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From the Magazine: It Happened at Pomona

1972 photo of art faculty members: L-R, back row: Hap Tivey ’69, James Turrell ’65, Gus Blaisdell, Lewis Baltz; L-R, front row: Mowry Baden ’58, Guy Williams (photo by Marcy Goodwin)

1972 photo of art faculty members: L-R, back row: Hap Tivey ’69, James Turrell ’65, Gus Blaisdell, Lewis Baltz; L-R, front row: Mowry Baden ’58, Guy Williams (photo by Marcy Goodwin)

A 1969 work in aluminum, titled “K Walk,” by Mowry Baden ’58

A 1969 work in aluminum, titled “K Walk,” by Mowry Baden ’58

Lloyd Hamrol’s 1969 work, using balloons, lead wire, water and colored light, titled “Situational Construction for Pomona College”

Lloyd Hamrol’s 1969 work, using balloons, lead wire, water and colored light, titled “Situational Construction for Pomona College”

Curator Rebecca McGrew has a mystery to unravel. It’s a Rashomon-style tale about a four-year period in the life of the Pomona College Museum of Art. From the late 1960s to the early ’70s, the museum—then called the Pomona College Art Gallery—was home to some of the most pioneering and provocative exhibitions of contemporary art in Southern California. That ended in 1973 after a controversial appearance by a groundbreaking performance artist and the departure of the art faculty.

Until now, there has been little written about this time in the museum’s life. Because of the lack of information available, the history Art at Pomona, jumps from 1968 to 1973, with nothing— not even a footnote—about this pivotal era.

McGrew began to fill in that gap when she was awarded a Getty fellowship in 2007 to do research and interview artists, curators, students and professors. Three years later, the museum is in the planning stages for “It Happened at Pomona: Art at Pomona College 1969-1973,” a series of rolling exhibitions that will include work by more than 30 artists, re-creations of installations and a timeline of events from the period.

Set to open Aug. 30, 2011, and run through May 13, 2012, “It Happened at Pomona” will be part of the Getty’s “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” a series of concurrent exhibitions at more than 40 institutions throughout Southern California. In addition to funding the fellowship, the Getty has awarded the museum grants of $190,000 for research and planning and $220,000 for some of the exhibition-related costs and the production of the catalog.

The Getty Foundation wants to get the history of the region’s vibrant art scene written, “not in the form of occasional reminiscences but real scholarship,” says Museum Director Kathleen Howe. “People will be surprised, and I hope delighted, about how important Pomona was as an incubator for art and artists.” McGrew’s interest in the period began when she worked on an exhibit in 2001 with Mowry Baden ’58, who was a professor in the Art Department in the 1960s and had fascinating stories to tell about that time. McGrew went on Smith ’53, James Turrell ’65 and Peter Shelton ’73. “It started as a mystery about what happened at Pomona—and the differing recollections of why the art faculty suddenly left—but has evolved into a project about documenting an era,” says McGrew, who has researchers and curators from around the U.S. contributing to the project.

“It Happened at Pomona” will be presented as three exhibitions. The first two will showcase the tenures of directors/curators Hal Glicksman (fall 1969 through June 1970) and Helene Winer (1970 to 1972), who exhibited the work of many young conceptual, light and space, and performance artists, who are now prominent in the art world. That list includes alums Turrell, Shelton and Chris Burden ’69, as well as Michael Asher, Judy Chicago, Ed Moses, Allen Ruppersberg, William Wegman and Wolfgang Stoerchle, who inadvertently helped bring about the conclusion of this extraordinary period with his notorious nude performance.

Pomona College Magazine

“As I learned more about Stoerchle, I found out he had a serious career, but at the time, his performance was difficult for the Claremont community to assimilate,” says McGrew, who is still gathering the nuances of the role his performance and the reaction to it played in the departure of the art faculty.

Works by Pomona faculty, students and alumni will be shown in the third exhibition, “At Pomona,” which opens March 10, 2012. Framing all three exhibitions will be an illustrated timeline, documenting what was happening at Pomona and in the larger art world from 1969 to 1973, as well as the political and cultural events of that turbulent time. The catalog will provide an in depth scholarly record of this previously unrecognized period. “The museum was a crucible of experimental artistic practices, where some of the most avant-garde art in the world was happening,” says McGrew, “here in sleepy Claremont.”

If you have a story to share about art at Pomona from 1969 to 1973, please contact Rebecca McGrew.