather than people from the city itself. Still, for a museum around a little more than a year, it was a bold and righteous move to get The Vexing exhibit way before any of the Los Angeles museums. It's a shame that the L.A. museums continue to ignore their own homegrown artists while the rest of the world celebrates us.
Most of the images shown were the same as a show that I was fortunate to catch at the original Tia Chucha’s Café about a year and a half ago. There were also many interesting new displays that caught my eye. One was a piece that took an entire wall that was a blown up Thomas Guide map of Los Angeles from West L.A. to East L.A. On the map were key points of interests from that era, such as the rehearsal space where the East Los punk bands used to practice, and the location of the backyard party where the members of the band X first saw all the East L.A. bands. It showed all the punk rock hangouts and all the clubs from that era that are now long gone. I also enjoyed looking at the original Fatima Records promotional and gig posters. The other day at Amoeba I saw someone about to buy The Plugz Better Luck for $3.99! What a steal! Coincidently, you can still buy the original Fatima Records issue of The Brat E.P. Attitudes from the band whenever they play a show, which has been more frequent over the last couple of years.
Another point of interest was a glass case that had a photo copied poetry fanzine made by Exene along with a lyric sheet handwritten by John Doe for the song "White Girl." It occurred to me after looking at those two items how much East Los influence the band X. X was a band that wore L.A. on its sleeve in general but they really adopted classic iconic Latino images in their artwork; the Catholic saint candles, rosaries, the raccoon make-up, even Joe Doe’s handwriting in the notebook reflected East Los' affect on him. His handwriting looked like the classic seventies Mexican gang graffiti style, with punk rock overtones.
One of the art pieces was a portable record player with headphones that had a loop of some of the best songs that came from that era from such bands as The Plugz, Alice Bag, The Stains, and The Brat as well as some of the newer bands such as Go Betty Go!
I didn't catch much of the live performances. The sound wasn't great and it was hard to see if you weren't in the front. The 98 degree weather didn't help matters much.
The show wasn’t made to be the end-all for all East Los bands. One could argue that there was a big gap between what happened in the eighties up to the exhibition's representation of the current crop (Lysa Flores, Go Betty Go!) such as the many East Los bands that played the clubs, benefits and the backyard circuit since the days the Vex closed its doors. What the exhibit did was to capture a time, place and a mentality. It was a time in which community was built between people that didn’t fit in anywhere, in neither the Anglo world nor the Latino world. These 80s bands were the first, and all of us who followed after have had it much easier because of them. On top of that that, they did it with style and they left an artistic legacy that has been difficult to top.
Vexing: Female Voices from East LA Punk runs from May 18 - August 31, 2008
at the Claremont Museum of Art In the Packing House.
536 West First Street
Claremont, CA 91711