Culture Club

By Stacy Davies

Posted March 25, 2010 in Arts & Culture

The Claremont Museum of Art may be on hiatus, but the space it formerly occupied in the historic Claremont Packing House continues to thrive—and co-curators David Shearer and Louie Rios have unleashed a sophisticated locally-driven modernist show that is truly an iconic vision to be seen.

Shearer owns Objct Gallery, a modest space in Pomona’s Art Colony that is home to innovative exhibits like the new show “Technorganic” (“where theory meets spontaneous combustion . . . where nature and human intervention collide”), but with this tangent exhibit at what he calls Objct Claremont, he and mid-century collector Rios clearly needed many more rooms to house the extensive array of Claremont-based modernism they’ve managed to pull together.

The pieces in the front gallery space—formerly the museum gift shop—are not part of the actual show, yet already they jet you back into the 1960s with Eames chairs, copper enamel ashtrays and prolific paintings by our own prestigious modernist-inspired IE resident, Alex Couwenberg. Walk further on through the exhibit to find various alcoves that pay homage to a ground-breaking artistry that defined the modernist era in craft, design, art and architecture—and realize you’re living among greatness.

The first alcove off the Objct Claremont space is set with a combination of vintage and more recent artifacts: a sleek, teak Danish credenza from the 1970s and chairs from Bjorn Dahlstrom (molded oak/plywood with striped green-blue-tan textile pad) from 1996. Backed by Ross Menuez’s felt and wood screen from 1987, the pieces bring out the bold black and beige strokes of Paul Darrow’s #3 Citadel oil from 1961 at their adjacent. Below this grand creation sits more Danish fare—“nesting tables” and requisite copper ashtray—and along the wall, Sean Nolan’s soft pink and blue vapory photos of James Turrell’s Skyspace Light installation at Pomona College lead us out and into more minimalist history.

The next room opens up grandly on local artisan Sam Maloof, with his spectacular hand-carved chaise built in the 1960s displayed on pedestal, a pristine work of functional art that is the embodiment of all the master-craftsman’s precise and delicate creations. Other Maloof pieces are included, as well as a few striking black and white images of the man at work and in repose. Around the corner, Aldo Casanova’s monolithic cast bronze Ritual Object is gorgeously un-phallic (a nice change), and further on, Karl Benjamin takes over the space with his geometric oils in a blaze of kaleidoscopic color.

Focusing on the profound impact modernist architects such as Theodore Criley, Fred McDowell and Richard Neutra had on Claremont, curators Shearer and Rios lead us to archival photos and watercolors of local churches, residences and buildings of the prestigious Claremont Colleges that felt their hand—a keen move that allows us to place the pieces we’ve just seen into their synonymous landscapes of the past. A standout piece among the images is John Edward Svenson’s bronze, St. Francis Study—a beautifully angular take on the oft-immortalized saint.

The pièce de résistance, however—both of them—are the final rooms that recreate actual Modern living spaces. The first is a setting filled with furniture by Maloof, paintings by Darrow and Benjamin, and decorative art objects by Albert Stewart and Bob Stocksdale (Stewart’s sublime stone owl would have certainly walked out with me if it could have). But the next room is mind-twisting, if not mind-blowing: Roland Reiss’ 1978 installation take on the morality play, The Castle of Perseverance, comes to life in the form of a full-scale living room and wet bar with myriad household items dotting the domestic terrain—and all of it made from MDF particle board. Let your eyes wander and find the treasures that await: cups and saucers, and tumblers waiting for booze; slices of cake and Salisbury steak TV dinners; mysterious stacks of slides, a gun and a key to someone’s door; Band-Aids, records and a forgotten hamburger lodged between books on a shelf. There’s even an aquarium with woody little fish and a cat’s litter box—clean, since no wooden feline appears to be lurking about.

In short, it’s a spectacular show—with many more artists to see such as CGU alum Rupert Deese and world-renowned Scripps alum Betty Davenport Ford—and whether one calls Claremont home or not, any observer will not only find their creative impulses stirring as they walk through this majesty, but will also, hopefully, be reminded that where we live and what we sit on can have meaning and beauty. And, in fact, it really should.

“Claremont Modernism: Modernist Mecca” at the Claremont Packing House, 536 W. First St., Claremont, (909) 621-0125; Thru April 25. Free.


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