Pomona College goes behind the scenes of "Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco"

"Behind the Scenes of Prometheus 2017 Art Exhibition," by Carla Guerrero, Pomona College News

From the outside, all seems quiet at the Pomona College Museum of Art (PCMA) with its “closed for the summer” sign still hanging on the front doors. Inside, however, it’s bustling with activity as staff, students and artists worked through the summer to be ready for the big day when the “Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco” exhibition opens Aug. 29.

The exhibition is inspired by José Clemente Orozco’s 1930 mural Prometheus, located in Frary Dining Hall, and will feature the work of four artists from Mexico, Isa Carrillo, Adela Goldbard, Rita Ponce de León, and Naomi Rincón-Gallardo, who are reinterpreting Orozco’s famous mural through their own pieces.

The exhibition serves to “reinvigorate Prometheus for our contemporary generation of students. Orozco’s masterpiece at Pomona raises social and political issues that still remain pressing today; this is the perfect moment to reexamine Orozco’s themes of social justice,” says PCMA Senior Curator Rebecca McGrew ’85.

This summer, two of the artists, Goldbard and Ponce de León, created their installations on campus and counted on help from Pomona students and alumni to see their visions to fruition.  

From curatorial assistants helping with exhibition design to interns working with papier-mache, the opportunities at the museum are one-of-a-kind.

Intern Jordi Pedroza ’20 fulfilled one of his goals for the summer: working with his hands. Goldbard and a team of artisans from Artsumex Collective in Tultepec, Mexico, came to the museum with hundreds of pounds of materials, including old Mexican newspapers and dried, treated reeds. Pedroza and curatorial assistants Davis Menard ’17 and Ian Byers-Gamber ’14, helped the artists with the building, painting and transportation of a set of life-size papier-mache sculptures that include cacti and the centerpiece, a microbus that will be set ablaze in fireworks on November 18.

Pedroza is debating whether to major in neuroscience or the arts and saw this museum internship as an opportunity: “I got my hands dirty, my clothes dirty – I loved it, figuring out and learning how to do things that these artisans and generations of their families have been doing. It was a beautiful process to see what you can do with your hands and helping keep a Mexican tradition alive.”

A few weeks later, artist Rita Ponce de León arrived to campus with her notes, sketchbook and inspiration to paint a four-wall mural inside the museum.

With the support of Menard, a recent graduate who majored in studio art, Ponce de León worked methodically to draw, paint and bring to life her interpretation of discussions had by students of The Claremont Colleges that took place from November 2015 to June 2017, a time when protests swept the colleges. Ponce de León facilitated a series of meetings and conversations between students, in classes and as pairs, that started with the questions: “What does Prometheus meant to you today?” and “What does art mean to you?”

Menard participated in the first workshop led by Ponce de León that was held in one of his art classes and decided to get more involved. With another student from Scripps College, they served as liaisons for Rita’s project once she left for Mexico.

Menard calls Rita’s work an “ongoing gift” as something that stays with you even as the actual conversations between students are over. Her mural and the process by which it was created, they say, is “a generous invitation to readdressing and working on the problems that persist on campus.”

Even for the two artists who did not come to campus, there was still plenty to do in terms of details and logistics associated with bringing a major exhibition featuring four artists to campus.

That’s where Nidhi Gandhi ’15, post-baccalaureate curatorial assistant, steps in. With duties ranging from travel logistics for the artists to getting rights for images, Gandhi assisted with “any and all text related to the exhibition.”

“Creating an exhibition of this scope and scale is a huge undertaking, with a huge variety of tasks, big and small, to take on. I’m lucky that the museum let me really involve myself in every single aspect of this exhibition,” says Gandhi, who majored in neuroscience and worked for five years with a local community arts organization.

As opening day approaches, a slate of public events and talks with the artists is scheduled to engage the public, and students such as Nikki de Quesada ’20 provide invaluable support to museum staff in the planning, coordination and execution of these public events.

For McGrew, the vision of a college museum is to make the visual arts an essential part of a student’s experience, adding that “engaged exhibitions like this one provide both intimate one-on-one experiences with artists and scholars and a wide range of activities for larger groups of students.”

She adds, “Our goals are to encourage active learning and broad creative explorations across disciplines—and a complex project like this covers all the bases.”

Museum Director Kathleen Howe notes that these opportunities for students and recent graduates come through the support of dedicated alumni: Janet Inskeep Benton ’79, Josephine Bump ’76, Judith A. Cion ’65, Graham “Bud” ’55 and Mary Ellen ’56 Kilsby. “The engagement of students, and now recent graduates, with the multifaceted ‘Prometheus 2017’ project would not have been possible without them,” says Howe.

About the Exhibition

“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.