New Pomona art museum set to open fall 2020

A large empty building with glass walls
Pomona College’s new Benton Museum of Art is scheduled to open next fall following two years of construction. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Steve Comba, the interim director of Pomona College’s soon-to-come Benton Museum of Art, won’t miss the school’s current museum. 

“I’m going to be the one driving the bulldozer,” Comba joked, while giving a tour of the new structure to Pomona admissions and financial aid officers Tuesday.

The current museum — which was completed in the 1950s, according to a Pomona press release — has long suffered from a lack of storage and gallery space, and has often been forced to hold presentations and performances by visiting artists and academics at other locations on campus.

After years of legal hurdles and construction, the Benton Museum, which is more than triple the size of Pomona’s current museum, is scheduled to open in fall 2020, according to Comba. Its first exhibit, displaying art by Alison Saar, will open Sept. 1, according to Pomona’s website. 

“Now, [the Benton] is the very central location of everything that will be happening,” curator of academic engagement Terri Geis said. “This allows us to generate more excitement within an event and allow people back into the galleries and more closely connect the events that we’re doing back into the galleries.”

The current museum will stay open for the 2019-20 academic year, displaying the exhibition “Euclidean Gris Gris” by artist in residence Todd Gray. 

The Benton, located at the edge of Claremont Village, will house 33,331 square feet of gallery and storage space, compared to a combined 10,000 square feet currently available in the current museum and exhibition spaces in Bridges Auditorium, according to Comba. 

PCMA has a collection of approximately 15,000 art pieces, Comba said. With the Benton’s larger galleries and specialized storage space, Comba hopes to eventually grow the collection by 25 to 30 percent. In the last two weeks alone, the school added 1,000 photographs to the collection, he said. 

Janet Inskeep Benton PO ’79, a Pomona trustee and the building’s namesake, donated $15 million to the project in February 2019, according to Pomona’s website. 

Construction costs totaled $44 million, with the remainder coming primarily from Pomona alumni and through other private foundations and individuals, according to Pomona Regional Director for Advancement Robin Flynn. The names of the other donors have not yet been made public. 

When visiting Benton, attendees step into a large open lobby, complete with a glowing light fixture that scales the entire ceiling. They can check their bags in wooden drawers that slide out of the wall, then continue into the museum, passing floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto North College Avenue. 

Visitors can enter into one of the two galleries complete with 15-foot high walls painted with white paint specially designed to leave no smudges or lines. Each room has ceilings lined with iPad-controlled colored lights, as well as individual temperature control panels. 

Guests from art classes will be able to examine artwork in one of two classrooms the school is calling “portals,” which are connected to storage vaults. One vault stores works on paper, photography, painting and sculpture, according to Geis. In its connected classroom, students can examine pieces with a ceiling-installed document camera. 

The second vault will house the current museum’s extensive Native American study collection, Geis said. The collection includes approximately 6,000 pieces, according to Pomona’s website.

The new building, which has been under construction since May 2017, was designed by Machado Silvetti Associates and Gensler, two architecture companies. The building meets LEED gold standards of sustainability, according to a press release, which is the second-highest green building certification rating.

The museum comprises three levels and forms a U-shape surrounding the Lobe Family Art Pavilion, an open space equipped for concerts and other performances, according to a press release. The pavillion is also equipped with a large screen and a projector. 

“There’s these spaces which currently don’t exist in the old facility which allow for even more flexible collaboration,” Geis said, praising the new museum’s features. 

Pomona assistant dean of admissions Tom Campbell, who attended a tour of the building Tuesday, told TSL that the Benton will be an effective way to talk to prospective families and students about Pomona.

“[The Benton] is a really great symbol for Pomona’s commitment to a broad range of disciplines and areas,” Campbell said.

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