L.A. Artist Uses Storied Van to Highlight Social Justice Issues

LOS ANGELES — This beige 1985 Chevy cargo van has been around the block. When the artist Ruben Ochoa was young, his parents used it for selling tortillas on a route north of San Diego. As a graduate student in the early ’00s, he used it to commute from Los Angeles to Irvine. And during that time he also transformed it into a fly-by-night, no-rent art gallery, inviting other artists and curators to take it over, hanging paintings inside, plastering the back with bumper stickers or creating a halfpipe on the roof.

Now, for the first time since 2005, Ochoa is opening the doors of his storied and rather rusty van to the public again, parking it on the tarmac of the Santa Monica airport for the run of Frieze Los Angeles there (Feb. 16-19). Its engine is shot, so this time the van, known as “Class: C” (after the standard type of driver’s license needed to operate it), will be towed into place.

Another change: The van will showcase Ochoa’s own work, bronze sculptures he recently made of stacks of tortillas — “monuments to the history of the van and to my mom, who pioneered our tortilla delivery route,” he said in an interview. Commissioned through a city grant program, the tortillas resemble giant coins, touching on the idea that they represent his family’s currency.

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