Dee Marcellus Cole and Carnival Seekers at the Claremont Museum of Art
Written by Jacqueline Bell Johnson
Through November 26th
Dee Marcellus Cole and Carnival Seekers is an exhibition currently on view at the Claremont Museum of Art. It’s an expanded solo show of the artist’s work joined by that of other well-known Pomona artists. The presentation serves as a showcase of her legacy to the Inland Empire, especially Pomona’s Arts Colony. Marcellus Cole has been making and teaching in the IE since the 1980’s, starting with earning her MA from Claremont Graduate University (then, Claremont Graduate School) and teaching at University of La Verne.
Her art consists of figures (life size, or just short of) reminiscent of both Javanese puppetry and Mardi Gras. She has traveled extensively throughout Latin America. The folk artists she visited have no doubt influenced her work. Textiles and pottery collected on her many trips become the inspiration for the colors and patterns that cover her figures.
Constructed from Papier-mâché, the sculptures are covered head to toe with vibrant color in dense patterns. The intensity of the jewel tone palette seems hinged on an established cultural tradition. These characters range from humanoid to bird-like to skeletons. A myriad of other objects decorate the surface. Made of plastic and metal, they glisten, activating the figures. Hats and umbrellas are a frequent accessory offering a relatable dynamic to the viewer. To pin a personality to a medium, assemblage is down-to-earth, resourceful, and is a straightforward platform for breaking all those art “rules.” This is a personification the cultural heart of Pomona, which is probably why Dee Marcellus Cole is dubbed “The Goddess of Pomona.”
The show has been seamlessly curated. Upon entering the CMA, the viewer is confronted with the bold colored walls and the vivid animated figures, lifted on pedestals throughout the room. They make eye contact, wave hello (or take a swing, sometimes it’s hard to tell), or talk amongst themselves. When viewed at night, such as during the Claremont Artwalk, their presence becomes even more demanding: harsh shadows intensify their stance and brighten their stature creating a black silhouette backdrop before which Marcellus Cole’s art dances.
In the adjacent exhibition space, the art mingles together within the museum, behaving like several generations of the same big family. Grounded by John Neiuber’s chandelier Ice Age, the mostly figurative collection becomes a masquerade ball with all the work is in conversation with one another. They tell neighborly tales of living in the inland empire, reflecting on local culture and family heritage.
Cathy Garcia’s charging Blue Bull is positioned on a pedestal in the center of the room, energizing the space. Welded and rusted steel sculptures by Dan Romero come with stories, mounted to the wall beside each piece. Karen Neiuber’s mosaic and assemblage made torso Altered Enlightenment is magical. At once a reliquary, altar, and idolic bust, the figure takes on a Pussy Riot persona equating this anonymous punk woman with a saint. Impeccable ball point pen drawings by Johnnie Dominguez juxtapose portraits and other imagery to create a collage feel. His American Renaissance is a cluster of patriotic, governmental, and historical symbols floating around a center female portrait, in the style of old school tattoos.
Overall, Carnival Seekers is joyous and vibrant; emulating Marcellus Cole’s view of her own work. The exhibition continues through November 26th at the Claremont Museum of Art.
Claremont Museum of Art
200 W. First Street in the Claremont Depot
Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, noon-4 p.m.
Admission: $5. CMA members and children under 18 are free
Dee Marcellus Cole
With: Johnnie Dominguez, Cathy Garcia, Sandy Garcia, Karen and John Neiuber, Christian Ornelas, Dan Romero