The past year brought about remarkable change in several different ways. I first want to say how delighted I am to have joined the Pomona College community. When I began my service as director of Pomona’s art museum on January 6, 2020, I found a campus full of caring, curious, and dedicated faculty and staff whose work is inspired by an equally talented and thoughtful student body. Here at the museum our staff includes some as new to the College as I am, together with others who have given decades of work to Pomona. I am honored to be among this group of committed and agile museum professionals.
When I arrived in January, we were hosting a beautiful and compelling exhibition of Todd Gray’s recent photographic collages in Montgomery Art Center. This year-long installation provided the occasion for the ambitious series of programming titled “Longing on a Large Scale.” These events showcased the very best that our museum has to offer: art and programs of a world-class caliber presented in the intimate and gracious environment of Pomona College.
As we were bringing more than sixty years of operation in Montgomery Art Center to a fitting conclusion, we also had our sights set on initiating a new chapter in the evolution of Pomona’s art museum. To plan for the future, I endeavored to study the past with the help of a group of Pomona second-year students, who continue to work with me as we prepare for our first year of exhibitions in our new museum space. We learned that Pomona’s first museum was a single room in Holmes Hall where students and faculty could examine natural history specimens like bones and fossils. It was in the 1920s that Pomona first began maintaining art collections as such, beginning with a major gift of Native American art, an act soon followed by the commission in 1930 of José Clemente Orozco’s Prometheus mural. Decades of classes and exhibitions in Rembrandt Hall eventually gave rise to the dedicated gallery space of Montgomery Art Center, which took several forms as it was expanded and renovated between 1958 and today.
We are now on the verge of another dramatic transformation as we complete our move into the purpose-built Benton Museum of Art. This new space offers an exponential increase in our capacity to support the teaching and research interests of our academic community as it also opens new possibilities for engaging the resident populations of Claremont and our surrounding inland cities. Our beautiful new building also ushers in a new identity for our museum, which is reflected in our redesigned logo and website. In the pages that fol- low, we look back on this year’s work and express gratitude for all those who have supported it.
For the first time, our permanent collection— some 15,000 objects and counting—can now be together under one roof and fully accessible in our capacious vaults and welcoming classrooms. Our new galleries also provide an expanded setting for yet more ambitious and experimental exhibitions. We are eagerly preparing to welcome the students, faculty, and visitors who will realize the creative potential that our building represents.
And of course all of this institutional change is now unfolding in a moment of historic and global upheaval, further punctuated by renewed and righteous protest against racism and police brutality. The advent of COVID-19 has undoubtedly altered how we are conducting our work, and in the short term it will certainly impact when and how we invite visitors to engage with art in our new museum.
This pandemic and the structural injustices it has exposed also reinforce our belief in the transformative power of art and the need to make first-hand encounters with art objects more accessible and more integrated in our communities of learning.
Art inspires us; it challenges our assumptions; art introduces us to new ideas and different cultural traditions; art reminds us of the endurance of human creativity and our capacity to transcend even the most difficult circumstances. As we confront today’s challenging realities, we take heart in knowing how we may contribute to Pomona College, Claremont, Southern California, and the broader arts landscape in the months and years ahead.
Victoria Sancho Lobis, Sarah Rempel and Herbert S. Rempel ’23 Director Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College
My colleagues in other museums had warned me that moving a collection may very well be the single most difficult and rewarding task that a registrar will ever undertake. This had already occurred to me because, during my three-decade tenure with the museum in its numerous iterations, I had already moved the Native American collection twice, first from the basement of the Humanities building at Scripps to the basement of Sumner, and then to Bridges Auditorium. Now it was to
be moved again—along with nearly 7,000 other objects. It wasn’t the distance but the accuracy that concerned me the most this time.
The theme of the first phase of the move was “let’s not move problems.” So, with the help of Karen Hudson, an independent collection manager, we undertook an unprecedented complete audit of the entire collection. We found some surprises along the way, like a rare (and I thought lost) Apache courting flute.
Whenever you move a collection, there’s always a chance of human error, and I had chalked the missing flute up to a mistake in location inventory. But we found it during this sweep of the collection and were able to remove it from every registrar’s dreaded “missing list.” Our collection numbers went up dramatically as a result of this audit, from a pre-inventory count of around 11,000 objects to nearly 13,000 when we completed our audit in late 2018. We then strategically closed our collections beginning in January 2019—concluding with the Native American collection after the last elementary school visits in early April—and began packing and wrapping works in April. We were ready to move within five months.
I warn my interns that when they are introduced to museum work they must have a “high tolerance for ambiguity.” This move underscored that philosophy at every turn. We had to time the move to the completion of the new museum’s climate and security systems and then to the commissioning of the climate system (a period of time for the HVAC system to perform to museum standards). This date was a moving target, but we were able to start moving the collection in September 2019. Our core mission as a teaching museum is to allow our students to participate in all aspects of our operation, so it was in that spirit that we employed an army of interns—rather than an outside vendor— to pack, inventory, and then physically move the vast majority of collections, leaving only the largest and most delicate objects for the professionals. It was all complete on March 4, 2020.
The intern team consisted of eleven students, from conservation majors at Scripps College to athletes from Pomona College. Throughout the process they were able to take part in the rarest opportunity afforded to any student: they literally laid eyes (and hands) on every object in the collection. They carefully wrapped and identified each work in specific ways to protect against damage from handling, vibration, and climate as the objects made their way to their new home. This was done on a strategic schedule that allowed for the collections to be utilized for teaching right up until the moment when they had to be “closed.” The dates for these closures became a moving target as well, as forces outside the museum’s control influenced the timeline. Those forces—such as inclement weather or even a global pandemic— are still at work.
The most indelible image I have of this time is the caravan of students traversing the intersection of College and Bonita, careful not only to avoid traffic but also to mitigate the vibrations caused by the bright yellow tactile pavers that warn sight-impaired pedestrians about the crosswalk. I also think about the coordinated transit of the endless boxes that would come up from the lower level of Bridges Auditorium, one team loading the cart, one person acting as “elevator operator,” and then another team gently loading the museum van for one of a hundred such trips, always with enthusiasm and good humor!
Steve Comba, Associate Director/Registrar
Montgomery Art Center 10,772 square feet
Constructed 1958, Renovated 1974 and 2005
Benton Museum of Art, 33,331 square feet
Before 2019–13,752 objects | After 2019–14,998 objects
10 Mixed Media Works
14 Sculptures/Decorative Arts
The main galleries in 2019–2020 were devoted to a single exhibition: Todd Gray: Euclidean Gris Gris, a year-long exhibition, artist residency, and program series called “Longing on a Large Scale.” The project—which was supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, and the Pasadena Art Alliance—featured an evolving selection of Gray’s photographic works derived from his exploration of the legacies of colonialism in Africa and
a site-specific wall drawing that abstractly evoked African deities. In the works in the exhibition, Gray combined photographs from his archive, including pictures of individuals and rural scenes in South Africa and Ghana (where he has a studio), formal gardens of imperial Europe, constellations and galaxies, and images of musicians. Gray framed the photographs and reconfigured them on the gallery walls, stacked on top of one another, in sculptural constructions that both revealed and concealed their subjects.
In the title, Euclidean references Western influences, while Gris Gris (protective talismans filled with herbs or minerals) alludes to African animism and poetics. In his works, Gray draws comparisons between the sublime nature of African landscapes and the geometric designs of historical gardens in Europe, with a focus on the different philosophies that each represents.
The exhibition was on view September 1, 2019 through March 18, 2020 (closing early due to COVID-19 restrictions) and underwent several rehangs as Gray completed new work. The artist additionally visited the museum several times a month to expand the Gris Gris drawing. Over the year of his residency, he met with a wide variety of classes and invited students to draw with him on the gallery walls.
His residency also included public programs curated by scholar Nana Adusei-Poku. The series, “Longing on a Large Scale,” placed artists, poets, activists, and thinkers into a dialogue with the intellectual and art historical discourses raised
in Gray’s work. Participants included Tina Campt, Jeff Chang, Gabrielle Civil, Bridget R. Cooks, Ntone Edjabe, NIC Kay, Kevin Quashie, and Christina Sharpe.
To accompany the project, I edited a 192-page publication that included essays by Hannah Grossman and myself, Nana Adusei-Poku, M. Neelika Jayawardane, and a conversation with Todd Gray and Carrie Mae Weems.
When the artist and I were planning his time at the museum, I asked him which of his artworks was his favorite. I know that’s a difficult question for an artist, but I had an ulterior motive: I was considering which of his exquisite three-dimensional photocollages the museum should acquire. During the weeks of installing his show, we spent hours discussing the collages. We kept returning to Euclidean Gris Gris (Gifty/Versailles), a beautiful work that challenges the way we see. I’m pleased to say that it is now in the permanent collection.
Rebecca McGrew, Senior Curator
Opening Receptions 480
Gallery Visitors 3,492
Class Visitors to Exhibitions 389
Exhibition-Related Programming 911
Murals and Skyspace Tours 671
Building Tours 106
Native American Study Center Program 708
Teen Programs 378
Total Attendance 7,135
Due to COVID-19, the Montgomery Art Center closed on March 18, 2020
Staff Compensation $827,991
General Operations $104,706
Collection Move $172,367
Student Employment $46,927
Contract Employment $32,986
Total Operating Budget $1,443,835
Total Revenue $1,223,808
Individual Donations $700,479
Grants Received $506,000
Catalogue and Miscellaneous Sales $17,329
Todd Gray’s Euclidean Gris Gris offered multiple opportunities for course enrichment, including the event series “Longing on a Large Scale,” comprising eight talks and performances; class visits tailored for class syllabi; and an artist residency that allowed students to engage—and even draw—with the artist himself. In addition to his site-specific wall drawing, Gray’s multilayered photographs of imperial gardens and African landscapes set in geometric frames appealed to Claremont Consortium classes from a range of disciplines; we adapted tours and visits for classes in Africana studies, art, engineering, environmental analysis, French, and geometry to sharpen students’ visual analytical skills through the direct study of art objects. The tours also offered a rich history of cultural sites while simultaneously making students aware of underlying colonial and environmental exploitation. We received outstanding feedback from students and faculty.
To entice faculty to bring classes to the museum and to showcase potential objects that could be incorporated into courses, the museum planned to offer a series of five open houses on an array of themes. The series was scheduled to take place on Fridays from April 3 to May 1 in our collection study rooms, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic we moved the series online. In addition to the original 11–17 participants who had RSVP’ed to each session, we identified and added faculty in relevant disciplines. We emailed all of them object lists, commentaries, and other museum resources to enhance their classes. A total of 116 faculty members received these materials. The topics— “Art of Borderlands” and “Arts of Devotion” (Victoria Sancho Lobis), “Parisian Ecologies” (Claire Nettleton), “The Project Series” (Rebecca McGrew), and “Native American Art” (Steve Comba)—sparked several engagement opportunities. We received requests for collaborations and class visits with faculty from many departments, including art, environmental analysis, French, mathematics, music, religious studies, and Spanish.
Claire Nettleton, Academic Curator
During the academic year 2019–2020, the Native American Collection Study Center (NACSC) Outreach Program worked with three Education Outreach interns—Angel Del Amor (PZ ’20), Amy Lowndes (PO ’21), and Elli Stogiannou (PO ’22)— to develop and present lessons to local elementary schools in support of the California state third- grade curriculum on local Indigenous cultures.
I worked with Associate Director Steve Comba and the Education Outreach interns to research both historic objects and contemporary Native artists; we also assisted in the move of items to the new location in the Benton. With Steve’s help, we were able to conduct our sessions seamlessly despite being in transition from the Montgomery to the Benton. Our students and teachers were excited to be among the first in the new building, and we all developed an early affection for the large elevator, which conveniently accommodates an entire class of 24 third graders.
Rooted in community engagement, the NACSC program consists of three presentations: the in-class “pre-visit” that focuses on close observation of an art object; an on-site visit to see the collection and tour the vault; and a “post-visit” art-making session that highlights the contributions of contemporary Native artists. To prepare for their teaching roles, Angel, Amy, and Elli practiced and then presented the pre-visit lesson on the museum’s hide painting by acclaimed 19th-century Kiowa artist Haungooah (aka Silver Horn) to all third-grade classes at the neighboring Ontario/Montclair School District’s Bon View and Hawthorne elementary schools.
From January through March, the interns, along with Rembrandt Club docents, greeted students in the new NACSC location in the Benton and presented observation activities and tours of the collection. Museum staff and outreach interns were on track to teach third graders at all seven Claremont schools when COVID-19 forced the closure of campus and the suspension of museum visits and outreach programming.
Despite these unforeseen challenges, interns Amy and Elli worked from their respective homes in Florida and Greece to provide remaining classes with virtual NACSC experiences, using Zoom sessions to engage students in art-making and close observation. I was inspired by their creativity and flexibility. Amy, an artist herself, created a coloring packet with original sketches of many of the key observation collection items in the NACSC to distribute electronically to students’ families. And Elli created videos using her stuffed animal collection to demonstrate simple object observation techniques. At the end of the academic year, students from five of the seven classes who missed their concluding post-visit lessons at
the Benton had worked with the museum’s interns virtually, which highlights the possibility of Pomona College students using collection objects to actively engage museum audiences in online rather than in-person sessions.
Rich Deely, Museum Education Consultant
In advance of the opening of the Benton and with Pomona College’s communications department, we began the process of creating a new website for the museum in summer 2019, designed and developed by NewCity. The redesigned site, set to launch in August 2020, will meet new accessibility web standards in higher education and feature a cleaner architecture and navigation. It will also incorporate another new element in our identity: a fresh logo and type treatment designed by Kimberly Varella of Content Object Design Studio. The new website and logo have evolved in tandem with the new building.
Our many partnerships over 2019 and 2020 forwarded the museum’s mission in both the digital and actual arenas. On social media, we partnered with Pomona’s Alumni Parent Engagement, Admissions, and Communications in various campaigns for Alumni Weekend, Admissions Takeovers, and Press Previews. The result was more (and more engaged) supporters on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
And for those who visited the museum in person, our Art After Hours program hosted the “Longing on a Large Scale” events with academic partners, Pomona student interlocutors, and culinary businesses such as Azla, Southern Girl Desserts, and Todo Verde.
Justine Bae Bias, Communication and Engagement Manager