The Project Series at Pomona College Museum of Art finally made it to exhibit No. 47 this semester. Landing on Pomona's magic number makes it a good time to get the story behind the Project Series.
Started in 1999 by Museum Senior Curator Rebecca McGrew '85, the Project Series exhibitions focus on emerging artists in Southern California. McGrew researches and selects artists and collaborates with them to create publications to complement their exhibits. The artists come to campus for talks, workshops and other educational programming, engaging the College and wider community with their work.
McGrew, a Pomona psychology major who returned in 1996 after getting a master's in art history from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and then working for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA) and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, wanted to offer support to artists in the Southern California art community through the series.
"The aim is to provide an opportunity and place for creative voices and explorations to come together," she says.
The artists that the series has presented make for an impressive list. Many of them exhibited in the Project Series earlier in their careers and went on to receive major national recognition. Among those artists are: Mark Bradford, before he received a MacArthur Fellowship; Steve Roden; Amanda Ross-Ho; and Dinh Le. Many at the College first saw the work of Pomona College Professor of Art Sandeep Mukherjee in a Project Series exhibition. More recently, McGrew has brought prominent artists like Charles Gaines and Andrea Bowers to campus and collaborated with Pitzer College for joint exhibitions.
"There's always going to be something interesting, contemporary and fresh," McGrew says.
Towards that end, McGrew, the artists and Pomona faculty often come together to create events that augment the exhibits. For "Project Series 47: Krysten Cunningham: Ret, Scutch, Heckle," there was an evening of "Physics at the Museum," during which Cunningham held a workshop on the fabric of space/time and Professor of Physics Dwight Whitaker gave a talk on biophysics and the high-speed camera.
The Project Series has also provided collaborative experiences with students. Art history major Hannah Pivo '14 co-curated the "Project Series 47" exhibition with McGrew.
"It was an opportunity to make connections between what I have been studying in my art history classes at Pomona and the contemporary art world. Krysten's work also sparked my interest in craft, textile in particular, which has guided my subsequent research projects and senior thesis," Pivo says.
The experience of being closely mentored by McGrew through the planning of the Project Series exhibition has been inspiring, Pivo says, and the step-by-step guidance was invaluable.
"Together, we met with Krysten in her studio, made decisions about the exhibition catalog, and planned the layout of the exhibition. Especially important was Rebecca's guidance on the essay I wrote for the catalog; there were many phone calls, drafts, and meticulous proof readings that helped me through the process."
The Project Series is not without its risks, and the curatorial process is not cut and dry or black and white, McGrew says.
"As a contemporary art curator, you're walking a bit on a tightrope. You want to be able to provide opportunities for innovation and transformative experience. Sometimes the unexpected happens. The Project Series is a perfect place for creative risk, and a campus community is perfect for that," McGrew says.
Those risks have been rewarded with consistent, glowing praise for the series from major national publications, including Art in America, ArtForum and the Los Angeles Times.
While "Project Series 47" is coming to a close, and 48 (Andrea Bowers: #sweetjane) and 49 (Sam Falls) are scheduled for 2014, 50 is not too far around the bend. From September to December 2015, the legacy of the program McGrew created will be celebrated in the exhibition "Project Series Invitational." Five artists, selected by nominations from former Project Series artists, will be invited to create new work. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication contextualizing the art of the late 20th and early 21st century in Los Angeles, seen through the lens of the Project Series. McGrew and Terri Geis, curator of academic programs, are working with Pomona faculty members Lisa Anne Auerbach (art), Jonathan Hall (media studies) and Valorie Thomas (English/Africana studies) to select artists and produce the publication.
"The Project Series has become the signature contemporary art program at Pomona College and a recognized center of excellence," says Museum Director Kathleen Howe.
The Pomona College Museum of Art collects, preserves, exhibits, and interprets works of art. The Museum houses a substantial permanent collection as well as serving as a gallery for the display of temporary exhibitions. Important holdings include the Kress Collection of 15th- and 16th-century Italian panel paintings; more than 5,000 examples of Pre-Columbian to 20th-century American Indian art and artifacts, including basketry, ceramics, and beadwork; and a large collection of American and European prints, drawings and photographs, including works by Francisco de Goya, José Clemente Orozco and Rico Lebrun.