The Pomona College Museum of Art is currently showing three single-artist exhibitions: “John Cage: Zen Ox-Herding Pictures,” “In the Shadow of Numbers: Charles Gaines Selected Works from 1975-2012” and “Marking/Remarking: Aerial Photographs by Marilyn Bridges,” which opened to the public on the first day of classes. An opening reception was held on Sept. 15.
Housed in the main gallery of the museum, the John Cage exhibition is one of many events at Pomona College to honor the 100th anniversary of Pomona’s most renowned drop-out. Often remembered for his musical experimentations such as “4’33”” (the infamous “silent” piece), this exhibition provides a vantage point into another aspect of Cage’s many-faceted personality.
Cage’s experimentation with media is apparent in these 55 paintings, completed in watercolor on paper towels, as is the influence of Zen on his work. The paintings are very small and hung in 10-object series along the walls of the gallery. Each of the 10 paintings in a series corresponds to a different step of the ox-herding myth: a tale of a physical outward journey to capture an ox that results in an internal, spiritual discovery. The exhibition itself is a traveling show, originally organized by the University of Richmond Museums in Virginia.
The Charles Gaines exhibition, in contrast, is tailored to the galleries at Pomona and Pitzer. A joint exhibition, it is the 43rd in the museum’s “Project Series,” a series of shows at the Pomona College Museum of Art by living L.A.-area artists. Gaines has been closely involved with the installation of the show and will be making his third appearance on campus this semester for an artist’s lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 2:45 p.m. in the Benson Auditorium at Pitzer.
Rebecca McGrew, Senior Curator, called Gaines one of the most important artists in L.A. right now. According to McGrew, they selected him to accompany the Cage exhibition because “people think Cage is the greatest artist of the twentieth century.” Gaines himself has stated his identification with Cage’s artistic practices and both artists have worked heavily with language in the context of visual art.
“Skybox I,” one of the pieces at the Pomona Museum, consists of three lighted panels. With the room lights on, viewers see excerpts from various declarations of human rights. As the lights dim (slowly, by way of an automatic timer), a vision of constellations in the night sky becomes visible. Each time the lights go down, conversation in the room stops as viewers are enthralled by the seemingly moving stars.
“Marking/Remarking,” the third exhibition on view, can provoke a similar sense of both awe and close examination as viewers see aerial photographs of familiar and unfamiliar sites. Images were culled from the museum’s collection and depict ancient, modern and geologic marks on the earth in an effort to provoke discussion about the earth’s changing surface. These changes are treated equally by Bridges’s removed perspective, leading viewers to question what “natural” really means in the context of marking the earth.
With black-and-white photographs of subjects ranging from farmland to the Nazca Lines to Peruvian volcanoes, “Marking/Remarking” is perhaps more initially accessible to viewers than the other exhibitions. With the more experimental ideas behind Cage and Gaines, some museum visitors have expressed feelings of inadequacy in terms of understanding the art. This does not have to be the case.
Lea Bejtovic PO ’15, a museum guard, calls the museum eclectic, saying that it is “stretching the ideas of what art is and what art could be.”
In the context of the current exhibitions, Bejtovic mentioned Cage’s use of paper towels in lieu of canvas, but she just as easily could have mentioned Gaines’s reprinting of texts commonly found in history classes or even Bridges’s photographs (which can sometimes be found in satellite image-form through Google Maps). Bejtovic has a point. With the current exhibitions, the museum is presenting the work of three contemporary artists, each with a unique and established method, but with full understanding of what contemporary art is.
Mike Bartoli PO ’16 said it is “inspiring” to be around all the contemporary art, which is one of the museum’s main goals: to inspire students of the Claremont Colleges as well as members of the community to include art in their lives. The museum’s hours are 12 to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday (with Art After Hours every Thursday until 11 p.m.). The Gaines show runs through Oct. 21, and the Cage and Bridges shows run through Dec. 16.