Part I: Mowry Baden’s studio, Victoria, British Columbia

Rebecca McGrew Mowry, you know I am just starting research looking into the history of the art gallery and art department in the late sixties and early seventies. When we did our show in the spring of 2001, our conversations about this era planted a seed that has grown into this big project. Today I’d like to talk about that era; In the future, we’ll meet again to talk in more detail about your work. You graduated from Pomona in 1958, and later went to Stanford University for your MFA. When did you come back to Pomona to work?

Mowry Baden The fall of 1968. The president was E. Wilson Lyon. And I left in May 1971, at the end of spring term.

RM How did you end up back at Pomona?

MB An advisor to the president, a young guy my age named Frank LaHorgue, brought my name to the president’s attention. I think the department was in some disarray. The department chair was an art historian, Nick Cikovsky, and I believe that Nick left without much warning and they were scrambling to replace him. I’d gone to school with Frank LaHorgue, so Frank said, “Let’s try Mowry. He can do this.”

RM Tell me about hiring Hal Glicksman. How did you know of him?

MB Through Guy Williams. He knew Hal from before Hal worked at the Pasadena Art Museum. So I connected with Hal, and I liked him a lot. We talked about what he might do for the school. He looked like a perfect fit. And he had great ideas.

RM Were you good friends with Hal, then?

MB Totally. We were very tight. In fact, it was a very tight department. There were Guy, David Gray, and me. David was a sculptor. They didn’t actually hire me to teach sculpture. They hired me to run the department, and they found something else for me to do and that was teaching drawing and painting, because they had more enrollment in those classes than they did in sculpture. But David Gray was the guy on deck teaching sculpture when I arrived and he was doing a great job.

RM Did you work with Hal on any of the exhibitions he organized?

MB Oh, did I! Hal had this group of students who didn’t know which end of the hammer to hold. So Hal and I pitched in. For Michael Asher’s piece, as I recall, we worked from Michael’s drawings. He maybe made one or two visits at the beginning, and then once we had it all built, dry-walled and painted, and the floor finished with MACtac—a sticky-backed paper that you could lay down and then paint white—he came back.

RM To give it the thumbs up?

MB But in an interesting way. We had been going there regularly. I would go in there with the students at all hours of the day and night because the gallery/museum was always open. That’s what’s written about so much by people who never experienced it. Here’s Michael Asher putting a permanently open esophagus into what is normally an intact body. But it had other properties as well. It delivered a “whiteout” sensation, because the walls and ceiling were white and the floor was white. And it seemed strange in there acoustically, too. You couldn’t quite put your finger on what the hell it was.

And then he shows up, and he’s got this little glass pistol—one of those things that professionals use to check the efficiency of an air handling system that they have just installed, or to test one that is faulty or ineffective. It’s a little pistol that you fill halfway with acid. Then you drop in an alkaline pellet, and it makes a dense white smoke. It has a bulb on it, like an atomizer. You squeeze that, and out of the barrel of the gun comes this gob of smoke that doesn’t disperse. It stays together in a ball, and you can watch the way it moves. It’s a very sensible way of tracking air currents.

So we went into the second room and stood against the wall—Michael, Hal, and I. And Michael fired the pistol. This gob of smoke took off, went along the wall at chest height where we were standing, turned the corner, went along the opposite wall in front of us and into the first room, went around two walls there, and then went out the door. And then Michael said, “It’s working.”

What’s working? And, you know, Michael Asher has this booming laugh. And that’s all we got, just this laugh. So the next time we’re in there, we’re more attentive, just looking for anything, any other phenomena. And then I suddenly realized what was enhanced: the sound of the train crossing that’s south of the campus. Not only the sound of the train moving but also the change in the sound as the train passed the level crossing. The sound was hugely enhanced in that room.