Revolutionizing Art: Pacific Standard Time at Claremont

By Kate Pluth '12, Copy Editor

Did you see the fireworks burst in the sky above Pomona the Saturday before last? Did you hear the ‘80s music resound from the Millard Sheets Art Center at Scripps?

On Jan. 21, Pacific Standard Time came to Claremont with “Performance at Pomona” which included a pyrotechnic show and the opening reception of Clay’s Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price and Peter Voulkos, 1956-1968 at Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, complete wih a live band playing ‘50s music.

Pacific Standard Time is a large scale arts initiative set forth by the Getty Foundation. It showcases the Los Angeles arts scene as it flourished during the years 1945 to 1980. Over 60 institutions in southern California, as well as numerous other commercial galleries, are participating in Pacific Standard Time with exhibitions and performances. The subject matter of these exhibitions and performances includes sculpture, architecture, photography and conceptual art.

On Scripps’ campus, the exhibition focuses on three local ceramicists—John Mason, Ken Price and Peter Voulkos—who revolutionized the art of ceramics. “These artists were interested in breaking with tradition, blurring boundaries and inventing new expressions,” said Mary Davis MacNaughton, director of the Williamson Gallery and art history professor at Scripps. Ceramics prior to these artists’ innovations had had a solely utilitarian purpose, as clay was used for coffee mugs or casseroles. But these artists found ways to use clay to make ambitious sculptures. Said MacNaughton, “They began making things on the wheel and then doing something else with those shapes: cutting them, slicing them, opening them, putting them together in different combinations to make sculptures.” Peter Voulkos and John Mason in particular made innovations in the medium by experimenting with scale in their sculptures and creating massive pieces.

“Because when you change the scale, you change the way you see the object.”

MacNaughton also explained how music influenced the work of Mason, Price and Voulkos. Voulkos played classical guitar, and would often listen to jazz or flamenco. It therefore makes sense that some of Voulkos’ pieces are named after flamenco rhythms. Price loved Chet Baker and cool jazz, which accounts for “that cool, kind of distilled sense” in Price’s work, said MacNaughton. Improvisation, a key element found in jazz, also helps explain the way artists like Mason, Voulkos and Price work. Said MacNaughton, “First of all, you know your technique, as a musician. You know the melody line. And then you can depart from the melody, and do experimental riffs, and then you can

come back to the melody. And that was what Voulkos, Mason and Price did as well.”

As for our neighboring college to the south, Pomona College was making its own contribution to the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival the night that Scripps’ exhibition opened. “Performance at Pomona” revisited three celebrated performance art pieces originally performed in the 1970s.

“Preparation F,” by John White, involved the Pomona/ Pitzer football team; players entered the Memorial Gym at Rains Center in street clothes, undressed and re- dressed into their football uniforms, and scrimmaged in the space. “A Butterfly for Pomona” was a new pyrotechnic performance by Judy Chicago. Influenced by her previous performance at Pomona, Chicago’s new piece similarly used commercial fireworks and road flares to create a smooth and smoky haze. James Turrell’s “Burning Bridges” also incorporated road flares—this time placing them around the façade of Pomona’s Big Bridges Hall at dusk.

Pomona’s three Jan. 21 performances were part of the three-part exhibition at the Pomona College Museum of Art called It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles, 1969-1973. The series of shows highlights the exceptional projects scholars and young artists were creating at Pomona during that time span.