The Art in Dialogue series provides a forum for investigating the Museum’s permanent collection. Students, faculty, and staff of the Claremont Colleges are invited to propose an artwork from the permanent collection for display. The work they select is displayed in the Museum lobby, accompanied by a short text label written from the perspective of their academic or personal interests (or both). Installations change regularly, revealing the ways in which visual art can richly inform and reflect many disciplines, and offering the opportunity to view rarely seen artworks from the Museum’s vaults.
Art in Dialogue
Don Normark, La Loma, Chavez Ravine, Amador Street Below, 1949
By Aviva Chomsky, Ena H. Thompson Visiting Professor of History, Pomona College & Professor of History, Salem State University, on view 4/9/13 to 5/19/13
Don Normark, La Loma, Chavez Ravine, Amador Street Below, 1949, Gelatin Silver Print on Paper, Pomona College Collection
I first learned the story of Chávez Ravine when someone passed along Don Normark’s 1999 book of photographs from 1949, updated with interviews half a century later. Chávez Ravine was a rural Mexican-American neighborhood in the hills outside of Los Angeles, destroyed and displaced through a series of government and private decisions that led, finally, to the land being taken for the new Dodger Stadium built in the early 1960s. The community was dispersed. Many of the families stayed in the area, forming an organization called “Los Desterrados” (the uprooted) and returning annually for a reunion in Elysian Park, adjoining their former neighborhood.
Normark tracked down the families in the 1990s and recorded their commentaries on his fifty-year-old photos. Their stories told the history of their close-knit community, their lives, and their displacement. Many of the men worked as day laborers in Los Angeles, and families traveled during the summer and fall to work as migrant laborers picking fruits and vegetables, following the California harvest.
History has traditionally been told from the top down, from the perspective of powerholders and the institutions they created. Historians have been limited by our own methodology—reliance on texts, written records preserved in archives. This approach has biased us towards telling the stories of the rich and powerful: those who were literate, and who had the resources to create and preserve their records.
In recent decades historians have struggled to uncover the voices of the ordinary people, the majorities left out of the top-down histories. Sources like Normark’s photos and the oral histories that he collected help to reveal the hidden histories that have been glossed over by our textbooks.
Utagawa Hiroshige, Fog at Mitsuke, 1832-33
By Benjamin Kersten (PO‘15), Department of Art and Art History, on view 2/15/13 to 3/28/13
Utagawa Hiroshige, Fog at Mitsuke (#29 from the series, The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō), 1832-33, woodcut on paper, Pomona College Collection
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) created his preeminent work, The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, after traveling along the Tōkaidō, the most important road in Japan connecting Edo and Kyōto. The series of fifty-five prints includes an image of each rest station along the route, as well as prints of the starting and ending points. It falls under the genre of ukiyo-e (“floating world”) woodblock prints with a focus on meisho (“famous places”). The twenty-eighth station along the Tōkaidō, Mitsuke (“with a view”), was the first stop from which travelers toward Edo could see Mount Fuji. Hiroshige is notable for his use of striking color, exemplified by the vivid blue of the water and sky in Mitsuke. Called “Berlin Blue,” the use of this pigment represented a major departure in the Japanese artistic tradition. A product of Western chemistry, Japanese artists began incorporating this fade-resistant dye after the relaxation of isolationist policies of the Edo period resulted in exposure to European artistic styles. The duality achieved by the fusion of European technique and traditional ukiyo-e catapulted Hiroshige’s works to widespread popularity. In Japan, the images were read as innovative and as evoking a sense of foreignness. The series also encountered success in Europe, where an intellectual curiosity about the other cultures of the world, largely fostered by imperialism, saw particular appeal in the unfamiliar and sophisticated nature of Japanese art. Furthermore, Japanese ukiyo-e prints offered new possibilities to artists such as Edgar Degas and Vincent Van Gogh who sought to move past the Greco-Roman styles that were prominent in European artistic traditions. The transmission of culture from Europe to Japan, and then back again, led to the rapid advancement of artistic representation across the world.
Edward Ruscha, Hollywood, 1968
By Terri Geis, Curator of Academic Programs at the Pomona College Museum of Art, on view 1/22/13 to 2/14/13
Edward Ruscha, Hollywood, 1968, serigraph on paper, Pomona College Collection Gift of Claire Isaacs Wahrhaftig, '54
During the 1960s, Ed Ruscha’s studio was located on Western Avenue in Hollywood, and the artist joked that the Hollywood sign served as “a smog indicator: If I could read it, the weather was OK.” Ruscha’s stylized image of the iconic sign resembles an advertisement promoting the glamour of Los Angeles and its film industry, but the serigraph highlights one of the city’s major environmental concerns. The blanket of smog creates the murky brown and orange sunset. Two years after Ruscha created Hollywood, amendments to the Clean Air Act led to stricter regulation of pollution sources, enforced on a state level by the California Air Resources Board. Subsequently, Los Angeles no longer has the regular smog alerts that I remember as a child during the 1970s. On those hazy days, school recess was held indoors (smog is particularly dangerous to children’s respiratory systems). We didn’t need to see an official report to identify an alert day, because – like Ruscha with the Hollywood sign – we had an indicator, the San Gabriel Mountains, which we often couldn’t see at all.
Despite the improvements of the last forty years, Los Angeles is still regularly ranked as having the most polluted air in the United States. The issue provides an important topic of exploration for contemporary artists, as can be seen in Kim Abeles’ work currently on display in the Museum’s Art and Activism in the U.S. exhibition. In Ralph Blakelock’s “Rising Moon” in Thirty Days of Smog (2000) Abeles creates a landscape scene out of smog particles that settled on a plexiglass panel during thirty days of exposure on her Los Angeles studio roof.