Long before Los Angeles became a player in the global art scene, Pasadena was making waves in the West Coast. In the 1960's, a smoggier downtown Pasadena, now swanky Old Town, was offering cheap rent for artist studios, drawing budding cognoscente such as Judy Chicago and Bruce Nauman into its lair. Under the vision of curator Walter Hopps, the Pasadena Art Museum, now the Norton Simon, was boasting the first U.S. retrospective of Marcel Duchamp and the unprecedented commingling of East Coast artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein with its own Ed Ruscha and Wayne Thiebaud (among others). Pasadena is now home to Art Center College of Design, generator of the next generation, and Old Town is flanked by the Pacific Asia Museum and Pasadena Museum of California Art to the east and the Norton Simon on the west, with galleries proliferating in the spaces between.
At the heart of Pasadena's cultural offerings is the Armory Center for the Arts. The Armory's Pasadena presence reaches back to 1947, having served as the educational branch of the former Pasadena Museum. Establishing a permanent home on Raymond Avenue in 1989, the Armory proffers a generous dose of exhibition and educational programs for all ages, sensibilities, and stripes. Additionally committed to supporting Southern Californian artists in all disciplines, the Armory's not-for-profit programs are ambitious yet accessible, and remain unencumbered from the art world's penchant for grandiose display. There is a feel-good vibe to the Armory yet the quality of the exhibitions, on and off campus, keep it far from being folksy. Programs are not of a one-size-fits-all ilk; conscientiously tailored to suit a wide-ranging audience, and with arts education as their paramount concern, the Armory's sophisticated exhibitions are adult and kid-friendly. Through their fieldtrip program, art classes, and hands-on experience for art teachers the Armory remains a significant proponent of arts edification.
Encouraging a sense of adventure, art welcomes visitors from every angle at Armory. Permanent installations flock the building's exterior and the interior galleries house work from their collection. Greeting (or ignoring) you from underneath the floor of the main space is a robot riveted to his robot TV, an enchanting installation by Michael C. McMillen.
Under the keen eye of curator Jay Belloli, who was installed as curator in 1990, the Armory has hosted seminal debut and retrospective exhibitions, daring collaborations and conversations between disparate artists, as well an impressive line-up of guest curators, including Josine Ianco-Starrels and critic-cum-curator Michael Duncan. Additionally, Belloli has been astute in providing springboards for now renowned artists; Tim Hawkinson, who recently had shows with the Guggenheim and LACMA, had a devastatingly delectable one-man exhibition there in 1996.
The procurement of art on and off the Armory's campus is democratic and discerning. The former Armory Northwest warehouse space, which regretfully closed in 2008, offered opportunities for artists without fancy resumes. Their active public art program, Armory at One Colorado, brings site-specific installations to the center of Old Town with an impressive array of projects and artists. In 2008, Yoko Ono's interactive "Wish Tree for Pasadena" was a popular staging in which specially-installed trees went from bare to bulging with over 100,000 hand-written wishes of passers-by. (The wishes will become part of the Imagine Peace Tower, Iceland, resurrected in honor of John Lennon's own wish to create safe haven for dreams.) In 2009 the Armory will also institute a unique artist-in-residence program at One Colorado. With the artist studio housed directly in the complex, guests will be able to meander through the artist's space, dialogue with them about their work, and view their art after-hours through the store-front windows.
In September 2009 the Armory will present "Installations Inside/Out: Armory 20th Anniversary Exhibition", co-curated by Jay Belloli and Sinead Finnerty-Pyne. Exemplifying their dedication to presenting art outside traditional mode and milieu, the Armory is commissioning twenty emerging to well-established artists, all who have shown with the Armory, to create innovative, site-specific artworks for the main space and throughout Pasadena. To kick-off the exhibition, Bruce Nauman will realize a piece devised in the 1960's yet never executed, in which "Leave the Land Alone" will be written by sky-writers over the Arroyo. Over the course of the exhibition, up-and-coming environmental artist Matthew Moore's "machine" will produce seedlings to encourage nascent food gardens for the under-served community of Northwest Pasadena. Involving the city and community is an ambitious endeavor yet fitting in realizing a show that denotes the Armory's inclusive and adventurous spirit. It is only appropriate that the Armory, who shares an historic commitment to the arts with its parent municipality, present a city-wide celebration of its continuation as one of Pasadena's, and the West Coast's, sparkling gems.