Vincent Valdez and Ry Cooder: El Chavez Ravine @ LACMA, Los Angeles
How did this ice cream truck, purveyor of neighborhood nostalgia, drippy, daytime treats, and elemental, ear-worm melody, become the visual documentation of Ry Cooder's 2005 concept album, Chavez Ravine? He invited Vincent Valdez (creator of Stations, a series of large drawings depicting Christ as a boxer and the crucifixion as a boxing match) to create a painting that would parallel his recording, portraying a Los Angeles story of gentrification and discrimination, reminiscent of the epic style and colors of Mexican murals; so rather than canvas, they chose a vehicle to be the vehicle.
As befits an epic, it took Cooder three years to make the album, and Valdez 18 months to complete the true story of a Mexican-American neighborhood razed and essentially disappeared so that then-Dodger's president Walter O'Malley could build a buzzy modern baseball stadium, which subsequently went on to steal the name of the land it obliterated, Chavez Ravine. Valdez literally lived with the truck in his studio. "I was locked up here for hours... just me in here with the truck. I'd turn my back to it... it was like a partner." The result is a 1953 Chevy painted in oil, telling a tale as colorful as a Southern California sunrise, as flowing as its fenders, invoking low-riding and barrio culture, relating layers of emotion and history. He depicts himself and Cooder watching a night game at the stadium, and while "still the same old story," art finds a way to preserve it, now in a new home at LACMA. —Gwynned Vitello