ONE Archives Axis Mundo

by Joel Martens

Rage Monthly

Friday October 13, 2017

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries was founded in 1952 by the publisher of the ONE magazine, the first widely circulated magazine for the gay community at the time.

Housing the largest collection of LGBTQ history in the world, collected over its 60-year history, ONE Archives has grown into the vast historical repository it is today. In addition to preserving LGBTQ history, ONE also mounts public programs and exhibitions, like their most current featured show, Axis Mundo.

The Rage Monthly caught up with David Evans Frantz, Curator, ONE Archives at the USC Libraries to discuss what happens at ONE Archives and specifically, the Axis Mundo exhibit.

Frantz discussed the impetus for creating the exhibit, and why ONE Archives chose to do it at this moment in time. "Axis Mundo grew from extensive research into the life and practice of artist Edmundo 'Mundo' Meza and more broadly, the work of a generation of queer and Chicana/o artists in Los Angeles between the late 1960s and early 1990s. Among his peers, Meza was renowned for his work as a painter, performer and window dresser before his death from AIDS in 1985."

He continued, "In our conversations with artists of his generation he has always been held in high regard and spoken of with reverence for his talents, yet his work had been little seen since his death. In many ways Meza is the conceptual axis of this expansive historical exhibition, guiding its emphasis on recovery as well as many of the project's core themes. Through the research, the show grew to include works by Meza as well as more than fifty other artists and groups."

As to how the organization selects artists' works housed within and the specifics of Axis Mundo, Frantz described their criterion as such. "ONE Archives received two grants over four years from the Getty Foundation toward the organization of Axis Mundo. As research for the show evolved, my co-curator C. Ondine Chavoya and I increasingly sought to chart the connections and affinities between numerous participants in vibrant artistic scenes in Los Angeles that have received little exposure. This included artists working in fashion, performance, punk music and activist circles."

Describing the collective genius of those participating, he offered this, "Collaboration was central to these artists, who came together to form collectives, establish arts venues, and experiment with new social and aesthetic possibilities. While many were close collaborators, not all of these artists worked together. Both direct and indirect connections led to shared content and affiliated aesthetic strategies. Although this network was centered in Los Angeles, many of the artists participated in other artistic scenes, both nationally and internationally."

Speaking to the specific time period surrounding the highlighted artists, material choices for the exhibit, what was happening at that moment in history and why Frantz and ONE Archives staff felt it was important, he offered this: "Axis Mundo maps a period from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, an era of tumultuous and inspiring political activism, from the emergence of the Chicano civil rights, women's, and gay liberation movements to the political activism around the AIDS epidemic. These struggles galvanized many of these artists. The exhibition includes painting, photography, performance art, mail art, 'zines, fashion, video, and music. The wealth of works and media in the exhibition is reflective of the experimentation of the era and ingenuity of the participants. In many cases we're presenting works for the first time since their production."

Highlighting and celebrating LGBT arts and culture is vital for us as a community, because collectively we have contributed so much to the cultural heritage of the United States. It is something often overlooked, especially when it comes to Chicano artists and contributions. When asked how we can continue working to correct this, Frantz offered this: "My co-curator C. Ondine Chavoya and I hope this exhibition begins to fill in some of these missing histories of queer Chicana/o artistic experimentation, as well as spur future projects and shows on the many participants the exhibition presents. Over the course of organizing the show many friends, partners, and family members of artists have also donated collections of letters, correspondences, artworks, and other materials to ONE Archives, expanding the collection in ways that will undoubtedly shape projects at ONE into the future."

Frantz continued, discussing the highlights of putting the exhibition together and what it meant to him, personally. "Uncovering the multiple spaces and contexts these artists working in was one of the most exciting parts of the research. Many artists worked outside of traditional art spaces, instead founding their own venues, presenting work in bars and clubs, or working in the fashion industry. Mundo Meza and Simon Doonan (who later went on to great acclaim for his windows at Barneys New York) produced irreverent and shocking window displays at the high-end clothing boutique Maxfield Bleu in West Hollywood in the 1980s. These windows also combined strange props and on occasion Simon shared leftover objects with the punk performer Johanna Went. She would then utilized these objects in her chaotic, improvised performances at punk clubs in Los Angeles.

Artistic movements often follow the mood of the society and the happenings that occurred, such as things like the HIV/AIDS crisis, which had a profound effect on the LGBT community. Frantz spoke of how things like that were reflected in the Axis Mundo exhibit. "Responding to the AIDS crisis, many of the artists in Axis Mundo politicized their artistic practices, often taking inspiration from their earlier participation in gay and lesbian and Chicana/o rights movements. Many organized in groups: Ray Navarro, for example, was a founding member of the AIDS activist video collective DIVA TV in New York, standing for Damned Interfering Video Activists. Artists Joey Terrill, Teddy Sandoval, Jef Huereque, and others were all active participants in the Latina/o artist group VIVA, which advocated for AIDS awareness. Other artists in Axis Mundo memorialized those lost to the disease, while some took up their own mortality and disability as content for their work."

What do organizers hope that people take away from the Axis Mundo experience? "We hope visitors to the show walk away with a better sense of the wide-reaching and dynamic scene these artists fosters in the '70s and '80s and the sense of playfulness and possibility that permeated their work across art, life, and activism," concluded Frantz.

Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. is presented simultaneously at two locations in West Hollywood: MOCA Pacific Design Center at 8687 Melrose Avenue and ONE Gallery, West Hollywood at 9007 Melrose Avenue. For more information on the exhibit, or for hours and directions to both locations, go to

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