Part 3: At Pomona
- Mowry Baden |
- Lewis Baltz |
- Michael Brewster |
- Chris Burden |
- Judy Fiskin |
- David Gray |
- Peter Shelton |
- Hap Tivey |
- James Turrell |
- Guy Williams
Part I: Mowry Baden’s studio, Victoria, British Columbia
Rebecca McGrew Mowry, you know I am just starting research looking into the history of the art gallery and art department in the late sixties and early seventies. When we did our show in the spring of 2001, our conversations about this era planted a seed that has grown into this big project. Today I’d like to talk about that era; In the future, we’ll meet again to talk in more detail about your work. You graduated from Pomona in 1958, and later went to Stanford University for your MFA. When did you come back to Pomona to work?
Mowry Baden The fall of 1968. The president was E. Wilson Lyon. And I left in May 1971, at the end of spring term.
RM How did you end up back at Pomona?
MB An advisor to the president, a young guy my age named Frank LaHorgue, brought my name to the president’s attention. I think the department was in some disarray. The department chair was an art historian, Nick Cikovsky, and I believe that Nick left without much warning and they were scrambling to replace him. I’d gone to school with Frank LaHorgue, so Frank said, “Let’s try Mowry. He can do this.”
RM Tell me about hiring Hal Glicksman. How did you know of him?
MB Through Guy Williams. He knew Hal from before Hal worked at the Pasadena Art Museum. So I connected with Hal, and I liked him a lot. We talked about what he might do for the school. He looked like a perfect fit. And he had great ideas.
RM Were you good friends with Hal, then?
MB Totally. We were very tight. In fact, it was a very tight department. There were Guy, David Gray, and me. David was a sculptor. They didn’t actually hire me to teach sculpture. They hired me to run the department, and they found something else for me to do and that was teaching drawing and painting, because they had more enrollment in those classes than they did in sculpture. But David Gray was the guy on deck teaching sculpture when I arrived and he was doing a great job.
RM Did you work with Hal on any of the exhibitions he organized?
MB Oh, did I! Hal had this group of students who didn’t know which end of the hammer to hold. So Hal and I pitched in. For Michael Asher’s piece, as I recall, we worked from Michael’s drawings. He maybe made one or two visits at the beginning, and then once we had it all built, dry-walled and painted, and the floor finished with MACtac—a sticky-backed paper that you could lay down and then paint white—he came back.
RM To give it the thumbs up?
MB But in an interesting way. We had been going there regularly. I would go in there with the students at all hours of the day and night because the gallery/museum was always open. That’s what’s written about so much by people who never experienced it. Here’s Michael Asher putting a permanently open esophagus into what is normally an intact body. But it had other properties as well. It delivered a “whiteout” sensation, because the walls and ceiling were white and the floor was white. And it seemed strange in there acoustically, too. You couldn’t quite put your finger on what the hell it was.
And then he shows up, and he’s got this little glass pistol—one of those things that professionals use to check the efficiency of an air handling system that they have just installed, or to test one that is faulty or ineffective. It’s a little pistol that you fill halfway with acid. Then you drop in an alkaline pellet, and it makes a dense white smoke. It has a bulb on it, like an atomizer. You squeeze that, and out of the barrel of the gun comes this gob of smoke that doesn’t disperse. It stays together in a ball, and you can watch the way it moves. It’s a very sensible way of tracking air currents.
So we went into the second room and stood against the wall—Michael, Hal, and I. And Michael fired the pistol. This gob of smoke took off, went along the wall at chest height where we were standing, turned the corner, went along the opposite wall in front of us and into the first room, went around two walls there, and then went out the door. And then Michael said, “It’s working.”
What’s working? And, you know, Michael Asher has this booming laugh. And that’s all we got, just this laugh. So the next time we’re in there, we’re more attentive, just looking for anything, any other phenomena. And then I suddenly realized what was enhanced: the sound of the train crossing that’s south of the campus. Not only the sound of the train moving but also the change in the sound as the train passed the level crossing. The sound was hugely enhanced in that room.
Excerpt from Progressions of a Not-Photographer: Lewis Baltz, 1969-1973 by Rochelle Legrandsawyer
Claremont Graduate School (CGS) was not an obvious choice for the young artist Lewis Baltz, as there was no program in photography there or at any of the five undergraduate colleges in the Claremont College consortium at that time. After an informational meeting with Guy Williams and Mowry Baden in the summer of 1969, Baltz was admitted to CGS, but not before defending his case against a good dose of skepticism surrounding a photographer’s place in the program. Baltz recalls, “I wanted to do graduate work. I wanted to do more, meet more interesting people in the art world…and I absolutely did not want to go to a school that had photography, because I didn’t like photography very much….I think mostly what they needed to be convinced [of was] that I didn’t need any physical equipment, I didn’t need any technical advice. Which I didn’t. But I needed aesthetic advice. I needed people to read things with and discuss them with.”Aesthetic advice and an intellectual community is precisely what Baltz found in the Claremont art faculty. A relationship that began with some hesitance from both parties soon developed into a healthy exchange of artistic and professional support.
Three men were especially influential in Baltz’s development during his time in Claremont: Guy Williams, Mowry Baden, and Hal Glicksman. Guy Williams, Baltz’s academic advisor, met weekly with Baltz to discuss the development of his work. Meanwhile, Mowry Baden offered Baltz a consistently unique intellectual perspective. Baltz remembers Baden as someone he could “reliably count on for an original point of view. Mowry would bring a slant to something that nobody else had.” Learning from Williams’s and Baden’s intensely analytical process, Baltz further developed the ethos of intellectual inquiry that underlies his incisive photographic style. Of Baltz’s three key mentors, Glicksman would have the largest direct impact on Baltz’s burgeoning career. Glicksman—then director of the Pomona College Museum of Art—immediately recognized not only Baltz’s extraordinary technical skill in producing photographs but the unusually critical approach with which Baltz supported his work.
After his initial interactions with Baltz in his history of nineteenth century art course in the fall of 1969, Glicksman quickly made Baltz his teaching assistant, asking him to introduce a section on photography into the course. Baltz accepted, but requested an official position with the college. Glicksman followed through, not only securing Baltz a teaching position at Pomona in the spring of 1970, but also inviting him to show his photographs in the Pomona College Museum of Art. Baltz’s show (May 25–June 1, 1970) was the final exhibition of Glicksman’s tenure at pomona, and Baltz’s first solo exhibition. The two continued their relationship long after Glicksman left Pomona for the Corcoran Gallery. indeed, it was Glicksman who would act, according to Baltz, as “prime Mover in a process of steps leading from Claremont to the [Museum of] Modern [art].”
Excerpt from interview by David Pagel, June 2, 2010
David Pagel What brought you to Pomona?
Michael Brewster I had an aunt and uncle who lived in Ontario and they said, “Go over and look at those campuses.” I fell in love with a dormitory at Pomona called Clark Five. I thought, “Oh wow, I could come here and be monastic.” The rooms were like cells for monks, with fireplaces and balconies around courtyards.
DP At that time you were in high school in Brazil?
MB In São Paulo, at an imitation American high school, so that I’d be fully prepped for American college. My family had been in Brazil for fourteen years. My twenty-six-year-old, D-Day master sergeant, chemical engineer father went there on a three-year contract in 1950, which turned into thirty-five years. He was doing well, much better than an engineer could do in the States.
DP That’s where you began taking art classes?
MB I did theater work, actually, a lot of it. I was a bored sophomore when a drama teacher showed up at the school. He very quickly figured out that he could use me for a lot of stuff. So, my exchange with him was I would take a lot of theater classes if they could be taken on stage. I basically only sat in about two non-theater academic classes a semester. The rest of the time, I had all my classes and study halls on stage, and I built sets and aimed the lights. I thought I was going to be a set designer.
DP Who was the theater teacher?
MB His name was Jim Colby. There were many teachers in American foreign schools there, running from something in the States, we figured. Colby was running from some off-Broadway misadventure. He hadn’t quite made it in New York. But he was really a good teacher, very enthusiastic and something of a brat himself, so he attracted all the brats in the school. We put on fabulous productions, Androcles and the Lion, complete with running water in the fountain and a rotating set on wheels. It was quite a piece of engineering. We also put on a full-fledged production of Guys and Dolls, with giant, “practical” sets—meaning the actors moved over and through them.
DP And you were the set guy?
MB I was the tech director and the set guy. And it amuses me now, you know, because I do installations. It’s not so different, except that, boy, now my sets are minimal.
DP Were you planning to major in theater?
MB No. I was going to be an English major. That’s how you got into theater in a liberal arts college, as an English major. Drama. Art departments at liberal arts colleges didn’t think about set designing. You’d have to go to a dedicated art school, and few of them actually had theater majors. So I ended up going to Pomona because Stanford was too huge and scared the hell out of me. I had fifty people in my high school class. The thought of going to a place that had thousands of students was pretty hard, especially because I was scared of American culture.
DP When did you leave English for art?
MB I switched to the art department in the second semester of my freshman year. During the first semester, I built a couple of sets and I thought, you know, we’re all prima donnas here, and this prima donna’s going to take his ball and go play by himself. I could do that in the art department.
DP Building sets for college theater wasn’t as much fun as building them for high school productions?
MB Well, good ol’ teacher Colby, director Colby, he’d say, “What do you think we should do here, Mike?” There was great freedom, like we were artists together. In college, it was more about doing the director’s bidding: “Don’t get any ideas. Just do the work.” Your artistry is crushed.
DP Art majors had more freedom?
MB Not as much as I would have liked. Much of the program was regimented: go to class, do the assignment. I took Salvatore Grippi’s deadly painting classes, where you had to paint bottles. But I also studied with John Mason for a while. He controlled the sculpture yard. There were kilns, but you couldn’t make pots. You could make sculpture. John wasn’t about to have a pot shop there. He was uncanny. The most effective non-verbal teacher I’ve met in my life. One semester, he said all of three words to me: “Pretty bizarre, Mike.”
DP As a compliment?
MB No, not as a compliment. I insisted on doing these little figures, and he wanted me to blow past that antique notion of what sculpture was. I learned a lot that semester, but I don’t know how. Pomona College has the ability to teach you whether you want to learn or not.
DP Who else made an impact?
MB John was replaced by David Gray. He was a good Minimalist and an effective teacher. More verbal than John. When I came up against David, he said, “No, I won’t allow any of that work in my class. Period.” So then I had to do these things that were, you know, kind of constructivist plastic things. David had a good effect on me, breaking me out of the figurative work. Although I didn’t like it at the time. I fought him quite a bit. But then I was converted by the sculptures I started to build. And then Mowry Baden showed up and the dialogue went way up.
Excerpt from interview with Glenn Phillips, May 18, 2010
Glenn Phillips How did you first visit Pomona, and how did you decide to go to school there?
Chris Burden I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of high school in La Jolla [California] at the Scripps Oceanography Institute. I got a tiny National Science Foundation grant and took a Greyhound bus across the country. But when I was in La Jolla, I didn’t link up with the scientists. I spent most of my time there developing and printing my art photos.
California was an eye-opener for me. I had my first taco, and I learned how to drive a motorcycle. The room I rented was right on La Jolla Shores beach, and the surfers wanted a place to store their surfboards. Their dads were in the air force and had brought back Honda motorcycles. Hondas hadn’t been imported here yet. So the deal with these surfer guys was that if I let them store their surfboards in my room, then they’d let me teach myself how to drive their motorcycles.
I went to a prep school in Cambridge, and we were expected to have college interviews. On the way home, I drove back east with a couple of friends. Pomona College is on Route 66, so I ended up having an interview at Pomona, and subsequently ended up going there.
I started at Pomona as a pre-architecture student. That meant you signed up with the art department. You took art courses, physics, and advanced algebra concurrently. Well, the physics and algebra courses, especially the physics courses, were really hard at Pomona. So right away I started drifting towards art, because you’d have to spend forty hours a week on the math. It didn’t seem interesting at all, and a lot of the physics was over my head. I really liked making things.
One summer, I think the second summer, I went back and worked in an architectural office, called Cambridge Seven Associates. At the time, it looked like you had to be fifty-five years old and a principal in the architectural firm before you got to make any decisions. I was the lowest of the gofers. There were ex-Harvard graduate students from the architectural program on the lower levels of the building, drawing toilets and blueprints, and I was the gofer of the gofers, organizing magazines in the sub-sub-basement. The principals were all on the top floor, so the hierarchy of this company was physically structured by the building. And I just went, “Man, I cannot go to college for four years, and then do four years of graduate school, and then be sitting, working for somebody, drawing toilet bowls and blueprints, in the hopes that when I’m fifty-five, I’ll be able to design a building!”
So I came back to college, and it was at that point that I decided to become a sculptor. I’ll never forget going down and telling the chairman of the art department, Nick Cikovsky, that I didn’t want to be a pre-architecture student anymore. I wanted to become an artist, and specifically I wanted to become a sculptor. And he said to me, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s bad enough to be a painter, but a sculptor, you’re just committing financial suicide.” He used those very words: “financial suicide.” And I went, “Huh, well, we’ll see about that.”
GP You first studied sculpture at Pomona with John Mason. What was he like as a teacher?
CB John was a good teacher. This is going to sound kind of weird, but he would go in his office, and he was super grumpy and kind of intimidating for everybody to approach. The door would be open, and he would just sit there. And even as a student, I realized what the deal was—he didn’t want to be there. He was doing time. Drive out from East L.A. twice a week, sit in the goddamn office from one to five, and he’s done his job, right? If students want to come in and ask questions, they can. But I realized, he’s an artist, you know, he doesn’t want to be here! So in a way I kind of empathized with him.
GP You still have one of the sculptures you made in John’s class.
CB I was having a debate with John about what constituted art. Could a design object be art? Could something that was utilitarian also be sculpture? John said no. We were talking about making some fiberglass luggage. Well, couldn’t that be art? So I wanted to make this sculpture, this shape, which is sort of a three-sided Henry Moore. It was supposed to actually be a knife. On the sharp side, I was going to embed a razor, or a razor strip, so that it could be used as a chopper, a rocking chopper. I spent a lot of time making that thing, trying to get the perfect shape. I thought I could cast it solid. John didn’t say a thing. I finally finish the whole thing—it’s perfect—and then John says, “Oh, well you can’t cast that as a solid. It has to have a core, and you have to cut it in half.” Oh, crap. I had to start over. But you learn when you make a big mistake. John was a good teacher in that sense.
Ultimately, I never inserted the razor. By the time I got it done, it had been so much work, I just let it go as what it was, a beautiful shape.
Excerpt from interview by Rebecca McGrew, April 28, 2010
Rebecca McGrew You graduated from Pomona in 1966, which means you probably started at Pomona in 1962. How did you end up attending Pomona College?
Judy Fiskin My mother took me to Stanford. There were just too many people in tennis sweaters roaming around the campus! [Laughs.] I didn’t know who I was, but I knew I wasn’t that person.
RM Was that in 1961?
JF Yes. My brother was at Pomona, so we went to see Pomona. It was very, very quiet, which freaked me out. But, it actually turned out to be a great place for me. The first two weeks I was there, I was very upset, because it was pretty conservative in those days. But it turned out that they had a dean who was letting in a certain percentage of people who were not so balanced in academics. He wanted to let in people who were tending in one direction—if you were really good in music or if you were really good in art, for instance. And of course, they tended to be more rebellious and arty. I found those people after about the second week.
RM Who was the dean?
JF Dean Wheaton. Wheaton’s Folly, it was called. The class before me—that was Jim Turrell’s—was also Wheaton’s Folly. My husband-to-be, Jeffrey Fiskin, was part of that group. Once I fell in with them, I was fine, and started to understand who I was. I had already met this woman, Alice Higman, who’s now Alice Reich. She wasn’t in that group, but she was in my class. She was very salty and extremely smart. Once I met her, I felt things were going to be all right.
RM What do you mean?
JF She was not conservative. You know, people were dressed in little paisley dresses with gold circle pins and raffia belts; that is the best way I can explain it. And I was just on the cusp of being a beatnik or hippie. The minute I got out of my house, I let my hair grow, put on red lipstick, and wore all black.
RM So you started at Pomona in the fall of 1962. I’ve been hearing quite a bit about the tradition of the “weighin.” All the freshman girls were measured and weighed, then the results were broadcast to the watching crowd of young men, and published in a little booklet. Did this happen to you?
JF Oh, the weigh-in! I felt the weigh-in was bizarre, but I was more concerned about how much I was going to actually weigh than the fact that the guys were allowed to weigh us.
RM How did it happen?
JF The first week of school, before classes, there were a bunch of activities geared towards freshman, like the weigh-in. Another one was a big tug-of-war in the Wash, and I really loved that. There was a Sunday night dinner at a faculty house. There was a lot of attention paid toward trying to integrate the freshmen, and bizarrely enough, the weigh-in was part of it. I liked the whole picture of the freshman orientation. I didn’t like the weigh-in, but I didn’t have a lot of feminist consciousness at that point, either. And I wasn’t angry at men. So, it didn’t make me angry in that way.
RM Kay Larson remembers arriving as a freshman in 1965, and getting out of her car, and being grabbed and pulled over to the weigh-in location.
JF I think I just showed up, like the army, you know. Drafted in. This is the next thing on the list of social activities. I was much more concerned with how conservative everybody was. I used to break the curfew rules, and I got caught one too many times. I had to be tried by the student court, by all these young women. And I just remember thinking, “Why do they want to do this? Why aren’t they climbing over the back fence like I am?” I just really didn’t understand those people. And they epitomized a very large group of the female contingent of the school at that point.
Pomona was a good place for me to be rebellious, because at Pomona I was ahead of the curve. If I had gone on to Berkeley, it would have been tough. For instance, I never took LSD. At Berkeley, everybody that I knew who went there was taking LSD. So, I could feel like I was being rebellious at Pomona, because it didn’t take much.
RM You majored in art history. What do you remember about your art history classes at Pomona?
JF There are two requirements that I specifically remember. One was you had to take a drawing class. And John Mason was teaching the drawing classes. I loved studying with him. I absolutely have no aptitude for drawing. But there were basic drawing exercises that he gave at the beginning that I could do. There’s one exercise, which I’m sure they’re still doing, in which you look at the model, put your pencil down to draw, and you never look at the paper, you just keep marking the paper. When I finished and looked at the drawing, I realized that it was good. And he came over, and I said, “I think this is good.” And he said, “Yes, this is good.” It wasn’t so much that I had made a good drawing, but that I could recognize it and that he validated that. I respected him because he just radiated a kind of non-arrogant sureness. It made me feel that maybe I had an eye. The other really important class, which was also required, was Maurice Cope’s connoisseurship course. It was basically trying to figure out what you were looking at, and talking about it in purely formal, visual terms.
Excerpt from David Gray by David Pagel
In 1963, David Gray and his wife Joanna moved to Los Angeles from Madison, Wisconsin. No jobs awaited them and no family members lived in Southern California. The young couple simply up and left the Midwest because a friend in show business, John Simes, encouraged them to go West. Gray had earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in art at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was beginning to make a name for himself as an artist, exhibiting welded metal sculptures at annuals in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Denver, as well as in solo shows in Madison, Chicago, and New York. These assemblages were pieced together from rusty tools and cast-off appliances Gray scavenged from junkyards and scrap heaps. His large, freestanding pieces combined the formal restraint of David Smith’s early works and the narrative potential of Edward Kienholz’s assemblages. His smaller pieces, often set on pedestals and tabletops, played off of the sensibility and structure of H. C. Westermann’s solidly built sculptures. The main difference was that Gray worked in metal and Westermann wood. Gray’s Unpredictable (To H.C.W.) (1962) explicitly acknowledges the wood-worker’s influence; its toggle switches, mirrored portholes, and boxy form recall the offbeat utilitarianism of Westermann’s art.
In Los Angeles, the Grays rented a house in Echo Park, and he worked as a substitute teacher in various grade schools and high schools throughout the district. Gray immediately set up a studio in the garage and backyard. Almost as quickly, his art underwent a radical transformation. Although Gray did not stop using castoff metal objects to make his oddly elegant compositions, he did begin to use more neutral, less memory-laden materials, welding together abstract shapes and geometric forms from sheets of steel he purchased new and then cut with a torch. This allowed him to move away from the organic patina of rusted steel and weathered metal that had dominated his Midwestern works. He used automobile enamels to spray-paint his new sculptures, giving them a highly polished finish, often in bright colors and hardedge patterns. Chrome made its way into his newly sleek works, along with the occasional mirrored surface. Preparatory drawings, sketches, and studies, which Gray hadn’t used before, became an important part of his increasingly designed and Minimalist-oriented pieces, which often resembled abstract totems or stylized icons from the future. These streamlined compositions combined cubes and tubes, sometimes set on low pedestals. Gray often left two or three sides of his cube-shaped sculptures open, revealing their interiors. He sometimes packed the interiors with welded clusters of scrap-picked castoffs and at other times left them empty, their flocked walls swallowing light in deep, velvety darkness.
Within a year, Gray was picked up by Feigen/Palmer Gallery, where his Los Angeles solo debut took place in 1965. That same year, he had a New York solo show at Richard Feigen Gallery and was included in a group exhibition at Ferus Gallery, in Los Angeles. A solo show at Ferus followed in 1966, along with his inclusion in the prestigious “Primary Structures” exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York. John Coplans featured three of Gray’s chrome and enameled-steel works, L.A./1, L.A./4, and L.A./5, alongside similarly cool sculptures by Larry Bell, Tony DeLap, John McCracken, and Ken Price, in “Five Los Angeles Sculptors” at the Art Gallery, University of California, Irvine. Later that year, Coplans added Billy Al Bengston, Joe Goode, Craig Kauffman, Charles Mattox, and Ed Ruscha to the original five sculptors for the roster of “Ten From Los Angeles” at the Seattle Art Museum, where Gray’s L.A./7 was shown. Gray then moved to Costa Mesa and taught with Coplans and DeLap at the University of California, Irvine, for a year. In 1967, his painted-aluminum and chrome-plated steel pieces, Irvine 4 and Unit Q, were included in “American Sculpture of the 1960s,” organized by Maurice Tuchman for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The next year, when John Mason left Pomona College’s art department, Gray moved to Claremont and took the full-time position. As a teacher, Gray was popular and demanding, exacting from his students a level of seriousness and rigor that many found to be extremely challenging while they were in school, but later credited as being absolutely essential to their artistic development.
Excerpt from interview with Rochelle LeGrandsawyer, May 13, 2010
Rochelle LeGrandsawyer Let’s begin by talking about how you chose Pomona College.
Peter Shelton I was born in Ohio but I grew up in Arizona. I was the kind of kid that was always making stuff. I don’t know that I necessarily thought of it as art, but I was always intensely involved with building and making things. I was also the son of a disabled vet and a working secretary mother. They’d been educated at Oberlin College but had the shit kicked out of them by World War II. So the big emphasis was on education. Even though my father was a man of poetry and art, there wasn’t much encouragement to be an actual artist. I loved anatomy as a kid, so my father would say, “You like art and like to draw, so maybe you should be a medical illustrator.” And my mother’s father was a small town doctor, so I ended up at Pomona as a premed student.
But there were so many distractions. In my freshman year in the fall of 1969, it was complete chaos. There were several antiwar moratoriums, and I watched students trashing the Claremont McKenna College’s ROTC offices. The whole school kind of broke down at one point because of the antiwar stuff. It was really hard to keep focused on class, so kids just stopped going. The faculty got together and asked, “How are we going to get these students through it?” Basically, at the end of the second semester they switched everything to “Pass/Fail” because people simply weren’t focused on school.
RLG Was protesting really significant for Pomona students at the time? What I found in the Student Life newspaper was very mixed—sometimes it seemed like students were rioting 24/7, and sometimes it seemed like everyone was sunbathing on the quad.
PS Honestly, I wouldn’t say a majority of students were actively involved in protesting the war. There were some extreme people out there advocating destruction of school property, and many others who were marching and doing other things peacefully. But in some ways things just carried on Suzy Cream Cheese normal: there were fraternities, the football team, that sort of thing. But I also remember being part of a pile of people protesting in the middle of Frary [Dining Hall]. We had stained ourselves to look bloody, as if we were a pile of dead bodies. Some students actually came up and dumped peanut butter and jelly on us in contempt. What we were doing was a little intense, but on the other hand, it showed that not everybody held the same view. But now, in retrospect, I wonder whether all people think they were a part of antiwar activities in some way.
RLG When did you get involved with the art department?
PS I started taking art classes right away at the same time as my premed classes. The very first semester I took a fundamentals class from Mowry Baden; I think it was called Issues in Art. Mowry basically went through periods of Modernism up to the present day and described the central values and interests of those eras. Then, we would all make something in the mode of those kinds of works. Second semester, I had Guy Williams for drawing. He had us making drawings with typewriters. No models! I ended up taking art classes all the way through college.
In my sophomore year, I went off to eastern Kentucky with a man named Guy Carawan, who was the folksinger in residence at Pitzer College. In the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, Guy and a couple other people were very involved with adapting new lyrics to what had previously been working or religious songs. For example, he is credited, along with folk singers Pete Seeger, Frank Hamilton, and Zilphia Horton, with the lyrics for “We Shall Overcome,” which he taught to the young people of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], and it spread from there. Anyway, Guy put us in these home-stay situations; I lived with a couple of different coalminers way up in the mountains of Kentucky, where we learned about mountain culture, music, and politics.
In my junior year, I wanted to work in the theater department because it was really an amazing place then and the community of it appealed to me. I acted in Brecht’s “Caucasian Chalk Circle” and designed a play for Stanley Crouch during my junior year. So after premed, I was briefly an anthropology major my sophomore year, a theater major my junior year, and I finally went back to the art department in my senior year.
RLG It doesn’t sound like art was particularly central in structuring your Pomona experience.
PS Honestly, I think my education was the whole mix of things. Initially, I found my experience in the art department to be pretty dry. Mowry was a very articulate guy and a real character. He would show up wearing these funny jumpsuits that he got at Sears, with Beatle boots, his head shaved bald, wearing octagonal glasses, and smoking cigarettes in this very urbane way. He was a wonderfully provocative teacher with a personality that seemed a little tough to me at the beginning.
Excerpt from interview with Rebecca McGrew, July 23, 2009
Rebecca McGrew You grew up in Portland, so how did you choose Pomona College?
Hap Tivey My father lived in Santa Barbara, which was kind of a base for me during high school. The draw of Pomona was Southern California. I chose that instead of going to Brown, because I thought if I go to Brown, I’m going to be in this cold place with no surf. [Laughs.] Actually, Pomona offered a five-year plan where you’d go three years, either at Pomona or Cal Tech [California Institute of Technology], and do two years at the other institution. So you ended up with a bachelor of science and a bachelor of arts. I went intending to be a physicist.
RM When did you discover the art department?
HT In the middle of my sophomore year, I had classes with John Mason. That was really a turning point for me. Guy Williams was a big influence, too. But when Mowry Baden arrived, then everything really opened up. Los Angeles was opening up at the same time. There was all this energy coming out of the city and landing in Claremont. The art part of that seemed like the most important, vital way to be doing things at Pomona. The ability to design a show with Mowry, to design a thesis with Stephen Erickson in philosophy, and to carve out your own space was ideal. I really loved it. Mowry, and later Helene Winer (who was at Pomona when I was at Claremont Graduate School [CGS]) played a big part because they brought the visual information into the community. Before John Coplans became the editor of Artforum he was the adjudicator for my senior show. Larry Bell and Coplans were the judges. Gus Blaisdell was on campus. Charles Bukowski and David Antin were there as well. Antin and Eleanor Antin were progenitors of this new kind of social involvement that was spinning out of Happenings. We always went to shows in Los Angeles. You’d see the minimal thing at Irving Blum’s gallery, and Riko Mizuno and Coplans were supporting the light people. There was this sense of information filtering into the community and a sense of the presence of players. You didn’t always have to go to Los Angeles; it came to Pomona, too.
RM Lewis Baltz said this era at Pomona College has assumed a mythic aura. Did it seem that way to you?
HT Well, I think there was certainly something happening. The other part of this mythic time was the politics. You’d be on the phone with somebody in Berkeley and hear that someone was killed. At Century Plaza, you had 125 people seriously injured or killed at the protests. And those kids were coming back to campus. There was no sense that this was an ordinary world any more. We were going to go get killed. What did we have to lose?
Another example was my graduation, the class of 1969. The valedictorian presentation was a poet, James E. Rosenberg, who read an epic poem. The metaphor was that America was a huge elephant driven by people from the inside, who couldn’t see out, and they were crushing innocents all over the world. The audience of local people and the parents of the graduating class booed and booed. The class stood up, turned around, and was yelling at their own parents, “Fuck You!” There were no rules.
RM How did this connect with your senior art project?
HT Kay Larson and I began a program at Pomona called The Honors Project. The idea was that students would design their own senior year, where you would have two senior projects in two separate divisions. I worked with Fred Sontag and Stephen Erickson in philosophy, and I wrote a thesis on various philosophers, discussing how art changed due to a shift in philosophy. My artwork played off of [Robert] Irwin’s discs and Richard Smith’s shaped canvases.
There was a place, called Edwards Air Force Base, where you could get surplus stuff. I got a tank, which was a sphere. I opened the gas end of it, so you were looking into this completely perfect sphere. It was like looking into the sky.
I really liked what happened with that, but I also liked what happens with fabric and how you light fabric. So in my senior year, I made walk-in paintings that were a block ten-feet wide, seven-feet high, and four-feet deep, with a vertical cylinder removed from the center. All surfaces, including the cylinder, were stretched canvas, so they assumed a parabolic curve formed by the fabric tension. I was also thinking of Morris Louis. You walked into this central interior, and the inside of it was glowing. It was like you were standing in this vertical room, in this glowing space. You could walk into them and feel surrounded by light.
Excerpt from interview with Rebecca McGrew, February 17, 2009
Rebecca McGrew Since you’ve had many other interviews about your work over the last couple of decades, I thought that today we could talk specifically about your time at Pomona. Basically there were two periods: when you were an undergrad from 1961 to 1965, and then when you were a faculty member in the art department from 1971 to 1973. What was it like as a student at Pomona in the mid-sixties?
James Turrell The art department drew me in after I was already at Pomona College. I began in 1961. John Mason was the sculpture professor. Bates Lowry was there from 1959 to 1963. Salvatore Grippi was the painting professor. We also had visiting artists that lectured. Malcolm McClain and Peter Voulkos came through, and of course Paul Soldner was up at Scripps. So the curriculum for teaching sculpture was largely clay related. John Mason was really a wonderful teacher. He didn’t have that much to say, but from the way he conducted himself, you really got a feeling of what it was to be an artist. He really was an artist. Of all those artisans who came out of California clay, he was the one who became the sculptor, even more than Voulkos. He created large clay sculptures, and then he made brick pieces, which were inspired by all of the kilns he had made to fire the large sculptural pieces. Of course, my interest was in light, and these guys had giant pug mills for clay, forges for bronze casting—it was manly art. If you think about it, now with Roden Crater, I have come full circle. The crater is one of the largest high-fire bowls!
RM When you started at Pomona, were you interested in art?
JT I wanted to work with clay.
RM But you majored in psychology and math. How did that happen? When you graduated, did you know that you were interested in going into art?
JT It’s hard to explain. In a way, my work comes more out of painting than sculpture because I use a hypothetical space put into three dimensions. The traditions of portraying light come out of painting more than sculpture. But the problem is that in painting they’re teaching the color wheel. If you mix blue and yellow to get green, it works in paint, but if you mix blue light and yellow light, you get white light. That means you have to learn the spectrum, which has a lot more to do with this other way of thinking. It’s thinking about seeing, and it has to do with perception. I was very interested in [Maurice] Merleau-Ponty, the Phenomenologists, and the English psychologists like James J. Gibson involved in the psychology of perception. I had a psychology professor, Graham Bell, who was very exciting. He was a very good psychology professor and quite a wonderful human being. He really helped me get through Pomona. I had some little scrapes when I landed my plane in the Quad.
RM I’m trying to imagine you landing a plane on Marston Quad. You came over Carnegie, and landed towards Big Bridges [Bridges Auditorium]?
JT Right in front of Bridges, and then I turned around and took off. I actually went back quite a ways, because I was worried about the take off; but that was no problem either. I did that with a Helio Courier, which I still have. I also still have the plane my father made at Pasadena Junior College, in Pasadena. A Number 1 Harlow.
RM Is that actually a Pomona yearbook on your desk?
JT Yes! From 1965. I’ll show you what I looked like then. I was the art editor. Richard White was the overall editor. I wrote about the Genesis mural (1960) by Rico LeBrun.
RM So you were pretty actively involved on campus.
JT Yes, I was junior class president, and was art editor in the senior year. Here is a picture of John Mason with his work. Look at the clothes. It was a different time. You can’t imagine how different it was. Here I am on my motorcycle. The Mods and the Rockers. [Laughs.] I had a Jaguar XK-120.
RM Why did you choose Pomona College?
JT I grew up in Pasadena. My family’s Quaker, so I’d gone back to see Swarthmore and Haverford. But when I went back there, it was cold and all the women were wearing black stockings, plaid skirts, and sweaters. Well, it was very different from the culture of California. And I liked sailing and flying a lot. The other possibility was Stanford; my father went to Stanford, and it was easier to get into than Pomona at that time. Anyway, my worldview wasn’t very large then, and Pomona looked pretty good. I liked it. In Southern California, it was the school that I thought was the best, and I still do. I think it’s largely about the peers that you go to school with; I think it’s the peers that make the school, even more so than the faculty.
RM You can’t predict that though when you’re applying.
JT That’s true, and that’s why there are places like Black Mountain or a moment at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles] in art, or even this time at Claremont. Those moments kind of come together. They’re not very predictable.
Excerpt from Guy Williams by Julie Joyce
To understand these paintings is understanding, that when all is understood, there is nothing to understand.
Outside their association with the major galleries in Los Angeles—Ferus, Nicholas Wilder, Dwan, Ceeje, Riko Mizuno, and others—in the 1960s and 1970s artists in Los Angeles were (and often still are) identified by where they taught. As Peter Plagens once wrote in his characteristically wry vernacular:
“Oh, him…where's he teach?” was the Southern California equivalent of "Does he still have that loft on Broome Street?" UCLA, Occidental (“Oxy”), Orange Coast, Pasadena City College (“Pee Cee Cee”), Pomona, Santa Monica City College, or, ninety miles into the boondocks, “Yew Cee” at Santa Barbara: that’s where the artists hung out.
Indeed, while New York had its neighborhood watering holes and studio buildings, Los Angeles had its wide-open spaces and its art schools. The schools were some of the primary places where artists came together, and where some of the most groundbreaking events occurred in the formative days of the region's contemporary art scene. At the time of his 1971 exhibition at Pomona College, Guy Williams was also making his mark in the school's art department, as its only faculty member in painting. 3 The opportunity to look back at Williams's exhibition and tenure at Pomona also provides an occasion to focus on the legacy of an artist whose career was challenged by a devastating setback in 1990, and cut short by his untimely death in 2004, at the age of seventy-two.
Williams's exhibition at the Pomona College Museum of Art featured a group of large paintings, "each occupying one wall of the main gallery," 4 from what became known as the artist's Color Mark series. The large, rectangular canvases in the exhibition were distributed with thousands of concise dashes of color that moved diagonally, from the upper left to the lower right corners of the canvas.
The paradox of these works exists as much in their making as in their reception. Beginning with a single field of color on canvas, the artist methodically hand-painted an average of 16,000 hash marks in a select color scheme through a specially devised template. The arrays of colored marks on the surface interact with each other, as well as with the background color, creating the effect of two paintings (or more) in one.
Recalling the process by which Williams hand-rendered this seemingly infinite number of identically shaped marks, Marcy Goodwin elaborated on the artist's "screen of specially made, die cut masking tape, that was applied to the canvas over every inch of the surface”:
Guy’s masking tape came from a special high tech firm that could take extra wide tape and then cut it with these special metal dies. So each strip of, let’s say, 3-inch wide tape had a row of maybe 12–14 hash marks, each perfectly repeated (Guy called it "step and repeat") throughout the full length of the masking tape roll. It's important to consider that such technology had never been used. The visual source was punch cards—Hollerith-style computer punch cards. This was well before the personal computer era. Guy liked the idea of using the latest technology to create a “reproducible” image that was actually hand-wrought. Once the paintings were complete, they always appeared to have been made instantaneously in a single stroke."
The visual effect of these works is quite remarkable, even mesmerizing. Up close, the focus lies on each individual mark and its distinctive color. A little farther away, the paintings are "a vibrant, moving field of colors, so optically balanced that each one reads equally strongly." Viewed from a distance, they "fuse into a modulated field...The mutating quality of each painting suggests that on subsequent viewings the effect will be different."
The critical response to works from this series was positive, gaining Williams entry into, among many other venues, the 1972 Whitney Annual. In his review of the Whitney exhibition, Carter Ratcliff described Williams's paintings as "a geometric depiction of texture." Though brief, Ratcliff’s account is an indication of the distinction these works held in the larger realm of painting, especially considering the divisions that had occurred in the previous decade between various forms of Post-Abstract Expressionist painting, namely Color Field and Hard-Edge. Williams’s work was equally distinct in the sphere of Southern California Minimalist painters (i.e. the Dot paintings of Robert Irwin) and Hard-Edge (such as John McLaughlin).
Williams produced the Color Mark paintings from 1970 to 1975, representing just a fraction of time in his long-term pursuit of art and knowledge. But this work also represents his quest for something higher, and more (or perhaps less) specific.
Excerpt from OPENING THINGS UP: Why and How it Happened at Pomona by Rebecca McGrew
Pomona’s strong point was that there was a sense that if you really had an interesting idea, nobody was going to stand in your way. And if you wanted to be a jock and marry a princess and settle in the suburbs, you could, but if you wanted to create this new gallery situation, and show all these artworks from Los Angeles, of course, why not? It was wide open. Because of the strength of the people, the chain of associations, you didn’t have an administration saying this is too radical. It sort of caught them after the fact, and they said, “Oh, wait a minute. This is too radical.” But it was already done…
–Kay Larson (class of 1969)
Every once in a while, a pivotal moment happens in the history of art. This book argues that one such moment occurred in Southern California, at Pomona College, between the years 1969 and 1973. For artists as diverse as Michael Asher, Bas Jan Ader, Lewis Baltz, Chris Burden (‘69), Judy Chicago, Jack Goldstein, John McCracken, Allen Ruppersberg, and James Turrell (‘65), Pomona hosted major, and sometimes radical, new directions in their art. It is a surprising story: why would a moment like this happen in the sheltered, peaceful, and generally quite traditional environment of Pomona College, in the quiet city of Claremont?2 This essay endeavors to answer that question and the many other “whys” of this project: Why start with 1969? Why end with 1973? And what exactly happened at Pomona?
In its most basic form, the story goes like this: Pomona College art department chair Mowry Baden (‘58) hired curator Hal Glicksman in 1969, which set the stage for a series of innovative exhibitions that would continue with curator Helene Winer’s arrival in 1970. Curated by Glicksman and Winer, avant-garde exhibitions by influential young artists exploring the newest post-conceptual territories took place at the Pomona College Museum of Art. (The exhibition space at Pomona College changed names several times over the years. For simplicity’s sake, we will refer to it by its current name throughout this volume.) Their innovative programming included notorious performances by Chris Burden and Wolfgang Stoerchle, which, many claim, led to the firing of Helene Winer and the restructuring of the art department. The hiring of Lewis Baltz, Michael Brewster (‘68), and James Turrell in the early seventies added to the intense excitement in studio art.3 Yet, just a few years later, with the hiring of art historian Gerald Ackerman and artist Norman Hines (‘61), the department returned to a more traditional focus.
The full story of what transpired during these few short years is complex and nuanced. This moment at Pomona didn’t simply appear out of nowhere. Thomas Crow’s (‘69) essay in this catalogue chronicles the impact of the existing art scene in Claremont and delves more deeply into the connections between artists working in Claremont and the broader art scene in Southern California.
My essay examines the dynamics specific to Pomona College, but the cultural transformations of the sixties play a huge role in this story as well. Anti-war demonstrations, the sexual revolution, civil rights, women’s rights, gay liberation, the emergence of a hippie counterculture, and the rise of new left activism all led to dramatic social shifts. For the college communities in Claremont, this was a time of turmoil, fevered protest, questioning of authority, and personal and intellectual experimentation. A new sense of freedom lifted prohibitions and created new possibilities for engaging the world. Concurrently, equally dramatic shifts and transformations in art philosophy and practice created an exhilarating sense of experimentation that dramatically expanded what was possible, allowing performance, video, installation, and other dematerialized forms of art to join the more traditional mediums of painting and sculpture. While the era initially created hope for political and social transformation, by the early to mid-seventies, the utopian promise of the sixties was overtaken by disillusionment, as the promises of social change were undercut by assassinations, commercialization, and corruption. As the sixties ground to a halt, an era of complacency settled in and many wished for a “return to normalcy.” As radicalism fell from favor, the moment of “It Happened at Pomona” passed.
This essay sets forth an idiosyncratic and complex history of the visual arts at Pomona College from 1969 to 1973, drawn from research in the archives of Pomona College and the Pomona College Museum of Art, and conversations and interviews with former students, faculty, curators, and administrators. This essay explores a range of stories, knowing that many will still go untold. What follows is one version of what happened at Pomona.
The Beginning: Mowry Baden and Hal Glicksman Open Things Up
Mowry arrived...just a torrent of words...all interesting... ideas all over the place. Mowry opened the territory wide up. Mowry and Hal being here really made a big difference. [After graduating from Pomona in 1968,] I stayed in Claremont to go to graduate school because Mowry was here, and he hadn’t been here for very long, and I hadn’t had enough of Mowry. He was the most brilliant guy I’d ever met in my life.
–Michael Brewster 4
Mowry was one of the few people in my life who you could reliably count on for a brilliant and original point of view. Mowry would bring a slant to something that nobody else had. I think of how germinal so much of what Mowry did was. He’s someone who, when it shakes out a little bit, will be accorded a much, much more visible place than he has now. Mowry was also always sort of the grey eminence of the school as long as he was there, whether he was department chairman or not. It was really an odd little confluence of things that happened there. Everybody coming from someplace else for their own reasons. There was no plan about this school. This wasn’t like CalArts, a scheme to be a certain thing, or Irvine, where they really had an objective. It didn’t seem to work that way. It seemed to just happen.
–Lewis Baltz 5
In April 1968, Mowry Baden returned to Pomona College to teach art, run the gallery, and chair the art department. His former classmate, Frank LaHorgue (‘58), had contacted him at former Pomona College President E. Wilson Lyon’s (President from 1941–69) suggestion. Realizing how tough it would be to take on all three jobs, Baden negotiated a three-year contract that included a single-year term as art department chair. Baden joined two colleagues in the art faculty at Pomona—painter Guy Williams, and sculptor David Gray, both of whom were well liked and respected. Baden hired Hal Glicksman as director of the gallery and assistant professor of art, in the fall of 1969, based on his reputation as an artist’s preparator at the Pasadena Art Museum.6
Baden was a highly influential and challenging artist, colleague, and teacher. He was also a diplomat, adept at bridging the gap between artists and administrators. Speaking in 2008, former Pomona College President David Alexander (President from 1969–91) remembered with regret accepting Baden’s letter of resignation in 1971. Baden thrived in the close-knit and energized atmosphere of Pomona College, becoming close friends and remaining in contact with many former colleagues and students. Stories about Baden’s life-changing influence turned up frequently in interviews with former students. Writer and critic Kay Larson, for example, returned to Pomona College in the spring of 1968, just after Baden had started working at Pomona. She remembers distinctly how different the department felt with Baden’s dynamic presence.
Larson remembers “walking into Mowry’s office and not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but saying I wanted to make art about the intercession between the earth and the universe.” She recounts, “I think I was talking about angels. It was about being in the middle, between phenomena and something more transcendent. And I had no idea what I was talking about. Mowry just said ‘Sure!’ He was able to open the doors without any effort at all...just by being so accepting.”
Baden worked closely with Glicksman, collaborating with him and the artists that Glicksman invited to be part of the Artist’s Gallery program, a program instituted by Glicksman in which the gallery functioned as a studio-residency for post-conceptual and Light and Space artists. As gallery director, Glicksman (and later Winer) taught art history courses in addition to programming the exhibitions. Glicksman established a seminal series of exhibitions dealing with light and space art and new forms of installation.7After just one year, in June 1970, Glicksman left to work with Walter Hopps as associate director at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Baden and Glicksman kept up a long and detailed correspondence after Glicksman left Pomona, sharing ideas about the role of art and its potential to create change. in a letter written after Glicksman’s departure, Baden wrote:
I have been thinking of late that your gallery program at Pomona was a most tactful acknowledgement of some obvious truths that need facing. I’m really glad I saw you and the artists do that. Except for the aspect of impermanence, the whole program lay in that long tradition of artist and institutional patron....The only way I can see to tighten it up is in ownership. And [it] seems to me Bob Smithson said something to that effect over Walter’s [coffee shop in Claremont] grease one noon. His sequence went something like this: 1) Artist makes a proposal for a specific site. 2) Artist finds a patron who must assume ownership of the site and pay for the work. 3) Because it is owned by someone it obtains instant longevity. Longevity is really a matter of memory. To have any substantial memory the work must, however brief, be public....Like Taliesin, Soleri’s Scottsdale and best of all, Watts Towers and Merzbau.8
Both Baden and Glicksman (and later Winer) recall a strong camaraderie that united the studio faculty to the gallery, often culminating in evening parties in the gallery courtyard that also included students. Lewis Baltz, then a student at Claremont Graduate School (CGS; now Claremont Graduate University) who also taught at Pomona College, held his first gallery exhibition of his now well-known Prototype series at Pomona, at Glicksman’s invitation. Baltz had taken Glicksman’s course on nineteenth-century art history and developed a close relationship with Glicksman that extended beyond Glicksman’s departure in 1970.
1. All quotes from Kay Larson are from an interview with the author in Kingston, New York, April 7, 2010.
2. Pomona College is part of The Claremont Colleges consortium, which consists of five undergraduate colleges (Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps colleges) and two graduate schools of higher education (Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute). Located adjacent to the Claremont Village, in the heart of Claremont, The Claremont Colleges campuses are adjoining and within walking distance of one another.
3. Baltz, Brewster, and Turrell all received MFAs from Claremont Graduate University. (See faculty list in this volume.) Baltz and Turrell were teaching classes at Pomona College while they were enrolled concurrently as graduate students.
4. All quotes from Michael Brewster are from an interview with the author at Pomona College, Claremont, October 2, 2008.
5. All quotes from Lewis Baltz, unless otherwise noted, are from an interview with the author in Zurich, Switzerland, June 11, 2009.
6. In the interview in this volume, Mowry Baden goes into more depth about his connection with the department and the hiring of Hal Glicksman. Characteristically modest, Baden regularly guided discussions to Glicksman, Gray, and Williams, and later James Turrell (whom he hired in 1971 to replace him), instead of mentioning his own contributions to the dynamic climate at Pomona.
7. See the interview with Glicksman in this catalogue for more discussion about his projects and legacy.
8. Undated letter from Baden to Glicksman, on Pomona College letterhead. Hal Glicksman Papers, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. 2009.M.5.