Conquest, 2004

Collection of The Petersen Museum, Los Angeles


Hernando [De] Soto, the cruel and sadistic 16th Century Spaniard who wandered the Southeast and Midwest in search of New World riches would become the symbol for an automobile company in 1929.  Later purchased by the Chrysler Corporation, DeSoto would continue to make automobiles until 1961.  Despite plans to create 1962 models, sales failures led to the demise of the marque.  Ironically, the DeSoto was marketed to women in the 1950’s; it was well known that (Hernando) DeSoto would commonly enslave and rape the captured women of tribes he had encountered on his path through the southeast to the fateful battle with Tuscaloosa.

DeSoto as a family namesake has been a source of much confusion.  My heritage is vaguely linked to this “explorer.” Somehow my great grandfather, the Spaniard Terbosio De Soto married into the Southern California Cahuilla tribe early in the 20th Century.  Later, his son, Damien Joseph would die of tuberculosis in Palm Springs, California, and so his son (my father)  would grow up on the Agua Caliente reservation with his mother Isabel (the namesake of Hernando De Soto’s wife).  This native family had this troubled name, during a time when middle class Americans coveted DeSoto Adventurers  and Coronados ; these monikers are crossed metaphors and false identities.

My love of automobiles extended to the DeSoto, and as a child I was asked often about this connection, either in jokes or in admiration.   My fascination with automobiles, their design, beauty, and power, brought me, like so many others into the world of art.  It is with a sense of deep connection to the presence of the automobile within which informs my work.  From the 1996 work, “The Sound of the Trumpet,” that utilized a powerful V-8 engine, to the smaller sculptural series, “Recumbent” where the language of automobile, native and conquistador are combined with the memorial of my father, automotive language, technique and surfaces have figured largely in my work.  In 2002, I completed a mock-up for a large-scale work of thirteen customized cars, “La Cena Pasada,” is based on fresco of The Last Supper, by Da Vinci.

“Conquest” is a project to trace the ironic threads of DeSoto: automobile, conquistador, myself and our culture It proposes that the metaphor of history is a set of divergent parallel universes in which to traverse and communicate with.  As of January 2004 I have created a counterfeit product; this automobile has never existed in the history of the marque.  This automobile design is  based on a mid 1960’s Chrysler Corporation platform, and will be endowed with a unique DeSoto style that extends the design philosophy of the Chrysler’s design chief, Elwood Engel, while meshing with my own. I have interpreted a new model, the CONQUEST with redesigned instruments, wheel covers, roof design, monikers, upholstery, color schemes, and mechanical characteristics. Along with the physical transformation and presence of the automobile,various documents that illustrate the mentality of the colonial mind.  Along with the physical transformation and presence of the automobile various documents that illustrate the mentality of the colonial mind. Within the owner’s manual and window sticker are remnants of the REQUIREMENTO, the legal document read to Native peoples before their submission to Spain.

While the work is meant to be driven and infiltrate culture outside the museum/gallery context, the work can be installed in a gallery setting.  Counterfeit driver’s manuals, advertising material are meant to mesh with the idea of synthetic histories of Soto’s supposed conquest of the Americas.  The work appeared in San Francisco in 2005 for “High 5,” and at the Aldrich Museum’s “No Reservations,” in 2006-7

The work is also meant to spawn an expedition across the Southeast and cover the four thousand miles of Soto’s trek as well as publications with contributions by numerous writers and historians. 

Below is Jordan Biren’s 2004 Documentary about “CONQUEST.”