A plastic bag with the words “thank you” hangs on a wall in the Pomona College Museum of Art. The piece, aptly titled “Thank You,” is a visitor favorite. Elena Scott PZ ’18 felt the piece “is hinting at how ungrateful some would say our society has become.”
“It reminds me of emptiness,” Scott continued. “Then you have this ‘thank you’ in a warm red and orange statement—what does ‘thank you’ even mean? There’s a void in our gratitude.”
Artist Brenna Youngblood is one of this semester’s featured artists at the Museum’s Project Series 50. The Project Series brings together focused exhibitions that seek to expose the Claremont Colleges to diverse artworks while supporting Southern California artists. This semester’s Project Series was organized and curated by Pomona College’s Rebecca McGrew, focusing on artists who play with words and phrases and experiment with found objects.
Youngblood’s point of view came across as hands-on and involved a process of reinterpreting ordinary objects. While installing the exhibit, a student worker was in the process of scraping off letters used for a previous exhibit. As Youngblood looked on, she watched how these letters fell and accumulated on a piece of cardboard below. The pile caught her eye. Inspired, she asked to take the materials home to potentially use for a new piece.
Many students, including Scott, were inspired by this artistic process.
“I’m very happy with the exhibit,” Scott said. “It’s inspiring and it gives me ideas to incorporate into my own [art]. Anytime I see that in other artwork it’s a moment of, ‘Ah, yes! Thank you!’”
Each piece has an intriguing texture, bright color or featured everyday object that distinguishes it as an individual. Still, the pieces play off one another in hue and emotional content as a cohesive set.
“It sheds a new light on different perspectives in art,” Alex Pusch PO ’18 said. “Some of them definitely convey more of a message.”
While Youngblood is a relatively new name in the Los Angeles art scene, the exhibit itself has long been in the works. Despite her young age, Youngblood has an extensive body of work behind her. McGrew has been attentively following Youngblood for about ten years.
“’Evocative’ and ‘moody’ are my favorite words [to describe] her work,” McGrew said. “I saw her first solo exhibit in 2007 where she was working with straight photography but collaging it. It was really interesting and intriguing. Since [then] I’ve just been paying attention.”
With this exhibition, Youngblood deviates from her previous photography-based work. Such dynamic growth made her the perfect choice for this semester’s Project Series.
“[In] the last couple of shows, I love how her work has shifted into more painterly with subtle elements of collage,” McGrew said. “So it just seemed like a perfect time [to exhibit her work].”
Youngblood has maintained a relationship with the Pomona art department through her visits with McGrew and former curatorial interns. She opened up in conversation and the students were instantly drawn to her. Her willingness to have conversations and engage with students assisted in confirming her exhibition in the Project Series.
Of the eight pieces that are currently on display, six of them are brand new and never before exhibited. There are a variety of pieces, including “The Benevolent and The Malevolent,” an aquatic-blue piece that has a watercolor appearance on top of overlaid paper squares. Interrupting the ensemble is a splatter of dulled reds and yellows, browning the cooler hues.
“Women’s Health Pack (Drive By)” uses a minimal, sharply divided style and bright colors such as a lightly textured powder-pink with a soft floral patten, similar to those found on Kleenex boxes or medical wallpapers.
“UNTITLED” features a smooth, caramel-brown canvas with a haphazardly applied “UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY” sign. The word “unauthorized,” however, is distorted by a mix of mirrored and upside-down letters, making it almost illegible.
McGrew encourages students to view the exhibition in person to interact with the artwork’s emotional power. As she points out, these pieces will likely not be seen together again.
“It gives [the students] a time to interpret [the art] on their own terms,” Scott said. “And I think that our generation loves that.”