OUTSIDE IN: The Mexican-American Street Art Movement in Chicago

Curated by Miguel Aguilar (Kane One) and anticipated by any follower of Chicago street art, OUTSIDE IN at the National Museum of Mexican Art perpetuates the culmination of work created by our city’s finest street artists in and around town for the last 30 years.
This exhibition “surveys the aesthetics created (from the 1980s to the present) in Chicago’s public space through a contemporary Mexican-American experience. It investigates graffiti and street art as a social practice, focusing on agency, mobilization and identity formation.”
Artists include: Ruben ‘Like’ Aguirre, John ‘Jonski’ Ayala, Rafael ‘Rafa’ Almaguer,
Miguel A. Del Real, Mario ‘Zore’ Gonzalez, Ricardo ‘Naco’ Gonzalez, Vicente Jasso, Victoria Martinez, Rodrigo ‘Solo’ Mireles, KC Ortiz, Jesus ‘Chucho’ Rodriguez, Nino ‘Tsel’ Rodriguez, and Angel Silva.

We caught up with one of our favorite artists in all the world, Ruben Aguirre, for some insight on the show that, in many Chicago artheads’ opinions, seems to have been a long time coming.

What does the title of the show, OUTSIDE IN The Mexican-American Street Art Movement, mean to you?
I think it’s a great title. I know I’m just a grain of sand in that whole “thing.” I think it’s great to be appreciated on a museum platform, and with the intention of bringing the work that is done/seen outside to the inside. It creates a new experience. But I still prefer the outside experience.

If you could have showgoers take one thing with them from this show, what would it be?
I hope that people who don’t really know much, don’t understand, or even hate graffiti get the chance to see it so they can get the insight that the people doing work on the streets also make studio work, as well as work creatively through other avenues like teaching, tattooing, etc., and are able to fill the gap and appreciate them as creative people/artists. There’s an old stereotype that Mexican artists (especially muralists) should paint Aztec imagery, portraits of Zapata, farm worker rights slogans, etc. There’s this issue of assigning Mexican/Mexican-American artists their creative identity. Graffiti was/is the tool for our identity, and we are also Mexican. I hope this show helps some of the people who haven’t been able to get that, understand a little better.

And who better to curate this thing than KaneOne? How has he aided in the collection of some of Chicago’s heaviest hitters?
I think he’s a great person to have curate. He knows the history, pays attention to the streets, and has a high level of standards for graffiti. I think he did a good, honest job curating within the parameters of this show. Obviously, there are a ton of writers who deserve credit for their work, but not all of these people make work that can be exhibited in a gallery setting. I’m sure it was tough figuring out how this was going to work. There’s plenty of people who’ve done more than me, so I’m honored to be included.

What does it feel like to be getting ready to show in a museum setting?
I made a conscious effort to not really think about the “museum” factor while making my pieces for the show, or while painting in the gallery. Otherwise I would have tried too hard, and ended up with something I wasn’t happy with. The best thing about painting, is that it kind of kicks everything else out of my head. Now that I’m done with that, and the show’s around the corner, it feels exciting.

Who are you most excited to see in this show with you?
A lot of the artists I’ve been a fan of for years, and have pieces from some of them. I know what they can do. Zore and Solo also painted on the gallery walls, and while painting, it dawned on me that the SB and Aerosoul stuff was a lot of what I saw when I was first noticing graffiti and falling in love with it. So, I think for me it’s really more about the sentiment of being on the same stage as these guys. It means a lot to me. Never did I think I would be standing/painting next to them for a show like this.

How do you feel about the progress you’ve made as an artist?
I think it all goes together, so it’s like asking me how I feel about the progress I’ve made as a human. There’s definitely some things I could have done better, but I’m pretty good with where I’m at. It’s not easy, but it seems to be working out, and I keep trying to push myself.

What are you working on for this show?
I’ll be showing two mixed media pieces, mostly paint with some collage on wood panels, and I got to paint directly on one of the walls to do a mural piece.

The show has been a long time coming, but its impact shall not be short-lived…