The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution has acquired the 2018 Cruz Ortiz oil painting Tomás in an Aztlan Dream.

The painting is part of Ortiz’s ongoing “Buena Gente” series of notable Latinx figures, particularly those involved in civil rights advocacy. The subject of the eight-foot tall portrait is Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, a native San Antonian scholar who drew early notice in the 1980s for studying the “rasquache” tendency among Latin American artists to combine unlike things.

“The dude’s a frickin’ giant,” Ortiz said of Ybarra-Frausto.

In a news release announcing the acquisition, Ortiz said he first became aware of Ybarra-Frausto while in college. “Tomas’ work really spoke to me – especially about art making. I have always thought of him as the godfather of paying attention to Latino American art, especially in Texas and the Southwest.”

Tomás in an Aztlan Dream, Cruz Ortiz Credit: Courtesy / Cruz Ortiz studio

In recent years, the National Portrait Gallery has focused on bolstering its Latino art collection, particularly portraits of figures prominent in the community, including a photographic portrait of Flaco Jimenez by San Antonio artist Al Rendon.

The mission of the National Portrait Gallery is “to tell the story of America by portraying the people who shape the nation’s history, development and culture,” as stated on its website. According to the news release, it attracts more than two million visitors per year.

In the release, Ortiz made clear the importance of the acquisition and his intention to continue working, even as he and wife Olivia Flores Ortiz prepare to move to Houston.

“This is a huge honor for me as an American artist,” Ortiz said. “And it makes me so proud to represent a community that is often neglected in spaces like these. It’s humbling, and it just makes me want to do more work.”

Being included in a prominent national collection also aligns with a goal Olivia stated during a prior interview. Asked whether they are conscious of creating a legacy, she said, “Absolutely. My goal for him is to be in all the art history books.”

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...