Claremont

Tom Eatherton, Rise, 1970/2011, incandescent bulbs, nylon, wooden support structure, 8' 6" x 36'. From “It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969–1973.”

Tom Eatherton, Rise, 1970/2011, incandescent bulbs, nylon, wooden support structure, 8' 6" x 36'. From “It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969–1973.”

“It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969–1973”

Pomona College Museum of Art

Tom Eatherton, Rise, 1970/2011, incandescent bulbs, nylon, wooden support structure, 8' 6" x 36'. From “It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969–1973.”

Once upon a time, in a far-flung suburban hamlet of Los Angeles, it came to pass that an inordinate amount of the most radical art in the world took shape on the otherwise socially conservative campus of Pomona College. The stars first aligned in 1969, when Hal Glicksman became curator of the college’s museum, instituting an experimental studio-residency program dubbed the Artist’s Gallery for the duration of his yearlong term. The stars reconfigured and aligned anew as Helene Winer (of subsequent Artists Space and Metro Pictures renown) took over the post and held it until 1972, presciently championing key new conceptual strategies being developed by then-emerging Los Angeles giants such as Bas Jan Ader, Chris Burden, Ger van Elk, Jack Goldstein, Allen Ruppersberg, William Leavitt, and William Wegman.

So goes the proud story that gets told and retold at every turn and on every page of “It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969–1973,” an ambitious three-part exhibition and accompanying catalogue that, as part of the regionwide “Pacific Standard Time” initiative, strongly pushes a recuperative narrative foregrounding peripheral sites of production and underrecognized histories. Even if the fairy-tale glow emanating from the project’s parade of proper names, from Michael Asher to John Baldessari and back again, dissipates amid the many fussier moments of minutiae peppering the timeline, the exhibition and extensive catalogue superbly contribute lots of new research and scholarship contextualizing the landmark achievements of this unique history.

Curated by Rebecca McGrew of Pomona College Museum of Art and Glenn Phillips of the Getty Research Institute, “It Happened at Pomona” is divided into three installments over nearly nine months that parallel the story’s chronology and place an interesting structural emphasis on curatorial regimes: “Part 1: Hal Glicksman at Pomona” (closed November 6, 2011), “Part 2: Helene Winer at Pomona” (on view through February 19), and “Part 3: At Pomona,” focusing on the school’s salient faculty and alumni (March 10–May 13). The first segment, which serves as the basis for this review, brought together work by Asher, Lewis Baltz, Judy Chicago, Ron Cooper, Tom Eatherton, Lloyd Hamrol, and Robert Irwin, all of whom (save for Baltz and Irwin) participated in the Artist’s Gallery series.

Coming to curating through his expertise as a preparator, Glicksman saw his role in practical, hands-on terms as a technically adept facilitator enabling artists to physically realize environmental installations they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to make. This effectively turned Pomona into an epicenter of pioneering Light and Space art, much of which was restaged at the museum this past fall. Among the most compelling works presented were Eatherton’s Rise, 1970/2011, an enclosed environment that envelops the viewer with two sweeping curved walls of taut fabric vividly illuminated by an ethereal blue light diffused across its surface; a wall of photographs documenting Chicago’s Snow Atmosphere, 1970, a pyrotechnic performance she sited on the slope of nearby Mt. Baldy; and Irwin’s iconic Untitled, 1968–69, featuring a white disc lit so perfectly that it appears to float from the wall and dematerialize into a cloud of its own cast shadows.

But the best piece was a new one: Rather than re-present his brilliant 1970 architectural intervention at Pomona (which sutures a fascinating umbilical link between Light and Space and the stirrings of Institutional Critique), Asher chose to contribute an untitled temporal intervention that called for the museum to be kept open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of “Part 1” (a substantial extension of the much shorter version he realized during the 2010 Whitney Biennial). At both sites, Asher’s gesture was powerful, somehow subsuming the entirety of each exhibition. A midnight visit to a museum, especially one far away and full of Light and Space installations, is a theatricalized encounter and a rare pleasure, prompting one to ask: What exactly is the temporal experience of an exhibition? But the implications of this piece multiply when one takes into account the many decades Asher has spent destabilizing institutional operations and viewing habits, and then grow tenfold again when the work is also read as a complicated response to the artist’s own canonization within the general historicizing force of something as comprehensive as “Pacific Standard Time.”

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer