On a spring night in 1972, a trio of Los Angeles artists—Harry Gamboa Jr., Willie Herrón III, and Glugio Nicandro (who goes by the nickname Gronk)—spray-painted their names at the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It might have seemed a simple act of vandalism. For the artists, however, a collective that operated under the name Asco, it was a defiant, if temporary, work of art.
Earlier in the day, Gamboa had casually encountered a LACMA curator and pressed him about the absence of Chicanos (Americans of Mexican descent) from the displays of contemporary art. As the story goes, the curator dismissively responded that Chicanos didn’t produce art; they joined gangs. That night, Gamboa and his colleagues returned to the museum and sprayed their signatures on the institution’s Modernist facade. The following morning, they returned with the collective’s fourth member, Patssi Valdez, and photographed her standing alongside their handiwork. The piece, dubbed Spray Paint LACMA, turned the institution into a giant, conceptual work of Chicano art. The museum painted over the tags within hours, but Spray Paint LACMA was set to become a touchstone for generations of Chicano artists.