On a recent Saturday afternoon, enjoying paintings at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, I hear a security guard say, “Sir, you didn’t pay,” and turn to see him walk fast toward a man in a suit who draws his wallet and says, “Detective Jones, LAPD.”
“How can we help you, sir?”
“I’m looking for Frank Romero,” whose works currently adorn the gallery walls.
“He’s not here.”
“Where is he?”
“I’ll have a look around.”
“That’ll be ten dollars.”
“This is police business,” he says, entering a gallery where he soon stops to study Freeway Wars. “Please come here.”
The security guard has followed and is only a few feet away.
“I think I’ve found Frank Romero,” says the detective.
They examine a yellow sedan in the right freeway lane. From the back seat a man in red shirt extends his left arm and fires a pistol shot into the front fender of the red car in the next lane. Simultaneously, a right arm aims, fires, and hits the yellow car a little in front of the driver.
“Frank, you’re under arrest.”
“I’m going to have you committed,” says the guard.
“Don’t move,” says the detective, pulling his jacket back to reveal a gun. “Frank Romero’s left-handed, just like the first shooter.”
“How do you know who’s first?”
“I know.” He tries to grab the shooter’s left arm.
“Don’t touch the artwork.”
“No excuses for Romero. We’ve caught him in the act. Let’s see what else he’s done. Over here.”
In The Closing of Whittier Blvd. six policemen wearing cemetery sunglasses at night stand shoulder to shoulder, two hands each on long batons, looking over three barricades. To their right the lead officer, mounted high on a crazed horse, carries a lance long to the ground. They’re blocking a street of kaleidoscopic cars and one pickup.
“Look” says the detective. “No one’s in any of the vehicles.”
“That’s the point.”
“If you helped Romero escape, you’re going to jail.”
“Relax. I can help. This way.”
The guard leads the detective to MacArthur Park, the Arrest of the Taco Wagon, an Attack on Culture. Next to the Tacos El Carnal yellow trailer being towed away stands the owner holding both hands high as two policemen aim.
“That’s Frank Romero?”
“Yes,” says the guard.
“Good job, boys. Book him.”
Notes: Chicano art is underpublicized, and Los Angeles artist Frank Romero is the first painter from the United States to have a major exhibition in the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. Freeway Wars and The Closing of Whittier Blvd. are two of the finest paintings I’ve seen and can hang in any museum in the world.