The Austin Years: 1986-1999
Galería Sin Fronteras, an Austin based art gallery, represented over one hundred Chicano artists, as well as those from Latin America, and Mexico. During the fourteen years its doors, the work exhibited varied widely, yet most of it explored social and historical issues relevant to both Chicanos and non-Chicanos alike.
The gallery took pride in showing hard-edged work, art that was often considered “not commercially appropriate” because of its confrontational nature, or because it too strongly conveyed a social message. On display were established artists such as César Martínez, Carmen Lomas Garza and Alejandro Romero, as well as emerging artists such as Ana Laura de la Garza, Andy Villarreal, and Nicolás de Jesús.
Most of these artists had also exhibited at major galleries, such as the Museum of Modern Art in Houston, Cocorhan Gallery in Washington DC, Mexico City galleries and corporate sponsored traveling art shows. The gallery was founded in July 1986 by Gilberto Cárdenas, at the time a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
An amateur photographer, Cárdenas was searching for a limited edition of Paul Strand’s Mexican photography. This lead to the discovery of many socially important works lying in dusty galleries and bookstores.
“I also found the art market around the country to be narrow in its selection of artists. I wanted to provide a foundation for artists with a social concern that would legitimize their work and be exhibited by people who understand it. This art should not be judged by European or American mainstream art standards. We’re setting a new criteria, from its own value, integral to where this art is produced. Japanese art is not judged against African art and socially conscious art should not be judged against mainstream art,” Cárdenas noted.
For a few years, Cárdenas hand carried a portfolio of art to his many meetings around the country. The gallery was established to provide a commercial, self-sustaining vehicle for promoting Chicano art. “The need was there, the interest was apparent, so I began with a showing of silkscreens.” He opened the gallery with “Los Angeles Prints: Contemporary Graphic Art from East Los Angeles” which included over fifty serigraphs by twenty-eight artists working out of the Self-Help Graphics Workshop in East Los Angeles. “It was a most successful showing. All the silkscreens were sold and we received a huge future order.”
Cárdenas did not consider Galería Sin Fronteras to be an alternative to mainstream art galleries. “We were not the alternative, they were. Society has stratified standards of art, sometimes forcing changes on the artists. Galería Sin Fronteras provided a new base of operations for a more subjective view of the world. I feel we had the opportunity to introduce new and important artists to the art world, people who probably would not have been found for many, many years.”
The art at Galería Sin Fronteras reflected an idea of life through the eyes of artists touched by the human experience. GSF worked extensively with community based institutions such as Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles, Xicanindio Artes in Phoenix, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Tijuana, BC) and the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago. On a yearly basis, these institutions participated in printing workshops initiated and coordinated by Galería Sin Fronteras resulting in the publication of limited edition fine art prints. The artwork created at these workshops was then exhibited in Mexico as well as in the United States, thus exposing an ever-growing audience to artwork produced by Chicanos. These workshops enabled artists to create an artistic legacy focusing on thematically-inspired challenges called for by the collaborating partners.
Galería Sin Fronteras was the first gallery to appear in what is now known as the “Uptown Cultural District” in the downtown Austin area. Over the years, they also gave generously to a mix of non-profit institutions and organizations by way of donations, short and long-term loans of artwork as well as hosting receptions for fundraisers.
*Drawn from an earlier article written by Nancy de los Santos.
Current Home of Collection: South Bend, Indiana
Currently, the collection is housed in various locations, including the collector’s home in South Bend, both on walls and in a private gallery. The collection also travels, and this is an ongoing goal to increase visibility and awareness so that the art ultimately goes to the people.
Through donation or loan, the collection also exists as part of:
- American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institute
- Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin
- Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)
- Kellogg Institute for International Studies
- MALDEF Regional Offices
- The Mexican Museum, San Francisco
- El Museo del Barrio, New York
- Notre Dame Center for Art & Culture
- Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame