Art review: ‘It Happened at Pomona; Part I: Hal Glicksman’ at Pomona College Museum of Art
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Like 7-Eleven and the drive-through at Del Taco, the Pomona College Museum of Art never closes. At least, not until Nov. 6. Before then, the museum is open all day, every day, 24/7.
That unusual gesture, a project by artist Michael Asher, is a variation on one he did for the museum 41 years ago. The open house is among seven works in the first portion of ‘It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles, 1969-1973,’ a three-part historical survey that will unfold through the school year. It’s the first show out of the gate in Pacific Standard Time, a panoply of about 60 exhibitions funded by the Getty Trust to explore the early years of art in post-Second World War L.A.
Organized by curator Rebecca McGrew, it focuses on the academic year 1969-1970, when Hal Glicksman, a former installation designer at the Pasadena Art Museum, ran the school’s small museum. [Update: The Getty Research Institute’s Glenn Phillips co-organized the show.] He invited artists to use one gallery space as a working studio, rather than as a repository for traditional art objects. McGrew’s modest, tightly organized show draws unexpected connections.
In 1970 Asher, then 26, divided the gallery into triangular spaces with a narrow slit between them. Most dramatically, one side was left open to the street outside, with no way to close it off. Anyone could enter the gallery at any time -- a peculiar, perhaps even unprecedented state of affairs.
Call it an art of radical openness. Temporarily, the art museum changed from what it normally is -- a secure storehouse of cultural treasure. Now it was an exposed space for social interaction.
The work partly reversed a 1969 piece for a Los Angeles gallery by Robert Barry, in which the front door was locked and the gallery remained closed for the show’s duration. Neither artist made much to look at, but there was a lot to think about. That’s one definition of eye-opening.
Lots of assumptions, unseen and unconsidered, always crowd around perceptions of art. Asher’s best work has a way of making us curious about what those assumptions might be in a given situation.
The new Pomona piece expands a 2010 project for the Whitney Museum in which he proposed to have its signature biennial exhibition open all day, every day, for a week. The Whitney couldn’t cope, though, instead agreeing to a three-day open house. A note on the museum’s website explained that the shortened duration was ‘due to budgetary and human resources limitations.’
New York might be the city that never sleeps, but it’s the suburban venue in the San Gabriel Valley that will be up all night for nine weeks straight. Is the reason for the difference economic? Philosophical? Social? Is it because a small college museum can be more nimble than a big urban institution geared toward cultural tourism? What effects do these conditions have on art’s creation? Or on our experience of it?
One surprise in the show is Robert Irwin’s clear-acrylic disk, exquisitely mounted in front of a wall. A wide black line running through its center creates an optical slit that’s like a black gash in space; meanwhile, the disk’s clear circular edge, illuminated by bright spotlights, disappears. Irwin was trying to erase the visual frame that limits traditional painting -- an entrenched assumption not unlike those that Asher was questioning in a different way. A link between their otherwise dissimilar works comes into focus.
So does Judy Chicago’s blossoming feminism, hinted at in photo-documentation of ‘Snow Atmosphere,’ a provocative if finally unconvincing 1970 performance work. Chicago released smoky, colored flares into a canyon on nearby Mt. Baldy -- she was a licensed fireworks technician -- ostensibly to soften (and thus presumably feminize?) the rugged (and thus presumably masculine?) landscape. Curiously, the piece also recalls 1969 atmospheric sculptures by Barry, who released invisible krypton into the air over Beverly Hills and helium over the Mojave Desert.
Also slight are Ron Cooper’s experimental drawings, made not with pencil and paper but with shattered glass. A slow-motion film shows a metal ball being dropped onto large glass plates; and a pair of displayed automobile windshields were cracked by a helmeted head slamming into them. The network of breaks speaks of violent intervention -- perhaps a legacy of a time marked by Vietnam and social upheaval. The glass drawings feel thin, but the show also features a fascinating timeline juxtaposing national and local news with the Pomona museum’s exhibition program.
The nature-culture contrast in ‘Snow Atmosphere’ does resonate against a pristine group of black-and-white California landscape photographs by Lewis Baltz. He replaced the spectacular mountain vistas celebrated by Ansel Adams and the sensuous forms in Edward Weston’s straight photographs with the vacuous, man-made geometries of commercial parking lots and stucco warehouses in industrialized California.
The legacy of an older American tradition of melodramatic landscape painting also describes Lloyd Hamrol’s odd, room-size environment, seen through a skewed window cut into a wall. Black water covers the floor, while the ceiling is obscured behind hundreds of balloons, lighted from behind in sunset hues of peach and rose. The stormy ‘cloud’ above is linked to the dark ‘sea’ below by a vaguely ominous design of vertical lead wires, laid out in a loose grid like organized rainfall.
Sky is also at the heart of Tom Eatherton’s marvelous, pitch-black walk-in environment. Two long, curved walls of translucent scrim (think Cinerama movie screen), each illuminated from within by diffused blue light, face one another. Inside the lozenge shape, a gentle sensation of levitation occurs, lofting a viewer into visual space. Titled ‘Rise,’ it’s a 1960s Color-Field painting without any paint.
In the courtyard, a 1967 sculpture by then-student Chris Burden hints at intriguing things to come in the next two parts of ‘It Happened at Pomona’ (a wince-inducing title, incidentally, that sounds as if it was cooked up by an institutional development department). The December installment will focus on Post-Minimal and Conceptual art; next March, work by former faculty and students will go on view.
I had only known of Burden’s 6-foot painted cube from an old catalog photograph. Refabricated for the show, it turns out to be a precocious work. (Burden was 21, an undergraduate, when he made it.) A quintessentially Minimalist form, the cube’s apparent structural logic gets perceptually discombobulated by a screaming-yellow paint-job and three irregular black cutouts.
The experience of trying to grasp the sculpture’s actual form collides head-on with what your mind thinks it knows about a cube. Unearthed, the Burden makes a perfect introduction to Pacific Standard Time.
-- Christopher Knight
‘It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles, 1969-1973; Part I: Hal Glicksman,’ Pomona College Museum of Art, 333 N. College Way, Claremont, (909) 621-8283, through Nov. 6. Daily. www.pomona.edu/museum