An international achievement is unfolding in connection with Bermudez Projects, an art space on Cypress Avenue in Cypress Park founded in 2017 by Julian Bermudez, a curator and longtime resident of the neighborhood.
The mission of Bermudez Projects – which functions partly as a gallery, partly as a museum and partly as a community gathering place – is to foster access to art, both inside and outside its walls. Inside the walls, Bermudez Projects/Cypress Park has held seven exhibitions in the past year, including the smash, Ghetto Gloss/The Chicana Avant-Garde 1980-2010, featuring 20 works by nine Chicana and Latina artists. The exhibition was part of the Getty’s groundbreaking, multi-venue retrospective of the artistic ties between Latin America and Los Angeles; to be included in the Getty effort was an honor in itself, which Bermudez Projects more than lived up to by staging a pioneering show. Set in the decades after the Chicano Art Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Ghetto Gloss showed that the women artists of the post-movement era had gone beyond the concerns and imagery of ‘El Movimiento” to create entirely new works with new themes, often in stark contrast to the work of male Chicano artists of the period.
Outside the gallery walls, Mr. Bermudez now finds himself at the center of a landmark cultural exchange between AltaMed Health Services, the Los Angeles-based community health with a vast collection of Latino and Chicano art, and the Mexican government. Specifically, Mr. Bermudez is curating a show that will bring more than 40 works of 30 Los Angeles-based artists in the AltaMed collection to the renowned Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil in Mexico City later this year. The exhibition, entitled Bridges in Times of Walls: Mexican/Chicano Art from Los Angeles to Mexico, will use art to explore and perhaps even strengthen the commonalities between Chicanos in Los Angeles and residents of Mexico City at this time when Trump-era politics have peoples on both sides of the border feeling aggrieved and threatened.
The upcoming exhibition came about as the direct result of another exhibition curated by Mr. Bermudez last year, sponsored by AltaMed and the Mexican Cultural Institute of the Embassy of Mexico in Washington D.C. In that show, Mr. Bermudez chose and displayed 60 works by Southern California Latino and Chicano artists, with an eye, he said, to showing the origins, development and – crucially — the continuing relevance of Chicano art.
Entitled Before the 45th | Action/Reaction in Chicano and Latino Art, the selection of works in that exhibit ends at the year 2016, when the election of the 45th president, Donald Trump, raised anew the questions of racial, social and economic justice that have animated Latino and Chicano art for decades.
Before the 45th received rave reviews, prompting the Mexican government to ask AltaMed if a similar exhibition could be mounted in Mexico. It could, and it will, when Bridges in a Time of Walls opens in Mexico City on Sept. 21 for a two-month run, curated by Mr. Bermudez.
If there was a moment when it became inevitable that Mr. Bermudez would be doing exactly what he is doing today, it may have come one day in 2008, when he had a realization. He had worked since 2003 in various museums and galleries in and around Los Angeles on projects large and small, putting to use his degree in art history from UCLA and believing that others – museum officials, gallery owners, board members – could and would further his ambitions to become a curator. But the breakthroughs didn’t come.
“If I am going to do this, I’ll have to do it on my own,” he decided, recalling the moment in a recent conversation with the Boulevard Sentinel.
“This,” in Mr. Bermudez’s case, was a career focused on post World War II art in Southern California, including explorations of Chicano and Latino art in which he poses questions about Latinos’ lives and experiences and seeks the answers in their art.
It is an approach he describes as “visual journalism.” In 2008, he began curating pop-up exhibits that drew a following and then, in 2011, opened a small gallery, the first Bermudez Projects, in an 8th floor space in a building in downtown Los Angeles. Bermudez Projects/Cypress Park followed last year, as he and the artists he worked with outgrew the downtown venue. The new venue, a large, light filled, freestanding building on Cypress Avenue is just down the street from where he has lived for the past nearly 20 years.
His aim for the space, for the business, for himself is to share with his neighborhood his belief “that art has the potential for shaping the world, for helping people to see life beyond the four walls of their daily existence, to see that culture affects the world, and vice versa.”
Those sentiments have been embedded in him since childhood. He grew up is South L.A., the son of an American father and Mexican immigrant mother. His parents stressed that education was the way forward. His mother emphasized reading and thinking and pursued and earned her college degree well into her adulthood. His father took the family on excursions at least every other week to different areas of the city to expose them to “the world.” When his parents divorced when he was 14, he started working at K-Mart to help his mother, a job he kept for many years.
But he was never in danger of being derailed. He had decided on a school field trip to UCLA at age 7 that he would go to college there and that’s what he did after completing two years at Cerritos Community College. He decided in college to be a curator, after concluding that it would be the perfect blend of his love of writing and his love of art. His big decisions have been “instinctive,” he said, including his decision to specialize in Southern California modern art. “I would never call myself a Chicano,” he says. “But I do understand dual identity. I do understand being part of a place and not being part of it. I understand being on the fringe.”
And, he added, “I live and breathe art. I love it.”