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Jay Belloli, Pasadena curator of early JPL space photography show, dies at 76

Curator Jay Belloli, in front of artwork.
Curator Jay Belloli at All Saints Church’s 2014 Foster Youth Art Show.
(Daniel Flaming)

Jay Belloli, a Pasadena writer and curator whose passion and expansive curiosity for contemporary art was intergalactic in scope, died peacefully at home May 21, according to his stepdaughter, Sabina E. Aran-Dinsmoor. He was 76.

Belloli was best known as the director of gallery programs at Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts from 1990-2010. He was director of Caltech’s now-defunct Baxter Art Gallery from 1982-85, and he served as interim director at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in 2016-17.

Among the exhibitions for which Belloli is remembered is “25 Years of Space Photography” at Baxter Art Gallery in 1985. It was organized in collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and showcased images obtained with robotic cameras in space.

In the exhibition catalog essay, addressing the question of who the artist behind the lens was, Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote: “The singular and independent photographer is here replaced by the diverse and interdependent multitude of scientists and technicians whose coordinated commands, responses, and actions set into motion a complex chain of events that results in a photographic image.”

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Belloli also co-organized — with the ArtCenter College of Design’s Stephen Nowlin, the Norton Simon Museum’s Michelle Deziel and Southwest Chamber Music’s Jeff von der Schmidt — the 1999 exhibition “Radical P.A.S.T.: Contemporary Art in Pasadena, 1960-74,” which showcased some of the lesser-known contemporary artworks in the Norton Simon collection. It was on view at the Norton Simon as well as at the Armory and the ArtCenter, with a live music series by Southwest Chamber Music.

“It was the talk of the town,” said Linda Centell, who worked with Belloli at the Armory from 1998-2002. “It brought together so many living artists, and it was a groundbreaking collaboration at the time. It opened the door for more people visiting Pasadena art institutions.”

Detail of the Orion Nebula seen from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Detail of the Orion Nebula seen from the Hubble Space Telescope, June 13, 1994. The image was part of the 2001 exhibition “The Universe: A Convergence of Art, Music and Science.”
(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Because the institutional collaboration was so successful and “Radical P.A.S.T” was so popular, Centell said, Belloli co-organized a follow-up exhibition in 2001, “The Universe: A Convergence of Art, Music and Science” with the ArtCenter, the Norton Simon and Southwest Chamber Music as well as Caltech, the USC Pacific Asia Museum, One Colorado and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Throughout his career, Belloli was particularly supportive of Southern California artists, especially emerging and lesser-known midcareer artists, many of whom he spotlighted in solo shows at the Armory. That included Tim Hawkinson, Jill Giegerich, Steven Galloway and Eileen Cowin.

“Jay was a discerning curator yet generous with his time for artists,” Centell said.

Aran-Dinsmoor said Belloli’s supportive spirit extended to his personal life as well. “He was extraordinarily generous and always extended himself to others to help in all situations,” she said. “We loved him so much and we miss him.”

Belloli grew up in Palo Alto, the only child of Joseph and Florence Belloli. He graduated from Stanford University in 1966 and earned a master’s in art history from UC Berkeley, where he also studied poster-making. For more than two decades, he was an active member of All Saints Church in Pasadena, where he was a member of the Vestry and served on the church’s Foster Care Project.

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Melanie Andrews is the artistic director of Inner City Shakespeare, a growing network for Black and Latino performers to make it in entertainment.

“He was a visionary artist, a dear friend and a companion in joy,” All Saints wrote on Facebook.

Belloli’s resume included work as a curator for the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. He worked with a panoply of contemporary artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Nancy Graves, Daniel Buren, John McLaughlin, Yoko Ono and Dan Flavin.

Other notable exhibitions Belloli organized include 2017’s “Mars: Astronomy and Culture” at the ArtCenter, which featured historical drawings, photographs, books, movie posters and other imagery of the Red Planet; the 2014 retrospective “June Wayne: Paintings, Prints, and Tapestries” at the Pasadena Museum of California Art; and 2011’s “46 N. Los Robles: A History of the Pasadena Art Museum” at the USC Pacific Asia Museum, which was part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative.

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“There was no one more prescient about the L.A. art scene and the connection between art and science than Jay Belloli,” said L.A. art dealer MB Abram, a friend of Belloli’s for more than a decade. “He was a giant, in terms of his accomplishments and his insights, who carried himself with unusual modesty — it was noticed and appreciated by everyone.”

Belloli is survived by Aran-Dinsmoor and his grandson, William Dinsmoor.

The Getty Center and the Broad museum are open! Here is our May guide to the most promising exhibitions across Southern California.


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