A Brief History of Polvo
by Miguel Cortez
We have been organizing art exhibits and publishing a 'zine officially as Polvo since the summer of 1996. But before this Jesus Macarena-Avila and Elvia Rodriguez-Ochoa organized a show in 1995 called "187: With or Without You" dealing with Proposition 187 which was taking place in California at the time which denied benefits to illegal aliens. I also participated, but it was during this time that we realized that we work well together so during summer 1996 we decided to publish an inexpensive black and white xerox "zine". I came up with the name "polvo" which appeared as street graffity in one of my lucid dreams back in May 1996. I don't remember what the dream was about but I did remember that word vividly. During the next few days I kept thinking how cool a name for the "zine" that would be since it means "explosion" in spanish. We gathered sumbissions from friends and others via email and using a brand new(at the time) Mac 8500 I designed the mag. We took it to Kinko's and did an edition of about 200 and started to distribute them to friends, cafe's, universities, etc.
During 1996 we also organized a group show called "El Otro Lado de la Locura / The Other Side of Lunacy" at this wonderful cultural space/gallery called Casa de Arte y Cultura (Calles y Suenos). The director Jose David let us invite whoever we wanted, so we gathered about 5 artists. The Calles y Suenos space(1990-1998) influenced us deeply along with its predecessor Axe St. Arena (an alternative space during the 1980s).
Elvia had been a member of this Pilsen collective called Taller Mexicano de Grabado(Mexican Printmaking Workshop) since the early 1990s. So in the mid-1990s Jesus and myself joined. The group was mostly latin american artists in their late 30s, 40s and 50s and then us who were in our 20s at the time. To them were the up and coming young generation of latino artists and because our ideas of art and artmaking were too far out there for them, we were limited in our creative process. This limitation grew to frustration that in 1999 we decided to open our own space and left the Taller collective.
We found a cheap storefront 2 blocks from the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum on Cullerton and Wood and opened in late February 1999. Artists such as Amy Mall, Jaime Mendoza and Laura Kina showed with us at this time. The space closed in late summer 1999 due to financial and personal reasons. I travelled to for about 7 months during 2000 and when I came back I continued with the magazine but as an online project. Several issues exist as "Flash" files in our archives and later Jesus and I joined to publish another black and white xerox "zine" in summer 2002.
On January 2003 I was walking by 18th and Allport and saw a small old/raw storefront with a "for rent" sign. Out of curiosity I called and it was affordable. I immediately called Jesus and Elvia about it and they were excited about re-opening Polvo. We met and the first show opened in mid-February and was called the "Subaltern Show". During February Jesus and I attended several anti-war marches and we decided to organize a quick group show to take place in March as our protest against the Iraq war. It received some good press and attention within the cultural community. Also during this time the magazine went from a "zine" format to a tabloid(11" x 17") newspaper format.
After about 7 months of paying 2 rents each month I decided to combine them and found an an apartment on 18th and Laflin second floor in September of 2003 and moved Polvo there. After several shows the landlord wasn't pleased with all the people coming in and out during openings because he said the apartment was residential and not a commercial space(he was afraid of city inspectors coming in) so he showed me a storage room he had behind the grocery store in front at street level. The space was bigger and with 13ft ceilings and very raw looking. I loved it-- so in a month's time he added drywall to cover the brick and made a bathroom plus added a kitchen and refrigerator. So Polvo has been at this rear space since March 2004.
Over the years many shows at Polvo have received much press and notoriety and many artists that have shown with us early in their careers have gone onto better and bigger venues. Artists that come to mind that are now well-known are CarianaCarianne, Dolan Geiman, Huong Ngo, Sumakshi Singh, Paola Cabal, Edra Soto, Gisela Insuaste.Some used the space to experiment; they would document their installations and then approach other galleries or museums. And on the other end there are artists who are already well-known and decide to show with Polvo because they agree with our ideas and philosophy of contemporary art, experimentation, community and political awareness. Such past artists are Tracey Rose, Elizam Escobar, Michael Piazza, Bertha Husband, Siebren Versteeg, Guillermo Galindo, Chris Brown, Silvia Malagrino, Deb Sokolow and Lindsay Obermeyer. Our group shows have also been strong and are organized more with political and community awareness. Shows have tended to tackle subjects like "Gentrification", "Anti-War", Low Rider culture, and Surveillance.