Mexican Muralist Orozco’s Prometheus at Pomona College, California

Last week while I was visiting my son in Southern California, I decided to make a pilgrimage to see Jose Clemente Orozco’s famed mural at Pomona College. Orozco, along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siquieros, is one of the Three Grand Masters of Mexican Muralism.  Like a three-legged stool, the study of one balances and informs the work of the others as they shaped and reflected post-revolutionary (1910-1920) Mexico art and politics.

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During our Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour in Mexico City (coming up November 13-17), Orozco and Siquieros figure predominantly in what we see since they all painted frescoes in Mexico City’s public spaces.

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We compare and contrast the styles of these three  to better understand how they interpreted social and political change within the context of their personal beliefs and values.

Orozco’s work is powerful, compelling and monumental. So, I take art historian Valeria’s advice to see this work in Frary Dining Hall at Pomona College.

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It’s summer and I call ahead to make sure of the dining hall hours to be certain I can enter (breakfast is served 8-9:30 p.m. and lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.), then prepare my route from the beach to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, navigating a series of freeways. This is the land I grew up in and I’m completely at home.

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The trip takes about an hour and I arrive a bit after ten in the morning.  A good time to travel since I am going in the opposite direction from morning rush-hour traffic heading toward downtown Los Angeles.

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Pomona College is private, liberal arts and part of the Claremont Colleges Consortium. The grounds are carefully manicured and the buildings convey the ambience of of classic California architecture, combining southwest colonial Spanish influences with art deco style.

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I loved walking the park-like, tree-lined pedestrian avenues filled with talented young people representing every multicultural mix in the world.

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Orozco painted and completed his mural in 1930, at the start of the Great Depression.  There is an extensive art history discussion of the mural so I won’t go into much detail here, other than to say that Prometheus incurred the wrath of Zeus when he gifted humankind with fire — a symbol of learning, enlightenment and innovation — a perfect metaphor for a relatively new institution of higher education.

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I decided to stay and have brunch in the richly paneled dining hall that students call Hogwarts, bought a meal ticket for $7.50, and settled in for the next hour-and-a-half to take photos, people watch, and gaze at the ironwork, paneled walls, and the play of light on Orozco’s masterpiece.

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Note: If you arrive before or after the scheduled dining hall opening hours, you will be able to view the Orozco mural in natural light.  Incandescent lights illuminate the mural during the hours when the dining hall is open.  In my opinion this distorts the mural and the light casts an unwelcome glare. So, my recommendation is to enter the dining hall either between breakfast and lunch or between lunch and dinner.

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Best time to travel there:  Between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. I left campus at 1:30 p.m. and had an easy return to the south coast, again circumventing Los Angeles’ famed clogged freeways.

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