Art in Dialogue

The Art in Dialogue series provides a forum for investigating the Museum’s permanent collection.  Students, faculty, and staff of the Claremont Colleges are invited to propose an artwork from the permanent collection for display.  The work they select is displayed in the Museum lobby, accompanied by a short text label written from the perspective of their academic or personal interests (or both).  Installations change regularly, revealing the ways in which visual art can richly inform and reflect many disciplines, and offering the opportunity to view rarely seen artworks from the Museum’s vaults.

For more information on how to participate in the Art in Dialogue program, download the Art in Dialogue Program Information Sheet or contact the Museum’s Curator of Academic Programs, Terri Geis.

Art in Dialogue

Double Snuff Bottle, c. 1875 - 1908

By Abigail Wang (PO '15), Department of History, on view 9/2/14 - 12/19/14

snuff bottles

Double Snuff Bottle, c. 1875 - 1908, glass, Pomona College Collection, Gift of Clinton N. Laird

In craftsmanship and function, Chinese snuff bottles reflect international circuits of trade and cultural exchange, and speak to the mystery and intimacy of everyday objects. Snuff, fine-ground tobacco that is lightly inhaled into the nostril, originated in the Americas, became popular in Europe by the seventeenth century, and was soon after introduced to China by missionaries and merchants. In China, snuff was commonly believed to have valuable medicinal qualities, especially beneficial to the consumer after heavy meals. The production and use of snuff bottles emerged as a symbol of social status, and bottles were customarily given as gifts to courtiers, family members, and acquaintances. The height of production was during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Bottles were made primarily in Beijing (Peking), and then later manufactured across China, as snuff use spread throughout all social classes.

Artisans used an astonishing variety of materials to craft snuff bottles, at times influenced by European art forms. Glass was most commonly used, and often made to look like other materials such as jade, quartz, or semiprecious stones. Artisans also worked with porcelain to imitate other materials, such as ivory, lacquer, or wood. Commonly found stone materials include various crystalline and chalcedony quartz types, semiprecious stones, and jade. Organic materials range from wood and bamboo to mother-of-pearl and seed.

Snuff bottles include several common motifs and themes. Different animals or landscapes allude to traditional tales or symbolize a variety of good tidings or wishes. Bats are commonly found on snuff bottles, representing blessings and longevity. As one of the four divine animals, dragons are also a prominent motif, and symbolize a range of different meanings from rain and fertility to good fortune, high rank, and power. A surprisingly popular animal found on the bottles is goldfish, which are symbolic of riches and profit. In several of the depicted landscapes, trees are emblematic of perseverance and purity, representing vigorous old age and renewal.

The Art in Dialogue installation Miniature Worlds: Chinese Snuff Bottles presented 180 snuff bottles selected from the Museum’s permanent collection. The family of Clinton N. Laird donated the bottles to Pomona College in 1961. Laird taught chemistry at Lingnan University in Guangzhou (Canton) from 1905-1948, during which time he created his extensive collection. For more information on the snuff bottles and installation, please click HERE.

Krysten Cunningham, Loom for Minkowski, 2013

By Carmine Iannaccone, Adjunct Professor of Art, Claremont Graduate University, on view 11/25/13 - 12/22/13

Krysten Cunningham, Loom for Minkowski

Krysten Cunningham, Loom for Minkowski, 2013, Powder-coated Aluminum, Courtesy of the Artist 

What you are looking at is a loom. It’s an actual object, but it’s also what the scholar Philip Fisher calls a model object. Model objects are things we use to understand the world around us. The knife, for example, is the model we use to think about everything that cuts. The clock is the model we use to think about everything that exhibits time.

The loom works the same way. Consider how variously its operations are embedded in our language and imagination: we weave in and out of traffic. Boxers bob and weave in the ring. We weave colorful tales (or lies). We hope that our beliefs are interwoven with our actions.

Krysten Cunningham’s loom is wonderful for the way it dramatizes, but also explodes these “model” qualities. Its oversize dimensions surprise and disorient. If that makes it unruly as an artifact, it can also be thoroughly practical as a mechanism – students used it in a series of artist-led workshops to produce a large, elastic mat that was later showcased in a public performance. As sculpture, Cunningham’s loom is equally contrarian: it crosses the precision and dramatic presence of classic Minimalist form with hard-candy chromatics and a friendly, loopy line that could have been lifted from the petals of a cartoon flower.

Maybe that multiplicity explains why this ancient device remains relevant to even our technology-crazed present. Just like smartphones and laptops it combines a numerical system and a programmable format with a powerful appeal to visual design, making itself an engine of endlessly quirky, mutable, and idiosyncratic outcomes. 

Francisco De Goya, La Tauromaquia, plate 22, 1815 - 1816

By Jamie Garcia (PO '14), Department of Environmental Analysis Program, on view 10/7/13 - 12/22/13

Francisco De Goya

Francisco De Goya, La Tauromaquia, plate 22, Valor varonil de la célebre Pajuelera en la de Zaragoza (Manly Courage of the Celebrated Pajuelera in the Zaragoza Arena), 1st edition, 1815 - 1816, Etching and Aquatint on Paper, Pomona College Permanent Collection

During my semester abroad in Salamanca, Spain, I became interested in the culture of bullfighting. Here at the Museum, where I work as an intern, I was pleasantly surprised to find this rare etching of a woman bullfighter.

Initially women fought on horseback, not on foot. One of these first female bullfighters was Nicolasa Escamilla, believed to be la Pajuelera in Goya’s etching. Escamilla’s performances were praised by a number of writers, included José Daza, author of one of the first treatises on bullfighting. Daza wrote, “We find such manly and valiant acts in Spanish women, from the most sublime peaks [of society] to the deepest valleys of the humble. They are capable of emulating the greatest foreign armed host.”

Although women bullfighters attracted large crowds, they were never easily accepted by society.  They were viewed by some as not only degrading la corrida, but also degrading their gender by engaging in activities that fell outside the traditional female sphere. This posed a threat to the gender structure, one of the basic pillars of Spanish society, as women bullfighters created sexual confusion. The press often described them as manlike, using words like varonil, the term Goya also used in his title for the etching of Escamilla. During the time, one of the rules for entering a bullfighting academy included an article that read, “Women will not be admitted as students unless they drink wine, smoke, and can prove that their inclinations and energies are male, taking this in the most honest meaning.” 

George Inness, Medfield Landscape (or Clearing), 1865

By Steve Comba, Associate Director, Pomona College Museum of Art, on view 9/3/13 - 10/6/13

George Inness, Medfield Landscape (or Clearing), 1865, Oil on Canvas

George Inness, Medfield Landscape (or Clearing), 1865, Oil on Canvas, Pomona College Permanent Collection

In 1985 I was a rising second year student in painting at the Claremont Graduate University. Enduring the personal travails that are a hallmark of the program, I was pitched back and forth between my predilections for realism and the profound intellectual stimulation I found in the concepts of minimalist abstraction. That summer, I found myself in New York City for the first time, and it was my chance to confront "the real thing" in the Art Capital of the World.

The voices of my studies with people like John McCracken, David Trowbridge, Robert Alderette, Tom Wudl, and Lita Albuquerque were reinforced when I saw in person the works of Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Ellsworth Kelly. But it was a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that changed me as a painter. "George Inness: A Retrospective" was making its inaugural appearance. Containing hundreds of works by the nineteenth-century landscape visionary, the exhibition communicated to me in ways that no longer allowed me to hide behind abstract theory. Upon returning to CGU I began to re-explore a naturalistic approach to painting and have not wavered since.

In 1986 I was hired to work at the Pomona College Museum of Art (at the time called the Montgomery Gallery). On my first day I was led into the vault where I curiously slid open one the painting racks. Hanging on the lower right was Inness' Medfield Landscape (or Clearing). An early work, it shows the artist on the cusp of major changes and innovations in his paintings. I spent a good amount of time that day sitting on the floor, taking it in. Every time I see the painting, now 27 years later, it becomes as real as that first day, and still as influential, as if it were painted yesterday. It's my favorite work in the collection.

Don Normark, La Loma, Chavez Ravine, Amador Street Below, 1949

By Aviva Chomsky, Ena H. Thompson Visiting Professor of History, Pomona College & Professor of History, Salem State University, on view 4/9/13 to 5/19/13

Don Normark

Don Normark, La Loma, Chavez Ravine, Amador Street Below, 1949, Gelatin Silver Print on Paper, Pomona College Collection

I first learned the story of Chávez Ravine when someone passed along Don Normark’s 1999 book of photographs from 1949, updated with interviews half a century later. Chávez Ravine was a rural Mexican-American neighborhood in the hills outside of Los Angeles, destroyed and displaced through a series of government and private decisions that led, finally, to the land being taken for the new Dodger Stadium built in the early 1960s. The community was dispersed. Many of the families stayed in the area, forming an organization called “Los Desterrados” (the uprooted) and returning annually for a reunion in Elysian Park, adjoining their former neighborhood.

Normark tracked down the families in the 1990s and recorded their commentaries on his fifty-year-old photos. Their stories told the history of their close-knit community, their lives, and their displacement. Many of the men worked as day laborers in Los Angeles, and families traveled during the summer and fall to work as migrant laborers picking fruits and vegetables, following the California harvest.

History has traditionally been told from the top down, from the perspective of powerholders and the institutions they created. Historians have been limited by our own methodology—reliance on texts, written records preserved in archives. This approach has biased us towards telling the stories of the rich and powerful: those who were literate, and who had the resources to create and preserve their records.

In recent decades historians have struggled to uncover the voices of the ordinary people, the majorities left out of the top-down histories. Sources like Normark’s photos and the oral histories that he collected help to reveal the hidden histories that have been glossed over by our textbooks.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Fog at Mitsuke, 1832-33

By Benjamin Kersten (PO‘15), Department of Art and Art History, on view 2/15/13 to 3/28/13


Utagawa Hiroshige, Fog at Mitsuke (#29 from the series, The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō), 1832-33, Woodcut on Paper, Pomona College Collection

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) created his preeminent work, The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, after traveling along the Tōkaidō, the most important road in Japan connecting Edo and Kyōto. The series of fifty-five prints includes an image of each rest station along the route, as well as prints of the starting and ending points. It falls under the genre of ukiyo-e (“floating world”) woodblock prints with a focus on meisho (“famous places”). The twenty-eighth station along the Tōkaidō, Mitsuke (“with a view”), was the first stop from which travelers toward Edo could see Mount Fuji. Hiroshige is notable for his use of striking color, exemplified by the vivid blue of the water and sky in Mitsuke. Called “Berlin Blue,” the use of this pigment represented a major departure in the Japanese artistic tradition. A product of Western chemistry, Japanese artists began incorporating this fade-resistant dye after the relaxation of isolationist policies of the Edo period resulted in exposure to European artistic styles. The duality achieved by the fusion of European technique and traditional ukiyo-e catapulted Hiroshige’s works to widespread popularity. In Japan, the images were read as innovative and as evoking a sense of foreignness. The series also encountered success in Europe, where an intellectual curiosity about the other cultures of the world, largely fostered by imperialism, saw particular appeal in the unfamiliar and sophisticated nature of Japanese art. Furthermore, Japanese ukiyo-e prints offered new possibilities to artists such as Edgar Degas and Vincent Van Gogh who sought to move past the Greco-Roman styles that were prominent in European artistic traditions. The transmission of culture from Europe to Japan, and then back again, led to the rapid advancement of artistic representation across the world.

Edward Ruscha, Hollywood, 1968

By Terri Geis, Curator of Academic Programs at the Pomona College Museum of Art, on view 1/22/13 to 2/14/13 


Edward Ruscha, Hollywood, 1968, Serigraph on Paper, Pomona College Collection Gift of Claire Isaacs Wahrhaftig, '54

During the 1960s, Ed Ruscha’s studio was located on Western Avenue in Hollywood, and the artist joked that the Hollywood sign served as “a smog indicator: If I could read it, the weather was OK.” Ruscha’s stylized image of the iconic sign resembles an advertisement promoting the glamour of Los Angeles and its film industry, but the serigraph highlights one of the city’s major environmental concerns. The blanket of smog creates the murky brown and orange sunset. Two years after Ruscha created Hollywood, amendments to the Clean Air Act led to stricter regulation of pollution sources, enforced on a state level by the California Air Resources Board. Subsequently, Los Angeles no longer has the regular smog alerts that I remember as a child during the 1970s. On those hazy days, school recess was held indoors (smog is particularly dangerous to children’s respiratory systems). We didn’t need to see an official report to identify an alert day, because – like Ruscha with the Hollywood sign – we had an indicator, the San Gabriel Mountains, which we often couldn’t see at all.

Despite the improvements of the last forty years, Los Angeles is still regularly ranked as having the most polluted air in the United States. The issue provides an important topic of exploration for contemporary artists, as can be seen in Kim Abeles’ work currently on display in the Museum’s Art and Activism in the U.S. exhibition. In Ralph Blakelock’s “Rising Moon” in Thirty Days of Smog (2000) Abeles creates a landscape scene out of smog particles that settled on a plexiglass panel during thirty days of exposure on her Los Angeles studio roof.