Sunday, July 31, 2011

Future of Chicano sculpture in El Paso city plaza stirs controversy

As downtown renovations continue in El Paso, controversy has struck the heart of the city, its central plaza. City leaders are suggesting the removal of the plaza's centerpiece statue "Los Lagartos," a fiberglass sculpture by artist Luis Jimenez, Jr. which is a sentimental favorite of local residents. That suggestion has fueled outrage from many, including many Chicano supporters in El Paso, a city that is 80% Latino.
Los Lagartos by Luis Jimenez, Jr--in El Paso, Texas
Some--including city leaders--say they fear that Jimenez’ “Los Lagartos” sculpture has deteriorated beyond repair. Fans of the sculpture, however, retort that it was commissioned as a site-specific piece and needs to be restored and remain in the heart of the city.

The Public Art Committee of the El Paso Museum's and Public Art Department recently commissioned an analysis of the sculpture. That report is expected to be available for public review in coming weeks.

A restoration of "Los Lagartos," which was installed in El Paso in 1993, is favored by the statue's supporters. That project may be comparable to the restoration of an older Jimenez' sculpture, the “Vaquero,” which resides in Moody Park in Houston. Installed in 1980, the Houston “Vaquero” is 32 years old.

In 2002 and in 2009, conservation work on the Houston "Vaquero" cleaned and repainted it to restore Jimenez' original design. The Houston "Vaquero" is one of five such cowboy sculptures that Jimenez created. One of them has been on loan to the El Paso Museum of Art and is currently installed at the museum's entrance. However, that statue is slated for removal because the owner sold it to a private collector. Another "Vaquero" by Jimenez is found in Washington, D.C. at the National Gallery.
Houston's "Vaquero"--before and after restoration
Everyone seems to agree that, from the beginning, the City of El Paso has not adequately maintained the "Los Lagartos" sculpture. The El Paso's Parks and Recreation Department damaged it by using an improper cleaning solvent. The sculpture lacked a canopy to shield the fiberglass from El Paso’s notoriously hot sun. It's positioning in the plaza has left it vulnerable to those who climb on it.

The City is claiming that it's a coincidence that they were alerted to Los Lagartos' condition at the same time that Paul L. Foster and Mills Properties have submitted several proposals for redevelopment of the Plaza. However the statue's fans point out that some of the design proposals do not include Jimenez’ sculpture.

Supporters of the statue claim that the City of El Paso did not consider conservation of the statue or hire consultants to investigate that possibility until after the community responded negatively to the city's plans to remove Los Lagartos.

The removal of the sculpture hinges on the current assessment of the piece by a conservator contracted by the City of El Paso. Critics are calling for a second opinion from a conservator they support.

Recently, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the Renwick Gallery posted on their Facebook Page an album of their employees cleaning the Vaquero sculpture at the Smithsonian. The gallery of these photos can be scene at the Facebook page of Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the Renwick Gallery

Los Lagartos' supporters strive for a similar outcome for Los Lagartos in El Paso's city center. They have posted a petition on to unite that support.

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