It’s not every day that an art museum opens in the Inland Empire. Maybe every six months, however, with Riverside’s Cheech expected next May. On Saturday, Claremont’s Benton Art Museum Finally opens its doors for its debut delayed by COVID.
It’s not every day that I can walk to a mission either. But that was the case on Wednesday, when I left home on foot, notebook in hand, and went to the museum for a visit. It’s five minutes from my house. (âMake sure you stretch before you go!â A colleague joked.)
This opening is long overdue. Construction ended over two years ago in June 2019.
I barely remember June 2019, although I vaguely remember the weather being nice then. Supposedly, the museum, an institution of Pomona College, would open in September 2020, which seemed absurdly far away.
But there was a lot to do in-house, like testing the systems and moving from the old museum house. The hardest part was transporting his collection of 17,000 items from various storage locations around campus, tagging them and recording their new location in the database.
Twelve students âwrapped each object and marked it. They’ve seen more collections than I have, individually, âsaid Steve Comba, associate director, who has worked at the museum for 35 years.
When Victoria Sancho Lobis arrived on January 6, 2020 for her first day as museum director, after six years in various positions at the Art Institute of Chicago, she immediately worried about how the installation would do. its opening in September.
This turned out not to be a problem. Coronavirus restrictions closed the then current museum home and prematurely ended its Todd Gray exhibition and programming.
As spring turned into summer and fall and the original opening date came and went, nothing seemed to be happening. All of us who left COVID anxiety along College Avenue appreciated having the museum there, even though it was inert. It was like a massive outdoor sculpture placed there for our amusement, its yard and garden was a nice place to walk around.
As it turned out, the Benton had exhibits, but the only people who saw them were students, and they only saw the art from a distance, via Zoom.
Sancho Lobis told me, “Our joke was that we set up art exhibitions to have films about them.” It sounds too conceptual.
This semi-limbo status had the odd effect of helping the Benton fit into the landscape. There had been some community anger at the plans, which demanded that a stately home be moved by truck to allow the museum to be built.
Little by little, the Benton woke up. From May, people are allowed in by reservation, the artistic version of a smooth opening.
âWe felt that access to our beautiful space, our safe space, was important. To get people out of their homes, we wanted to be open, âsaid Sancho Lobis.
The museum has six galleries. Her main exhibition highlights Alison Saar, daughter of Betye, in her first major museum exhibition. Half are at the Benton and the other half at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. Times critic Christopher Knight called the entire show “captivating”.
Other ongoing shows are from Sadie Barnette, involving her former father Black Panther’s FBI surveillance case, and Helen Pashgian, from the Light and Space movement. Contemporary art, particularly by emerging artists from Southern California, and particularly women and marginalized communities, is the focus of the museum’s exhibit.
With the students back on campus, November seemed like the time to have a more traditional opening, with tours, music, art events for families, even a ribbon cutting, taking place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 13, at the museum, 120 W. Bonita Ave.
“After several months of waiting,” said Sancho Lobis, “we are finally ready to welcome the community with open arms.”
Six feet away, I asked?
âNot a full body embrace,â she laughed.
After opening on Saturday, the museum will resume its hours from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with reservations recommended to limit occupancy. Free entry. Let me note for more distant readers that Claremont is served by Metrolink and the museum is three blocks from the train station.
At 33,000 square feet, the facility is three times the size of its former home at the Montgomery Art Center, which the museum has occupied since 1958.
“We joked about the old building saying there was so much lipstick on this pig, it was all lipstick,” Comba said as he led tours of the three vaults on Wednesday.
These vaults house the legendary 17,000 objects: works on paper, including sketches by Jose Clemente Orozco for the mural in the Pomona College dining hall of âPrometheusâ; paintings and other media; and Native American art objects, such as Cahuilla basketry.
With that, my visit was over. “Enjoy your return on foot,” one staff member said slyly.
I did, but it was over before I knew it.
Renowned Chicano writer Luis Rodriguez visited Garey High in Pomona for a talk on October 22, the subject of a recent column of mine. Saturday, the non-profit bookstore and cultural space he co-founded, Centro Cultural & Tia Chucha Bookstore, celebrates its 20th anniversary with music, art vendors and books from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. It’s also a grand opening to its current space, 12677 Glenoaks Blvd. to Sylmar.
David Allen writes on Fridays, Sundays and Wednesdays and reads every day. Email [email protected], call 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @ davidallen909 on Twitter.