A psychic told me the other day that change is in the air. Not the waning, Obama-style change, and not a heap of 2010 presidential gold dollar coins raining down from the heavens (which begs the side question: Millard Fillmore? Really?). No, this kind of change is a rebirth of connection, she said, a determination to resurrect the parts of ourselves that have lain dormant for too long, a desire to reach out, challenge ourselves, and see the world in a new way. I would have found out more, but I didn’t have another quarter to slip into Esmeralda’s glass gypsy-box-slot—that’s the sort of change I still don’t have much of these days.
In the vein of this new perspective, however, Pomona College Art Museum Director Steve Comba and Museum Coordinator Jessica Wimbley have put into motion a series of programs designed to draw the surrounding civilian community into the museum’s artistic fold. Reaching out to students and citizens has been the priority, but recently, Comba and Wimbley hit on an entirely new idea, one that not only embraces local artists, but hopes to ignite interest in the Museum’s extensive permanent collection from patrons and would-be patrons of the arts.
Joining forces with Pomona’s dA Center for the Arts, the Museum offered a select group of local IE creators (who were invited by the Center) an intimate viewing of the Museum’s collection of over 10,000 works. The artist challenge: to select a work from this established record that would ignite their own creativity, allowing them to transmute the original vision into something entirely new, yet directly connected to the old. The result is an inspiring dance of renewal, a spectral morphing of different eras and styles melding together and giving life to a new form that is both fixed and transient.
Kate Thornton’s interpretation of a Kress Collection Madonna and Child portrait from the 14th century is a striking synthesis of this goal. Using the abstract style palate of artist Sam Francis to influence her reimagining of the iconic image, Thornton writes that she immediately saw a connection between the two works—even though on first glance, they might appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum (the Madonna is standard gilded piety and Francis is a splotchy, splashy abstractionist). When fused together into Thornton’s A Second Look, however, the artist’s initial perception is keenly apparent: while this Madonna is stunning and vibrant, it is symbolic in dogma, yet also captures our modern desire to blur the lines of religion to make it more philosophically reflexive instead of humanly reflective.
Walter Christensen turns a master on his ear with his series of playful oil pastels inspired by the nightmarish etchings of Francisco de Goya. While Goya’s macabre visions of witchcraft and corruption are chilling, filled with violence and sorrow, venomous bats and weeping mortals, Christensen’s carnival of souls presents brightly colored and smiling winged-rodents paling around with cute little owls. His mortals are less weary and confused, and even the decapitated heads floating around in bubbles don’t seem very upset over their body disconnect.
Anne Seltzer also makes a coup with her Fritz Scholder-Andy Warhol-inspired giant screaming flowers and their screaming-sunglasses wearing, squawking black bird companion—two exceptional pop art-styled pieces that carve out a welcome niche between the retro and modern worlds.
Juan Thorp’s rendering of Giuseppe Niccolò Vicentino‘s 16th Century woodcut, Hercules & Nimean Lion using Thorp’s trademark Mechanos – detailed block-like shapes drawn in isometric perspective – is simply astonishing in its precision and intelligence; here, in the wilds of the forest we no longer find an archaic god and beast locked in combat, but instead glimpse what might be our future gods – robotic beings void of recognizable humanity and stripped down to the essence of our genetic coding: power and strength.
Other pieces include Marcella Swett’s gorgeously twisty branches and berries, Athena Hahn’s series of train engines, Native American renderings by Fr. Bill Moore and Dee Marcellus Cole, a re-envisioning of Goya’s anti-war etchings by Perry Marks, Cheryl Bookout’s 14th century comment on the modern transformation of cultural idol into icon (most particularly in avatar-ruled cyber worlds) and Rick Caughman’s detailed dry point etching of an idyllic Mt. Baldy panorama. It’s an unusual landscape of perspectives-courageous and evocative, and rebirth at its essence. Esmeralda would be proud.
“In Front of the Real Thing” at the dA Center for the Arts, 252 S. Main St., Pomona, (909) 397-9716; www.dacenter.org. Wed-Sat, noon-5PM; Thurs, noon-9PM. Opens Sat. Thru Jan. 30. Free.