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.
Art in Dialogue
Linda Ekstrom, Pearled Bible, 1996
By Noor Asif, Scripps College '16, Academic Programs Assistant, on view starting 1/17/17
Linda Ekstrom (Santa Barbara, California, 1951 - ), Pearled Bible, 1996, cut and rolled Bible text and silk lining, Pomona College Collection. Purchase made possible through the Estate of Walter and Elise Mosher.
Upon first encountering this sculpture, one sees a mound of uniformly compressed paper balls. They are arranged on a pedestal blanketed with a black cloth. The black surface lends a luminescent, pearl-like quality to the paper balls. It is only once the viewer learns the work’s title that it becomes clear what she is actually viewing. Pearled Bible (1996) by Linda Ekstrom is indeed a sculpture comprised of pearled paper but the paper is extracted from a holy text—the Bible.
Throughout her artistic career, Ekstrom has used the Bible to create serene sculptural works that both meditate on and critique the Abrahamic religions with which she is involved, Judaism and Christianity. Despite the visual tranquility of these works, it is important to understand the risk that Ekstrom takes with each work she creates. Some practicing Christians might condemn the ways in which Ekstrom utilizes the pages of the Bible as the raw material for her work; for them, her sculptures may be perceived as a blasphemous mutilation.
However, those critics fail to see that Ekstrom is not denigrating the religion or its followers. Rather, because women were often written out of the history of Christianity, Ekstrom strives to dismantle a patriarchal, dogmatic reading of the Bible and introduce a feminist perspective. She does this by literally taking the Bible’s words and rearranging them into cascading waterfalls of paper ribbons, floor-length paper chains delicately hanging from ceilings, or, in this case, elegantly pearled balls. Her works are created through the process of repetitive handwork, which has often been construed as a highly gendered form of production. In this way, the sculptures are Ekstrom’s attempt, as a woman and feminist artist, to insert women back into the narrative of religion so that they are actively intertwined with its formation and progress.
As a feminist interpretation of the Bible, the works become meditations on a divinity that a viewer can approach visually rather than through a structured reading of dogma. Ekstrom hopes that the visual experience of her work permits one to see a transcendent spirituality within the essence of the holy text, freed from a patriarchal, exclusionary framework.
Iva Gueorguieva, Angel of History, 2016
By Cam Bacca '19, Adam Starr '18, and Paola Odette Reyes '17, on view 10/4/16 - 12/17/16
Iva Gueorguieva (Bulgaria, 1974- ), Angel of History, 2016, Acrylic, hand-painted and printed collage and oil on canvas, Pomona College Collection
Purchase with funds designated for the Student Art Acquisition Project. Acquisition selection made by Museum Collecting 101, Spring 2016: Cam Bacca ’19; Dominique Bruncko ’18; Brenda Garcia ’16; Hana Kim ’16; Joy Kim ’19; Ruiqi Li ’17; Lucas Littlejohn ’17; Diana Martinez ’16; Anna Novikova ’17; Paola Reyes ’17; Adam Starr ’18; Konrad Utterback ’19
The Spring 2016 Museum Collecting class selected a work by Project Series 34’s Iva Gueorguieva. The artist’s distinctive abstraction and diverse perspectives culminate in singularly rich, complex, and detailed paintings with unique physicality, presence, and color. One can stand near the work analyzing the intricate minutiae or take a step back to absorb the painting’s totality. The work operates amid these levels, and meaning arises from this oscillation between the macro and micro. The perceptions fueled by this process stimulated many classroom discussions.
We acquired Gueorguieva’s Angel of History, which references Paul Klee’s print Angelus Novus. Klee’s work depicts an angel with spread wings and open eyes. Yet, there is no identifiable angel figure in Gueorguieva’s painting. An abstracted figure in the lower center, a collaged element of a reclining nude, tumbles down the kaleidoscopic canvas. Gueorguieva prints many of her motifs on fabric and uses fragments in other works. The falling nude comes from a larger scene in which the figure is watching a murder of crows. A wing motif alludes to the Klee, yet it neither supplements Klee’s angel nor fully reveals the Angel of History. The wing alludes to flight. Gueorguieva’s father was a pilot who frequently took his daughter on flights over the Eastern European landscape. From afar, sections of the painting evoke aerial views of pastoral scenes.
In the corner lies a womb or cave-like motif, sheltering an abstracted figure. Perhaps this womb is her target – or home. Gueorguieva suggests that it holds the fragments of the fallen figure. The figure tumbles down and the compression of tones in the lower part of the painting creates a sensation of crashing. But from where she has fallen and if she will land remain unknown. Confrontation with such a divine tragedy requires participation in the piece. The viewers are left considering their roles as participants and witnesses. Gueorguieva describes the figures as “unwilling participants, unaware victims or passive participants in mundane activities in the midst of great commotion and potential annihilation.” They are witnesses, and she considers the painter to be a witness as well, thus identifying with the figures. The viewer completes this web of witnesses, a tangled hierarchy of divine vision.
Museum Collecting 101, offered through the Department of Art History and supported by friends of the Museum, engages students in the process of art acquisition. The students represent a cross section of Pomona, from first years to seniors and from several different majors. Working within a budget and a defined rubric, they take on the responsibility of selecting an artwork for the Museum’s permanent collection. Together the students visited artists in their studios and talked with them about their work. They also conferred with museum curators and faculty members. Realizing that the object they select will become a permanent addition to the museum’s collection where it will be seen by generations of students and visitors, they carefully considered individual works. In class discussions, they reviewed potential acquisitions on aesthetic merit and relevance to the museum’s collection and to the teaching mission of the college. The semester culminated in a class vote in which they selected the work you see here. I would like to thank them for the attention they devoted to this project.
- Kathleen Howe, Director
Reynold H. Weidenaar, Cathedral Repairs, Mexico City, 1949
By Leonardo Vilchis-Zarate, Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern, on view 8/30/16 - 10/2/16
Reynold H. Weidenaar (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1915-1985), Cathedral Repairs, Mexico City, 1949, Mezzotint on paper, Pomona College Collection
In this print, repairmen carry materials across precarious bridges, continuing the centuries-long process of construction of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City. Behind them a priest gives mass in a dark corner while another group appears to glow as they bow towards an invisible altar. Surrounding the workers, laity, and priests are interspersed building materials, scaffolding, and ladders as well as altars, pulpits, and the towering columns that overshadow the people inside.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City is the largest cathedral in the Americas. Its monumental size represented the power of the Spanish Empire and materialized its triumph over the Aztecs. Built at the heart of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, over and from the remains of the temple of Huitzilopochtlí, the Aztec god of war and patron of the city, the Metropolitan Cathedral demonstrates how the conquistadors established new religious and civic centers over the ruins of indigenous temples and pyramids. The building symbolizes the fastidious imposition of religion and architecture on the indigenous civilizations of the Americas during and after colonization. As the Spanish colonized the Americas, they saw their new lands as an empty space where they could construct the ideal city. Characterized by their logical grid pattern and architectonic unity, monumental cities across Latin America were built based on imposing a checkerboard pattern of roads surrounding a large central square, where important buildings like this cathedral were located.
The large scale implementation of the grid during colonial times set the precedent for mid-twentieth century utopian and modernist projects like Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico; Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, Venezuela; and Brasilia, capital of Brazil since 1960. Unlike the imposition of rule through religion and architecture, which was mostly successful in serving colonization, the modern attempts to create ideal cities were well intentioned but generally fell short of their objective. Because they were influenced by abstract futuristic ideals such as the role of the automobile, rather than focused on the concrete needs of people, they were largely failed dreams of utopia. These master city plans are neither all in the past nor do they only take place south of the border. Today we see similar plans in the speculative development and revitalization of cities in the United States, as well as in the capital campaigns of colleges and universities.
Eastern Woodlands tribal group or Santee-Sioux Gloves, c. 1890
By Professor Frances Pohl’s “Picturing A Nation: Art and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century North America” (ARHI 135): Araceli Garcia (PO), Francesca Inocentes (SC), Nathan Pope (HMC), Iman Salty (SC), Lily Soule (PZ), on view starting 4/12/16
Unknown maker, Eastern Woodlands tribal group or Santee-Sioux Gloves, c. 1890, Glass beads on lined leather. Pomona College Collection, Gift of Mrs. Edward H. Angle.
Clothing can reveal a great deal about the identity of both an individual and a nation. Often these identities are subject to a variety of cultural influences. Such is the case with these beaded gloves, which mark the merging of two traditions, European and Native American. Europeans introduced the glove form to the Americas; the U.S. Cavalry introduced the gauntlet (a glove that extends over the wrist) in the 1870s. Decorative fringing is common to indigenous clothing. Soft buckskin had been used for centuries by Native Americans, but here it is lined with machine-made flannel, a European material, and decorated with glass beads, another European addition.The designs likewise reveal complex identities —floral forms similar to those used in European embroidery, bird forms found on many objects produced in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans, double curve forms and diamond shapes (on the fingers) that can be found in both indigenous and European designs, and American flags.
The museum’s catalog record assigns these gloves to an individual from an Eastern Woodlands Native community. The attribution was based in part on the designs, which are typical of work produced in that region. Yet the design elements—birds, crossed American flags, floral forms—are also seen on beaded gloves, vests and jackets from other Native American communities, in particular the Santee Sioux and the Sioux-Metis of the Great Plains region.
This connection between the Eastern Woodlands and the Great Plains region can be explained, in part, by the forced relocation of many Native peoples during the 19th century. The Santee Sioux originated in the Eastern Woodlands around the Santee River in South Carolina and were forced out of the region by Anglo-American settlers and finally confined in 1863 on a federal reservation in Nebraska (the Niobrara Reservation).
There is uncertainty not only about who made these gloves, but also about who owned or used them. Native peoples created items such as beaded gloves for sale to white tourists looking for souvenirs that marked a safe encounter with a romanticized indigenous present and past. However Native Americans may also have used gloves like these; photographs show gauntlets being worn by Native American men who participated in performances for tourists. The American flags may symbolize lives compromised by subordination to a dominant white culture, but they also might represent the ability of Native peoples to adapt and survive within that dominant culture.
Alison Saar, Equinox, 2012
By Chinasa Okolo ’18 (Computer Science), Judith A. Cion ’65 Intern Pomona College Museum of Art, on view starting 3/1/16
Alison Saar (Los Angeles, b. 1956), Equinox, 2012, Handsewn lithograph with collage element. Pomona College Collection.
Alison Saar (Scripps ’78) creates artwork that transcends the boundaries between African spirituality, ancient Greek mythology, and political issues present in contemporary American society. Equinox explores the duality between the underworld and the world of the living. A blend of the mythological and the spiritual, Saar plays with the story of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades to create her own interpretive version of the Greek myth. Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, presides over the cycle of life and death, thus controlling the seasons. Her daughter Persephone, the maiden of the spring, is kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld. Persephone’s absence thrusts her mother into mourning, effectively halting the seasons and forcing Earth into gradual extinction. Zeus, the king of the gods, agrees to Persephone’s release on the condition that she not eat any food while in the underworld. However, Hades tricks Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds, thus sealing her fate. A compromise between Zeus and Hades allows for Persephone to spend half of the year in the underworld and the other half on Earth. Persephone’s time spent in the underworld causes Demeter to grieve, which in turn corresponds with the unfruitful seasons of the Greek calendar and her return to the Earth represents the fruitful season—both of these periods representing the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.
Saar’s choice to label Demeter as Black and Persephone as White demonstrates the racial undertones often seen in her work, which the artist partially attributes to her own mixed-race heritage. Saar references the Greek myth through African protagonists, showing the interrelatedness of world myth and modern art. The collage element of the artwork suggests the breasts of Demeter and the pomegranate seeds which Persephone unknowingly consumed. The milk flowing from Demeter’s breasts represents a mother’s loss and longing for her child, met with the juices from the fateful pomegranate, a subtle reminder of her daughter’s destiny.
Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Untitled (Eight Nuns in a Chapel), 1935-39
By Benjamin Kersten ’15, Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Assistant at the Pomona College Museum of Art, on view 1/19/16 – 2/28/16
Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Untitled (Eight Nuns in a Chapel), c1935-39, Oil on canvas. Pomona College Collection. Gift of Dr. Tom K ’54 and Margaret R. Scott.
Alfredo Ramos Martínez’s painting of eight worshippers in a chapel represents his vision of Mexico across changing contexts of artistic creation and reception. The artist’s experiences and training led him to produce representations of the indigenous presence in Mexico, utilizing the geometric compositions of French modernism; works that circulated widely among Californian audiences. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Ramos Martínez began attending the National Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City when he was fourteen. There he came to the attention of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, mother of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, who offered to finance his studies in Paris. Although he did not undertake formal studies during his decade in Paris, he joined the circle of artists and intellectuals and produced a large body of work in conversation with the recent paintings and open-air methods of modernists Jean-François Millet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Claude Monet. He returned to Mexico on the eve of the Mexican Revolution and founded the Open Air Schools, a decentralized system of government subsidized art schools that provided free materials and opportunities for creativity in the midst of the political turmoil dominating Mexico. He relocated to Los Angeles with his family in 1929. Before long, high profile commissions and museum exhibitions brought his work to the attention of the Hollywood elite, and he found success in the California art world. In this later phase of his career, he created romanticized images of stoic indigenous men and women. This painting demonstrates Ramos Martínez’s efforts to create icons of indigeneity, a practice he found useful for engaging cultural assumptions within the fraught arena of border politics.
Ramos Martínez’s painting occupies a political geography characterized by contradictions. It evinces the artist’s longstanding commitment to building transracial and transnational alliances in the face of racial hostility. In Mexico, Ramos Martínez had committed himself to overhauling European-influenced academic models and making arts education more widely accessible. Once he returned to his own work, he focused on subjects that would be read as Mexican in the face of race-based deportations, violence, and criminalization targeting Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the United States. Simultaneously, paintings such as this facilitated the consolidation of indigeneity as an essential element of national identity. Cultural theorists have since expanded upon the modernist paradigms visible in Ramos Martínez’s paintings and proposed new ways of conceptualizing the role of borders in identity formation. In the book Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), Gloria Anzaldúa articulates a theory of mestiza consciousness. Anzaldúa examines the border as a unique cultural space forged by particular histories, policies, and movements, rather than something indeterminate or purely divisionary. From the potential instability of such a cultural space, compounded by the continual negotiation of white supremacy and patriarchy, Anzaldúa models a conception of the self as multifaceted and flexible. While Ramos Martínez evokes timeless unity in the group of bowing worshippers, Anzaldúa’s work reminds us that individuals engage in their own projects of self-production.
Christina Fernandez, Lavanderia #1, 2002
By Alexandra Madsen, Curatorial Intern, ArtTable Summer Mentored Internship for Diversity in the Visual Arts Program, on view 11/3/15 -12/9/15.
Christina Fernandez, Lavanderia #1, 2002, Chromogenic print. Pomona College Collection. Gift of the Rembrandt Club.
Christina Fernandez’s Lavanderia #1 slowly opens up to the viewer. Our voyeuristic gaze penetrates this world of private washing, cleaning, bleaching. Self-awareness swells in this divorced scene. We are removed from what we see and yet we are fully present.
Layers of claim coat Lavanderia #1. An upside down flag screams of distress, of misunderstanding and neglect, of inhabiting without belonging. Graffiti scrawls across the door, loud in the frustrated silence. Paint trickles to the ground, a white substitute for the crimson. A woman turns from her machine, the motion leaves her a phantom in our gaze. In this perfectly framed image, there is much chaos. Despite graffiti’s insistent claims, an isolated emptiness permeates the scene. In these marks of personhood and carvings of identity, nothing touched is truly owned. The flag was forfeited to the door to stand guard. The graffiti can be cleaned but never un-applied. And the turning woman loses her identity in the commotion. She could be anyone, no one, or everyone.
Much like my introduction to Lavanderia #1, my first drive through South Central Los Angeles to my partner’s home was an experience I will never forget. Although I grew up winding the grid work of New York sidewalks that are perpetually framed by graffiti, I never paid much attention to it. That is until I understood it. On that first drive down Vermont Avenue my partner pointed to various storefronts, street lamps, and fire extinguishers rattling off the graffiti acronyms of each, explaining which gangs ran the area, and who was crossing borders to tag up the other’s territory. Understanding the layers of claim in Lavanderia #1 is much like that experience. Under each identifying acronym, each homage to a dead family member, someone is vying for ownership. By creating a physical territory a claim of belonging is made, and the claims of identity are complicated. Graffiti writers’ personal tags assert individual identity while the woman is identified only by her labor.
Christina Fernandez lives and works in Los Angeles. She was the 18th Project Series artist when she presented works from the “Lavanderia” series in 2003. Fernandez served on the artists’ nominating panel for “R.S.V.P. Los Angeles: The Project Series at Pomona.”
Elizabeth Saveri, Selections from “The Claremont Series,” 2000
Oil on panel
By Daisy Adams ’16, Native American Collection Study Center Educational Outreach Intern, on view 9/28/15 - 11/1/15
Elizabeth Saveri, Selections from “The Claremont Series,” 2000, Oil on panel, Pomona College Collection. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Walter and Elise Mosher.
Elizabeth Saveri’s “The Claremont Series” is a montage of small oil paintings based on photographs that chronicles her visits to the Pomona College Museum of Art. The museum’s building, surroundings, and interior spaces are the subjects of many of the paintings. The series also includes images of her trips to and from the museum on the 210 Freeway. Her work captures the nostalgic, hazy quality of a memory. Looking at her work, I am reminded of my first journey to Pomona. When I arrived in California from Atlanta, I felt like I had landed on another planet – the teeming highways, barren terrain, and glaring sunshine were completely different from my hometown. The museum was the first building that I spotted as my parents and I drove onto campus. How could I have known that the white, windowless building would play such a pivotal role in my Pomona experience? Saveri’s painting of the museum’s staff entrance doorbell reminds me of the first time I rang the bell and was ushered into the museum. Inside, I found a group of supportive art professionals who encouraged me to explore my interest in art history and museum work. In many ways, the museum has become my home on campus, a place that welcomes and inspires me. As a senior, I am aware that my time at Pomona is ending, and a new leg of my personal journey is beginning. When viewing the different perspectives and details of the museum though Saveri’s series, I realize that I will take fond memories of this special time and place with me.
Charles Gaines, NIGHT/CRIMES: Aquila, 1995
By James Parker Head ’17, Janet Inskeep Benton ’79 Curatorial Intern, on view 9/1 – 27/15
Charles Gaines, NIGHT/CRIMES: Aquila, 1995, Gelatin silver print on paper, screenprint on Plexiglas. Pomona College Collection. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Walter and Elise Mosher.
A Batesian/Order Informed Effort of Sustained Attention
Palming: [hands over eyes] viewing [hands over eyes – the lower astral sector vibrates within my cupped hands and behind my eyelids]. Viewing [hands over eyes] viewing [hands over eyes – I feel neglectful of the children when I stop watching, and with a gun no less] viewing [hands over eyes – But then playful, the palming becomes a game of peek-a-boo. But a spectral anxiety looms and the peek-a-boo I am playing with them is in order to distract them from the gun nearby].
Swinging: [extended arm towards the work with index finger pointing upwards, gentle side-to-side rotation of the torso, ocular focus playing between finger and work]. Swinging – Temporality is given to the fixed microcosm of the lower sector. Swinging – A stop-motion quality of animation begins to occur in the top sector. As I swing left to right the gun shells become charged, but as I swing right to left they become discharged. I become distressed in my right-left swing, as shells seem to fire off towards the children.
Flashing: [with closed eyes turn the head towards the work, open for an instant then close, turn away]. Openclose – openclose – The two sectors begin to encounter one another; each blink discharges a round and a shot fires off into and through the space below.
Shifting: [attempt to exhaustively see the work, scan it minutely]. My eyes read the text between the sectors and the two coalesce. My being in the world is geometrically figured – astrologically pre-figured – by Aquila. The two halves become apparent and whole. They are not tenuously related but critically co-dependent.
Carrying forward the lessons and traditions of the Order of the Third Bird.
Rose B. Simpson, Directed (North), 2014
By Zoë Jameson ’15, Miranda Starr ’15, Rebecca Chen ’16, Adam Starr’18 (Team Rose), on view 4/3/15 - 5/17/15
Rose Simpson, Directed (North), 2014, Ceramic, mixed and reclaimed media, Pomona College Collection, Purchase with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Elemental Arts Initiative. Acquisition selection made by Museum Collecting 101, Fall 2014: Tessa Adams ’16; Rebecca Chen ’16; Schuyler Fox ’17; Nidhi Gandhi ’15 Sharon Ha ’15; Zoë Jameson ’15, Benjamin Kirsten ’15; Haley Marber ’17; Davis Menard ’17; Joyce Nimrocks ’15; Adam Starr ’18; Miranda Starr ’15; Nelson Tsu ’16.
When we saw Rose Simpson’s work for the first time, at least half of us audibly gasped. We were midway through our semester-long Museum Collecting course in which we had been reviewing work by artists who engage the elements, or the environment more broadly. None of us had yet fallen in love with any one artist’s work. Despite being a late addition, Simpson skyrocketed to the top of our list and never left.
The artist visited near the end of the semester to talk about her work and specifically about Directed (North) which we were considering for acquisition. She demonstrated sculpting the figure with her trademark ‘slap-slab’ technique and explained the inspiration behind the Directedseries (which also includes South, East, West, and Center) and its connection to the land where she grew up, north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her connection to that land and her culture, apparent in the found objects and symbols that adorn the figure, and her technique, which merges earth, water, fire, and air, met our charge from the Mellon Elemental Arts Initiative. At the end of the semester, in a dramatic vote, our class, acting as the collection committee, chose to acquire this work.
Once the sculpture arrived, we gathered again to see it unpacked. As it finally stood before us and we placed the collar around its neck, we found ourselves staring directly into its eyes. The human scale and physicality of Directed (North) immediately commanded our respect. We are proud of our part in bringing this work into the Pomona College Museum of Art collection.
Sue Coe, Abolition, 2014
By Maia Welbel (PO '17), Department of Environmental Analysis Program,on view 2/27/15 - 4/3/15
Sue Coe, Abolition, 2014, Woodcut on Japanese paper, Pomona College Collection, Gift of the artist.
Sue Coe embodies the concept of art as activism. Her poignant etchings and drawings reveal harsh realities through graphic imagery. Each piece is a call to action, asking viewers to question the everyday injustices they may never have thought to address. In her animal activism pieces, Coe unapologetically decries the meat production industry, exposing the atrocities she has personally witnessed inside meat packing factories.
To understand Coe’s passion, one must look no further than her work. Her pieces tell stories of human rights violations, inhumane animal treatment, and environmental degradation, all done in the interest of large-scale meat production. In a nation that sacralizes the hamburger, Coe speaks for the virtues of veganism as a means of lessening undue suffering. Coe grew up next to a hog farm, where she was exposed to the barbarity of industrial agriculture. Anti-transparency legislation has made these realities virtually invisible to the vast majority of the population, so Coe has made it her mission to let consumers in on the truth about their food. Her vivid portrayals serve as a means of overriding the lack of honesty in our system.
Coe sheds much needed light on the issue of the meat industry and the injustices it has caused. Through her artwork, she reveals difficult truths in a way that can be understood by a public that has been left in the dark. Her mission is to eliminate suffering, and her art reflects the urgency and passion with which she works towards that goal.
Joel Peter Witkin, Fictional Store Fronts: Camera Store Window, 2004
By James Parker Head (PO '17), Janet Inskeep Benton ’79 Curatorial Intern, on view 1/20/15 - 2/27/15
Joel Peter Witkin, Fictional Store Fronts: Camera Store Window, 2004, Gelatin silver print on paper, Pomona College Collection, Gift of the artist.
In an online search, the first result for Joel-Peter Witkin’s Fictional Store Fronts: Camera Store Window is from Amazon.com. I was initially skeptical – here was a piece of fine art offered for sale in the same place as industrial-size peanut butter jars and head massagers. However, when the relation of the viewer to the print is examined, this sales venue seems symbolically appropriate. The title of the photograph establishes the viewer’s role as that of a patron, looking at the products that are a distillation of Witkin’s experiences, gathered for display. The title simultaneously prescribes Witkin the role of purveyor, trying to entice the viewer to buy his goods, creating a dynamic of salesman and consumer.
Witkin’s work, which at times involves manipulation of corpses, is often labeled as extreme and overly grotesque. This label of sensationalist has lead many to question the veraciousness of what is depicted in his prints, and subsequently him. Witkin’s title suggests that the experiences represented in the storefront are fictitious. Perhaps he is embracing his role of snake oil seller; trying to get his viewers to buy, accept the truth of, the fictional experiences he claims, which create his mythos. This aura of duplicity and manipulation is materialized in the impossibly large profile above the masked woman’s shoulder. The fallibility of vision is also referenced in the photograph of the ‘blind’ woman posted on the bed frame. Through this collection of pseudo-experiences, Witkin points to the camera’s, and therefore the artist’s, power to manipulate, and our comparatively weak ability to determine, or see, reality.
Amazon.com is a website where you can buy anything. If Witkin is a sensationalist, selling false experiences through his artwork, the skepticism of seeing this fine art print on Amazon is fitting, as it mirrors the suspicion that could be felt when viewing his works. However, it could also be seen as working against this suspicion, bringing his artwork down-to-earth, making it as real as every other product on the website.
Double Snuff Bottle, c. 1875 - 1908
By Abigail Wang (PO '15), Department of History, on view 9/2/14 - 12/19/14
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, 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, 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, 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, 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.