When we assembled last year’s annual report, we were still in the early months of shock at how quickly our lives were changed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We did not imagine that nearly all of the intervening year would be defined by the historic and harrowing experience that we are glad to have survived. Video-assisted remote meetings literally brought us into one another’s living rooms, bedrooms, and makeshift at-home offices. We met one another’s family members across our screens, including the critical emotional support staff comprised of our dogs, cats, chickens, and lizards—not to mention some very well-tended house plants. Through these months of isolation and loss, we renewed our gratitude for the opportunity to care for Pomona’s growing art collection, to collaborate with students and faculty, and to bring forward exciting new work by artists representing so many different perspectives. As I compose this message today, I am thrilled by the increasingly real prospect of inhabiting our building as it was designed to be: with the full, in-person participation of our students, faculty and staff colleagues, and members of our resident communities.
In the face of such remarkable challenges, I am amazed by how much we were able to accomplish. We completed the move of our collection. We implemented our new graphic identity system, from exterior signage to stationery. We installed our inaugural suite of exhibitions in the galleries, learning how to operate our new building along the way and developing new templates for our exhibition titles and interpretive texts. We realized several marquee programs through digital means, including book launches, a thematic symposium, a film festival, and a roundtable discussion on the care of Native American collections. We created two short films featuring recently commissioned work. We developed a new structure for our internship program, which we operated throughout last summer and the academic year. We launched a student-produced podcast, “Inside the Benton.” And, in very recent weeks, we have even opened our doors to visitors through a reservation system.
In addition to getting to know one another in ways we had not anticipated, we also saw substantive changes to our staff composition. Some of our post-baccalaureate fellows moved on to new opportunities, and we were delighted to create the new position of exhibitions coordinator, now held by recent Scripps College graduate Gillian Holzer. We also welcomed our first assistant curator of collections, Solomon Salim Moore, who relocated from Chicago to Claremont just a few months ago. We have benefitted enormously from the collaboration of Dr. Meranda Roberts, who has served as an advisor on the interpretation and stewardship of Native American art. We are delighted that Dr. Roberts will also develop an exhibition from our collection of Cahuilla baskets, a project supported by a recently received grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art.
We experienced a slow-motion process of installing ourselves and our galleries, attenuated due to alternating on-site schedules and careful observation of health and safety guidelines. The frustration we felt then is now matched in degree by the gratifying knowledge that our beautiful new building is ready to receive visitors and, most importantly, to foster the active engagement of our students. The first thing one sees upon entering our gallery space is the first work that was installed here last July, a site-specific work by Alia Ali featuring a painted wall with five photographs (see previous spread). The figures in the photographs wear a printed textile that covers their bodies and faces; they are seated before a wall with the same motif that appears on the printed textile. The wall of the foyer itself is also painted with this recurring motif, which is the Arabic symbol for love, حب . I am so deeply pleased that we can welcome our academic community back to campus and our resident community visitors with this arresting and uplifting sight.
Victoria Sancho Lobis, Sarah Rempel and Herbert S. Rempel ’23 Director Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College
During a once-in-a-century pandemic, our curatorial and exhibition teams worked tirelessly to install the inaugural suite of exhibitions in our new elegant, gorgeous, and spacious galleries. Looking back from this vantage point, we accomplished so much as we dealt with both the anxieties of COVID-19 and the excitement of finally being able to install our long-planned projects with artists Alia Ali, Helen Pashgian ’56, and Alison Saar as well as our student-curated permanent collection exhibitions.
Working closely (but not too closely!) while masked and gloved, our exhibition designer Gary Murphy and exhibitions coordinator Gillian Holzer in June 2020 hosted Ali first in our beautiful new lobby as she hand-painted the thirty-foot-long wall, and then in our reading room, where she created her also-hand-painted, dazzlingly immersive installation, The Red Star.
As we turned to installing Alison Saar’s major survey exhibition in August 2020, Gary—the only staff member allowed in the galleries at the time—hosted me, the artist, and co-curator Irene Tsatsos over Zoom to site the monumental sculpture Breach. Later in October, after renegotiating loan extensions, I came in—double-masked—to finalize the installation of all the other artworks in the exhibition hours before Saar arrived for her New York Times portrait. I was thrilled that she loved the installation and had no modifications to the design!
Our steadfast interns conducted deep research into our holdings to organize the expansive In Our Care, the provocative Art, Object, Specimen, and the enlightening CrossBorder Photography (where I was thrilled to facilitate the acquisition of former Project Series artist Christina Fernandez’s important Maria’s Great Expedition photographic installation).
The final work to be installed in the new museum was Pashgian’s Primavera, which will remain on view until mid-2022. Gary and I held several socially distanced meetings in Pashgian’s Pasadena studio to devise the first ever presentation of one of the artist’s signature lens installations. The completion of the stunning and ethereal Primavera marked the moment of final installation of the whole museum,
with our friend and benefactor Janet Benton in attendance to celebrate with us!
Rebecca McGrew, Senior Curator
We were pleased to launch our template for print-on demand publishing with this bilingual (English-Spanish) student publication of over 100 pages, including interpretations of specific works, artist biographies, and installation photography of the related exhibition.
Contributions by Madeleine Mount-Cors ’22, Maelvi Nuñez ’22, and Grace Sartin ’21 with the mentorship of Dr. Rosalía Romero, Chau Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Art History
Publication designed by Sarah Shoemake
Publisher: Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, 2021
A quiet masterpiece, this painting inspires you to head outside, pick some flowers, and set up a still life of your own.
Regardless of whether you have spent hours looking at still life paintings or usually pass them by, I would like you to join me for a stare-down of these peonies in an amber jug. Let’s start on the right. The peonies are in full bloom, falling under their own weight. The petals push out towards the right side of the frame. They blush with the color pink warming each corolla. Now, let’s turn our attention to the left. Here, the petals are dark and sanguine, just about to spread open. Notice how the leftmost flower droops downwards, directing our eyes to the bunch lying flat along the table. Yet the leaves don’t lie flat; they point upwards, back into the bouquet. If we pull back and take in the whole scene we can see that it’s an entire world built around the revolving changes in light and weight.
Charles Ethan Porter painted floral arrangements throughout his life (1847–1923), and he was the only African-American artist at the turn of the century to specialize in the still life genre. In 1869, four years after the Civil War, Porter was accepted into the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York City and became the first African-American artist to attend the school. In 1878 he returned to his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, where he was able to sell enough of his paintings to support himself for two years at the École des Arts Décoratifs and Académie Julian. We were able to acquire this exceptional painting at auction thanks to a generous gift from Evelyn and John Popp.
Solomon Salim Moore, Assistant Curator of Collections
Total Objects Acquired in 2020 = 1,088
1 Installation, 1 Film, 4 Assemblages, 8 Sculptures, 13 Paintings, 58 Prints/Drawings, 1,033 Photographs
Before 2020, 14,998 objects // After 2020, 16,086 objects
Charles Ethan Porter, Peonies, after 1885, Oil on canvas. 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 60.96 cm). Pomona College Collection. Restricted gift of Evelyn and John Popp
Photo: Fredrik Nilsen
Roland Reiss, Fleur du Mal in Blue (preliminary drawing), 2008. Graphite and ink and white out on paper. 67 ⅞ × 51 ¾ in. (172.4 × 131.45 cm). Pomona College Collection. Gift of the artist
Wardell Milan, I am not crazy life is. From the series The Balcony, 2019. Etching on paper. 10 ¼ × 13 1⁄16 in. (26.04 × 33.18 cm). Pomona College Collection. Museum Purchase
Cauleen Smith, Sojourner, 2018. Digital video, color, sound. 22:41 minutes. Edition 3 of 5. Pomona College Collection. Walter and Elise Mosher Memorial Fund
World War I and World War II Photography
Thanks to a generous gift, the Benton acquired a collection of 829 World War I and World War II photographs, including a collection of ephemera from photojournalist Frank J. Scherschel. This collection includes dramatic images of both men and women playing vital roles to win the war; grim images of destruction and suffering; celebrities and civilians on the home front doing their parts for the war effort; and joyful homecomings.
Although the museum’s doors were closed, we remained a vibrant and active online pedagogical resource for students and faculty. Over the past year, we “hosted” thirty class visits, seven gallery talks, and six larger academic programs, with attendance figures in the hundreds at some of our events. Working with interns Maggie Allegar ’23 and Iren Coskun ’21, we integrated objects and exhibitions into class syllabi from Spanish to Environmental Analysis. We engaged students remotely through presentations, discussions, virtual tours, and direct participation in museum events. Academic programs—including catalogue launches, an Arab film festival, and a panel on the intersection of art and science—featured presentations from Pomona students alongside those of artists and scholars.
This past year we launched a series of live-streamed gallery talks: twenty-minute focused talks by faculty, students, and staff on specific
works in the galleries, followed by a question and answer session. We asked professors to invite their classes, which created a space for lively and even bilingual—Professor Virginie Duzer gave a talk in French—discussions centered on works in our museum. We hope to bring this series into “real life” this coming year, and we also plan to require interns to give gallery talks, which will serve the Pomona community as well as help our interns build their communication skills.
Claire Nettleton, Academic Curator
Following the closure of campus, we adopted an experimental approach for our student centered programs in the fall semester. We hosted weekly programs livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram that featured staff interviews with an open “Q&A” afterwards, followed by live music and workshops. As our collective appetite for screen time declined, we shifted in the spring semester to more collaborative and course-based programming, which included virtual studio visits, “making” workshops, and a program oriented to first-year students. Did this mean that I spent some time packing up clay to send via the US Postal Service to participants? Yes. And as much as we enjoyed the challenge of remote student engagement this year, we’re deeply excited to receive students back on campus this fall.
Justine Bae Bias, Communications and Engagement Manager
Over the past year, we were determined to continue serving local schools with our ongoing NACSC Education Outreach program, a prospect made considerably more challenging due to all area elementary schools offering only remote education through much of the school year. To accommodate limited instructional time, the project team—myself, associate director Steve Comba, and education outreach interns Elli Stogiannou ’22 and Quin Fraley ’22—reconceived the in-person, three-visit museum program as a single, hour-long virtual visit. The team rewrote activities regularly conducted at the museum to integrate them into the virtual presentation. To avoid a passive presentation, we created active student observation and sketching components, along with storytelling and art-making. Using her previous experience teaching lessons in person, Elli built a dynamic lesson tool using the StoryMaps software utilized by Claremont Colleges students for project presentation work; that platform was then populated with media content created by Quin, whose knowledge of the Benton’s collection enabled her to present students with a taste of how museums both show collections and preserve them in secure collection storage areas. Although we missed working with students in person this year, we were heartened by the impact our virtual visits had on both students and teachers. Over the course of the academic year, the team taught 540 third- and fourth-grade students from 23 classes, representing eight schools from the Ontario/Montclair School District and Claremont Unified School District along with remote option CORE and CHAMP programs. As the year concludes, Elli and Quin continue to add resources to their StoryMaps presentation, including an interview with featured contemporary Cahuilla artist and educator Gerald Clarke Jr, in the hopes that the Benton can continue to expand its virtual educational resources for teachers and students and enable more “return visits” online in the coming year.
Rich Deely, K-12 Education Specialist