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René Yáñez

René Yañez. El humo se pone en tus cejas

René Yañez. Ofrendas para la luna.

RIP (Rest in Power) René Yañez


We are saddened to report the May 29 death of René Yañez, (born 1942, Tijuana, died 2018, San Francisco) the beloved artist, grafitero, performer, curator and community activist in San Francisco, CA. Among numerous accomplishments, in 1970 René co-founded the Galería de la Raza, a non-profit community focused gallery that features Latinx and Chicano artists and their allies.

In 1972 Yañez was instrumental in reviving the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead in the San Francisco Bay Area and in popularizing the work of the Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and José Guadalupe Posada. He was a pre-mature Pan-Latin American multi-culturalist, intersectional-provocateur and was well loved by both the Mission neighborhood, where he lived for almost 50 years, and an international community of fans and peers.

Without a doubt René was one of the hardest working ‘artivists’ in the progressive Latinx art world and beyond. In 2001, he curated “Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge” from comedian Cheech Marin’s seminal collection of Chicano art, reviewed as "perhaps the most complete exhibition of Chicano art ever"; the exhibit toured the United States for five years.

In 1984, René started the Chicano comedy group Culture Clash and the legendary Border Arts Workshop. In 2006 he formed The Great Tortilla Conspiracy with his son Rio, making thousands of prints on tortillas during public performances and interventions over the years. Late in 2017 after learning he had just months to live, Yañez and friends curated “Into the Fade” an illuminating retrospective of decades of his visionary art work at the Luggage Store Gallery. The exhibit featured a large body of new art work made since 2016 when René’s chemotherapy and full body transfusions catalyzed lucid hallucinations and visionary dreams that became part of René’s everyday life.

Because of the racial and economic hierarchies shaping the mainstream art world and academia, René’s work was never given the international recognition it deserves. We intend to change that over the next few years by creating a book and an exhibition about his legacy and by facilitating the total activation of the René Yañez Real Mission School Archive which is at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. 

René didn’t care about the venal art market and its culture of wealth. His impact was often subtle but it was ubiquitous in California and spread through numerous communities around the world. René didn’t worship the spotlight and was motivated, as is any true revolutionary, by “a great feeling of love” and radical tenderness. He was willing to use “any means necessary” to support his beloved Mission neighborhood and any artist or activist who struggled for social justice and aesthetic beauty.

René showed all of us how to run an art organization with integrity and without compromise. He felt strongly that curating and political organizing could be art forms in and of themselves decades before academia and the mainstream art world attempted to catch up to his high standards of community responsibility and “social practice”. He taught us that racism was unacceptable in any creative practice and that full spectrum cultural diversity produced better and more valuable programming that could be used as tools for social justice instead of just sustaining the status quo. He believed in local social and financial sustainability combined with international outreach and programming. 

An impeccable old-school dandy, he was a modest genius in the field of culture, disarmingly polite, a gentle yet fierce force for change in the world. He was also a proto-punk. He elegantly and unapologetically crossed every border, every social circle and every line in the sand, including the one between our mundane world and the plane of existence he is on now. He died as he lived, serenely, with a mischievous sense of humor and with a great aura of purpose, like a Bodhisattva considering his next reincarnation.

René’s legacy will keep him ¡Presente! Forever.

Information regarding the René Yañez ¡Presente! Project: 



Marshall Weber & Guillermo Gómez-Peña




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