Coming into the museum after midnight made me a little nervous. I gently pushed open the door, half expecting it to be locked even if the glass entryway was boldly marked “24/7” in vinyl. A gracious woman, perhaps sensing my trepidation welcomed me in, pointed toward the entrance and mentioned a few highlights, things tucked away that we might miss and we went in, feeling mischievous and exhilarated to be in one of these temples of art past bedtime.
Driving to Pomona College Museum of Art in Claremont can be harrowing most days from downtown LA, listening to the newsman on the radio repeat the headlines for the fifth time as you thrum your fingers on the steering wheel, which has begun to feel like it's sweating of its own accord as you lurch forward in traffic. But last Friday at midnight, I spent a mercifully cool, traffic-free half-hour on the 10 freeway en route to the museum. The exhibition, with the somewhat unwieldy title It Happened in Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles. 1969-1973: Part 1: Hal Glicksman includes the piece by artist Michael Asher (that the museum be open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week) as a re-visitation of a work he did in 1970 at the age of twenty-six, where in as series of narrow hallways, one corridor was open to the outdoors all hours. Asher attempted a similar 24/7 gesture at the Whitney Museum for the last edition of its biennial, but the museum couldn’t pull it together but for three days. I’m grateful that Pomona (with exhibition curators Rebecca McGrew and Glenn Phillips) can and for a wonderfully long stretch of time.
The exhibition readily lends itself to late night viewing. There was something altogether trippy about the art being made at the time, especially those championed by Glicksman at the museum (two later editions of the exhibition will feature the curatorial work of Helene Winer and then the work of Pomona alumni from 1969-73). The intellectual code word, then and now, is phenomenological, aka, the study of consciousness and direct experience. The layman’s handy phrase is still simply trippy. Though one can add philosophical handles, art historical precedents, a few shout outs to local materials or industries where slickness or special effects were key, but the things themselves without any of that value-added heaviness don’t really beg to be interpreted, but simply experienced. The artists involved (in the exhibition, particularly Tom Eatherton, Robert Irwin, and Lloyd Hamrol) were after all coming of age in the era of psychedelics and other perception-expanding substances, of which we can also include art. I don’t wish to reduce these artists to a stoner-reductive trippy, but neither do I wish to engage in transcendental industrialism, adding the penumbra of spirit to new-fangled industrial advances or trompe l’oeil effects. There's an in-between non-denominational sort of awe that can be deeply felt without sloughing over too much into the new age.
One of the first things I saw upon entering the exhibition is a brilliant band of silver, seemingly floating in rays of bent light so that it's hard to see where any of the space around the silver band begins or ends. Like much of the rest of the exhibition, I couldn’t help not only trying to freely enjoy the experience, here concocted by Robert Irwin, whilst resisting, albeit briefly, the desire to see how it works and thus of course ruin the effect. The experience of it is the work. Stripped to its cleanest and simplest, Irwin literally erases the limits of painting where picture plane and the space around dissolve. The silver band is really in the center of a circle, lit by four bright lights. The material of the disc and this play of shadows make its limits almost invisible excepting the silver band. Trippy.
In one corner of the museum, a window peers into the infinity. The floor is black water reflecting the ceiling which is covered in balloons, glowing with a diffusion of light, the only break in the plane being lead wires that stretched from the balloons into their own reflection in the water. I feel like I’m even messing it up a little by explaining it, as part of the fun for me was figuring out how the damned thing worked. And pictures don't do the installation any justice, so I'm not including any. One simply has to see it. It was easy to get lost staring into it, to noodle how the illusion worked as the mirrored water isn't immediately read as such. I don’t think I’d quite seen anything like it. A simple special effect perhaps courtesy of Hamrol, but even I like being suckered sometimes into the sublime.
Perhaps it was also because the special effect was for an exhibition of art and one that I entered freely. No admission charge: I didn’t have to pay for parking, and as far as I could tell there were no overt corporate logos (though Bank of America is a PST underwriter and the rest of the money had to come from somewhere). There’s a catalog (and such a fantastically awesome one, it alone bodes well for the rest of PST to come) but no other marketing tie-ins. Its a special effect for its own sake, for the pure joy of seeing it done and more or less given freely. A decent definition of art, but one that seems a little novelty some days.
I walked into Tom Eatherton’s installation, Rise, 1970, an almond shaped room (with the friendly diktat that we don’t touch the walls) and marvelled on the pure shade of blue diffused through curved screens. It was nearing 1am and so I did something I don’t usually do at museums, I laid down on the ground. Some Pomona students sauntered in and did the same. We were collectively, quietly, having an experience I’m not used to having without some kind of inebriation or another. I closed my eyes and let the blue wash over me. The color seeped through my eyelids and I let myself swim through it for awhile. The wall text tells us that Eatherton reached this point through painting, and truly it feels like the moment when painting went electric. But even then, when I ought to be thinking about all the art historical references and contexts, I instead thought of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision”:
Blue, blue, electric blue
That's the colour of my room
Where I will live
Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
After about twenty minutes of meandering conversation, my friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was ready to go. I looked up into her face and then back to the screens. Maybe not, but I’ll be back, just try not to trip over my body if you see me there meditating past midnight, eyes closed to a wash of electric blue.
—Andrew Berardini, Senior Editor, Westcoast & Worldwide