SAN FRANCISCO, April 12, 2022 – Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision, co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the San Francisco Art Institute, invites you into artist Carlos Villa’s (1936–2013) spectacular, visually magical worlds of feathers and bones, capes and masks, tattoos and blood. The first major museum retrospective dedicated to the work of a Filipino American artist — featuring many works rarely seen before — Worlds in Collision celebrates Villa’s exuberant body of work and enduring influence as a teacher, curator, and activist. Starting this June at the Asian Art Museum, with a concurrent exhibition at the nearby San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery (SFAC), Worlds in Collision is an opportunity for audiences to trace Villa’s movement-spanning career. The exhibition explores Villa’s San Francisco immigrant roots, his adaptation of non-Western creative traditions, and his still-vibrant impact on the art world today.
“Carlos Villa was a legend in creative circles for his groundbreaking, ‘polycultural’ approaches, as well as the inspiration he provided to his countless students at SFAI — including household names like Obama portraitist Kehinde Wiley — yet he remains little known to many fans and scholars of modern and contemporary art. This exhibition could not be more timely, as museums across the world are diligently reexamining the narrative of art history they present,” says Dr. Jay Xu, the Barbara Bass Bakar Director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum. “We’ve expanded the Asian Art Museum precisely so we could share more contemporary art, and more kinds of contemporary art, than ever before. We’re thrilled to collaborate with so many important San Francisco arts organizations to bring Villa’s important story to new audiences and offer a unique, much-needed perspective on Asian American artistic exchange and cultural identity — to update the canon, if you will.”
Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision is on view from Jun. 17 to Oct. 24, 2022, at the Asian Art Museum. The exhibition spreads across two galleries and features 14 of Villa’s mostly large-scale artworks created in the 1970s and early 1980s. These eye-catching, highly textured works freely reference non-Western sources as well as Villa’s own personal history. Villa drew on African, Asian, and Oceanic art and tradition, and he incorporated unexpected materials ranging from hair, spit, and sperm to shells, feathers, mirrors, and silk. He even used his own body and face as a “brush” to impart a kind of signature.
One example, First Impression (1980), was only recently recovered from the crawl space of the artist’s former San Francisco studio. Now in the Asian Art Museum’s collection, the unstretched canvas piece, gridded with ghostly imprints of the artist’s face adorned with tiny bone dolls, captures Villa’s lifelong exploration of his own Filipino heritage as well as his interest in organic materials and their creative coupling with major art movements of the 20th century, such as Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.
The title Worlds in Collision is inspired by a revolutionary course that Carlos Villa taught at SFAI that aimed to decolonize art history’s white, Eurocentric focus, and whose syllabus is still in use. He extended this effort beyond the classroom through public “actions” — an allusion to his interrelated practices of teaching, curating, organizing, and performing — that advocated for dissolving hierarchies between low and high art, promoting community collaboration, and centering the voices of artists of color.
The main presentation takes place in the museum’s Osher Foundation Gallery and showcases an exciting selection of Villa’s surviving constructions (many other similarly significant works were lost or destroyed by the artist himself). Villa’s influence as a teacher and mentor is explored in a section of the exhibition on view in the adjacent Lee Gallery and spotlights sculpture, installation, photographs, and work by Filipino American artists that Villa mentored and taught at SFAI: Michael Arcega in collaboration with Paolo Asuncion; Paul Pfeiffer; and the trio of Eliza O. Barrios, Reanne Estrada, and Jenifer K Wofford, as collective Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. Like Villa, these artists explore overlapping issues of aesthetics, ethnography, identity, and community.
A playful highlight is TNT Traysikel by Arcega and Asuncion, a custom-made motorized tricycle-cum-roving karaoke machine. A tribute to San Francisco’s Filipino American history, the Traysikel will be activated for museum programs.
A contemporary work by Sherwin Rio and Lian Ladia on view in the museum’s Shriram Experiential Learning Center honors Villa’s impact as an educator and activist on the wider community and his modeling of an expansive role for contemporary artists outside their studio walls.
Rituals, Readings, and Karaoke Celebrate Villa’s Legacy
In honor of Carlos Villa’s impact across multiple disciplines — and to celebrate the spirit of play and joy he brought to much of his work — the Asian Art Museum, SFAC, and SFAI have organized a series of public programs and events to appeal to every visitor, from scholars to those looking for a new groove. See websites for time and ticket details; Thursday evenings at the Asian Art Museum are always discounted.
Featuring wide-ranging discussions punctuated by readings and performances, this festival reflects Villa’s own historical symposia, performances, and gatherings.
Festival attendees and others are invited to make their way across the Civic Center Plaza to experience the Carlos Villa: Roots and Reinvention exhibition at the SFAC Galleries in the Veterans Building.
From oldies to recent classics to today’s new pop standards, jump into the roaming art tricycle and show us what you’ve got.
Join Bay Area Filipinx artist Lordy Rodriquez for an evening of art-making and remembrance.
Villa was known for his love of music and incorporating it into his community-centric “actions;” discover tunes from his time, and new ones from ours, and dance into the night.
The exhibition is accompanied by an original, fully illustrated catalogue published by the University of California Press, edited by Mark Dean Johnson and Trisha Lagaso Goldberg, with Sherwin Rio; contributions by Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Patrick Flores, Luis Francia, Theodore Gonzalves, Paul Karlstrom, Lucy R. Lippard, and Margo Machida.
Both the Asian Art Museum and the SFAI presentations were set to debut in mid-2021, but were postponed due to the pandemic. Instead, Worlds in Collision opened, as a single showcase, at the Newark Museum of Art on Feb. 10, 2022; it is on view through May 8, 2022, and was curated by Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Curator of American Art.
Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision
Jun.17–Oct. 24, 2022
Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Hours: Fridays–Mondays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Carlos Villa: Roots and Reinvention
Jun. 16–Sep. 3, 2022
San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery
401 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 126 (Veterans Building)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Gallery Hours: Wednesdays–Saturdays, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Free and open to the public.
Carlos Villa: Worlds in Collision is co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the San Francisco Art Institute.
The presentation at the Asian Art Museum is made possible with the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation, the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art and Malou Babilonia.
Sustained support generously provided by the following endowed funds:
Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Endowment Fund for Exhibitions
Kao/Williams Contemporary Art Exhibitions Fund.
The presentation at SFAI is made possible with major support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support comes from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
Top image: Carlos Villa, Painted Cloak (recto), 1971. Airbrushed acrylic on unstretched canvas with lining of feathers and taffeta. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Photography © Estate of Carlos Villa. Photograph by Joe McDonald.