Southern California’s newest art museum? The Benton.
Pomona College on Wednesday is expected to announce the Benton Museum of Art, which has a target opening of fall 2020. Designed by Machado Silvetti and Gensler, the $44-million museum was made possible with a $15-million gift from Janet Inskeep Benton, a 1979 graduate of the school.
The college plans to begin relocating its Pomona College Museum of Art collection into the new building this fall. The original 1950s PCMA building, which will exhibit art through May 2020, has a small storage vault and would be difficult to renovate and make environmentally friendly, museum director Kathleen Howe said.
“We ultimately decided to create a purpose-built museum that would encompass all the programs that an academic museum provides to both the campus and the community, and the best way to do that was to start from scratch,” she said.
The museum has a varied 14,000-object collection with deep holdings in a number of areas, Howe said, including Native American art, Italian Renaissance panel paintings and American photography from the late 19th century to the present. It doesn’t collect in areas that are niches for its sister museums at other Claremont Colleges. So, for example, it doesn’t collect ceramics or Asian art, which Scripps College’s Williamson Gallery exhibits.
Pomona’s primary focus is “contemporary art with an edge,” Howe said, adding that James Turrell, Helen Pashgian, Peter Shelton and the late artists Marcia Hafif and Chris Burden are all alumni whose work is in the collection.
The 33,000-square-foot Benton, which broke ground in late 2017, is on the edge of the Pomona College campus, adjacent to Claremont Village and near a Metrolink train station. The U-shaped museum will include a courtyard for events.
“This is a really exciting way for us to bring art to teaching and to students and to families,” Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr said. “It will truly serve not just the college community but the communities around here, the city of Pomona and areas all around Claremont, and that has us thrilled.”
Starr added that being on the edge of Los Angeles County speaks to the art museum’s long-held mission of existing on the fringes, of collecting and exhibiting boundary-pushing Southern California contemporary artists.
“It’s really about art on the edge of what’s possible,” Starr said. “And being on the edge of what it means to be responsible stewards of objects we have been given or will be given.”
Howe, who has been at the museum for 15 years, will retire in September. The museum will begin a national search for her replacement in a month, she said.
Benton said her desire to help bring the new museum to life is deeply personal.
“Art is a passion of mine as an adult, something I didn’t explore fully as a student, and selfishly I’d love kids today to have more of an opportunity,” she said. “I think museums should be social centers on campus where students gather, talk, see visually interesting things, ask questions, compare notes. It’s a mind-broadening experience in a very safe, accessible, not-intimidating environment. That’s my hope and dream.”