Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco
“Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco” showcases José Clemente Orozco’s mural Prometheus (1930) on the Pomona College campus and examines the multiple ways Orozco’s vision resonates with four artists working in Mexico today. Isa Carrillo, Adela Goldbard, Rita Ponce de León, and Naomi Rincón-Gallardo share Orozco’s interest in the relationships among history, justice, power, social protest, and storytelling, yet approach these topics from their own twenty-first-century sensibilities. These artists activate Orozco’s mural by reinvigorating Prometheus for a contemporary audience. “Prometheus 2017” is supported by grants from the Getty Foundation as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an initiative led by the Getty.
Orozco’s Prometheus represents the first mural painted in the US by a Mexican muralist, and signifies the beginning of a complex decade of Mexican engagement with US publics. Orozco’s vision of Prometheus as an allegory for art that attempts to reach a wider audience—bringing knowledge and enlightenment to the masses—highlights the ethos of Mexican muralism to transform society. Orozco’s Prometheus reflects the tensions in his practice between a commitment to a political message and private agency. Orozco’s esoteric and iconographic engagement with the myth involves his own biography and elite ideas about the artist as a prophet or seer. Please see José Clemente Orozco's Prometheus for more information on the mural.
Carrillo, Goldbard, Ponce de León, and Rincón-Gallardo utilize strategies of engaged historical or archival research, public intervention, or intimately scaled social practice to connect with their publics and advance social issues. The work of the four artists presented in “Prometheus 2017” aligns with Orozco’s complicated humanism; each artist addresses Orozco’s mural, person, and/or practice in distinct ways. Carrillo’s psychological portrayal of Orozco uses the practice of esoteric arts such as astrology and graphology to intimately explore his life and work. Referencing acts of political violence in recent Mexican history, Goldbard creates videos of sculptures that she fabricates with local artisans then activates or destroys using pyrotechnics. She embraces the metaphor of fire as a tool of both creation and destruction. Ponce de León revisits the history and legacy of mural art as a tool to reconceptualize community building and public art practice. Collaborating with Pomona College students, Ponce de León’s project for the exhibition engages Prometheus through collective work sessions. Examining Greek mythology and historical dreams of utopia in Mexico, Rincón-Gallardo links a personal narrative with an exploration of the themes that are at the heart of Prometheus and Orozco’s turn to myth.
The exhibition will be on view at the Pomona College Museum of Art from August 29 to December 16, 2017, with performances and related programming occurring regularly throughout those months. The exhibition opens with a presentation of Orozco’s preparatory drawings for the mural drawn from the museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition dedicates a gallery to each of the contemporary artists, highlighting her connections to Orozco and the Prometheus mural. A timeline anchors elements of the exhibition with information on Orozco’s life and artwork, the Prometheus mural, Prometheus as a discursive figure, the history of Pomona College, and pertinent world events. The exhibition is organized by Rebecca McGrew, Pomona College Museum of Art senior curator, with the assistance of the “Prometheus 2017” research team—Terri Geis, former Pomona College Museum of Art curator of academic programs; Mary K. Coffey, Dartmouth College professor of art history; Daniel Garza Usabiaga, artistic director of Zona Maco in Mexico City; Nidhi Gandhi and Ian Byers-Gamber, Pomona College Museum of Art curatorial assistants; and Benjamin Kersten, former Pomona College Museum of Art curatorial assistant.
Supported by the Getty Foundation and Getty Publications, Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco is edited by McGrew and Geis and presents substantial new scholarship connecting Mexican muralism with contemporary art practices. Three essays address different aspects of Orozco, Prometheus, and the connections between Los Angeles and Mexico. McGrew and Geis’s “Pandora Rising: José Clemente Orozco and Four Contemporary Women Artists from Mexico” provides an overview of the exhibition themes and situates the four contemporary artists and Orozco within a theoretical framework anchored by current studies of Orozco, contemporary art strategies, social protest, and the work of philosopher Ivan Illich. Coffey’s “Putting Orozco’s Prometheus in Motion: Reframing Mural Art’s Meaning for Contemporary Art Practice” provides an interpretation of Orozco’s mural from the standpoint of contemporary debates over relational aesthetics, site specificity, and embodiment. Garza Usabiaga’s “Muralism’s Afterlife: Mural Practice and the Avant-Garde Legacy in Contemporary Art of Mexico” examines the mural as a form of public art, investing the form with a critical, social, and political posture that resonates with artists today. Designed by Kimberly Varella of Content Object Los Angeles, the book also includes critical essays addressing the featured contemporary artists; a chronology exploring themes of Prometheus; and vibrant new reproductions.
“Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco” is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than 70 cultural institutions from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty. The presenting sponsor is Bank of America.