It Happened at Pomona, Part 2

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Last September, at the outset of Pacific Standard Time, I spoke about the exhibition It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969 – 1973. The museum at Pomona College is fairly small so the exhibition was divided into three consecutive parts. The first part was dedicated to the role curator Hal Glicksman played by inviting artists to use the gallery as their studio to create installations or events, an opportunity seized by the Light and Space or Conceptual artists.


John Baldessari, JB-7001: Evidence:
Bowl Handed To Helene Winer December 1, 70, 1970

B+W photographs, typed text; 8 x 10 inches
Collection of the artist, photograph courtesy of the artist

The second part of the exhibition covers the years when Helene Winer became director and curator in the fall of 1970. It is no less fascinating for two reasons: John Baldessari, William Wegman and Allen Ruppersberg may be well recognized artists today but they were all operating at the edge of the evolving movement of Conceptual art. That idea-driven body of work, so heavy on photos and texts, bears considerable irony and tongue in cheek humor in the hands of West Coast artists.


William Wegman, Milk/Floor, 1970
Gelatin silver prints; Two panels, 7 x 7 in. each
Collection of Lola Wegman, photograph courtesy of the artist

For example, Wegman is well-known today for taking wacky photographs of his Weimaraner May Ray, (named after the Dadaist artist and photographer who lived in L.A. for many years.) The show includes Wegman's Milk/Floor 1970, two black and white photos of his dog lapping up milk on a wood floor. In one picture, the floor boards run in a horizontal direction and in the other, they recede away from the viewer yet the dog and the milk remain in the same position. Simple as it may be, it makes you stop and look and look again, wondering how such a small change can make the images appear so very different. Is it the same room? A different room? A sort of dead pan humor that tinges so much of the work in L.A. during these years. For example, Allen Ruppersberg is represented by five small tables, the sort used by a magician, draped in fringed black cloths. Each bears a book titled Houdini that is progressively cut down into small slices until it disappears and nothing rests on the last table. Much of Ruppersberg's work involves an artist who is missing, who is not center stage as it were.


William Leavitt, California Patio, 1972
Mixed media construction, Dimensions variable
Collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
© William Leavitt. Photo courtesy of William Leavitt

The question of illusion is one aspect of this work and illusion continues to be an issue in an installation by William Leavitt of a sliding glass patio door opening onto a terrace of plastic plants. This piece captures the weird essence of artifice versus reality that is a recurrent theme for artists living the shadow of Hollywood, especially during the 1970s and 80s. This concern manifests as well in Ger Van Elk's photograph of a Bonnard painting that must be seen in a mirror that is hinged to face the wall. During Winer's tenure, the college museum gained a reputation as an important venue for contemporary art. John Baldessari would put his students in his VW van and drive them from Cal Arts to Pomona to see the shows organized by Winer. An installation by Baldessari involving ashes and the photograph of fingerprints on bowl is included in the show.

Winer's approach was not appreciated by everyone at the college. She commissioned a performance by Chris Burden that involved nudity but the final straw seems to have been Wolfgang Stoerchle's performance, standing naked, drinking beer and urinating on the gallery floor. Winer's support of advanced art ran afoul of the school's administrators and she was relieved of her position. She then moved to New York and founded the alternative gallery Artists Space before she and a partner opened the commercial gallery Metro Pictures. Metro was the first to fully embrace the so-called Pictures generation artists Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo, Sherrie Levine and others who used photographic imagery but who did not see themselves as photographers. After seeing the artists Winer supported at Pomona, it is easy to understand why she was among the first to accept and encourage that group of young artists. The show is on view through February 20, 1972.

By the way, a good day to see this show is January 21, when versions of some of the performances originally enacted at Pomona College are taking place as part of Pacific Standard Time. On January 21, John White will restage his 1971 In Preparation F, where a football team enters the gallery, changes into their uniforms and scrimmages. Judy Chicago will present A Butterfly for Pomona, a new pyrotechnic performance inspired by her 1970 Atmosphere environment using flares and fireworks. James Turrell, who was both a student and teacher at Pomona – one of his incredible pavilions of captured light is a permanent installation on the campus -- will recreate his 1971 performance Burning Bridges using highway flares.

Many other performances are being staged throughout Los Angeles this month including a rare appearance by Hirokazu Kosaka, who performed at Pomona in 1972, at the Getty Center on January 20.