Museum offers Mexican culture

What does a photo of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a napkin with a lipstick kiss, dental floss and rotten fruit all have in common?

These are all objects from the lives of those who reside in, visit or have some connection to the city of Claremont.

These objects, along with approximately 3,000 others, are on display at the Claremont Museum of Art on West First Street in its new exhibition, “The Passerby Museum.”

“The Passerby Museum” is a collection of objects, which represent a single part of a person’s life.

Many pieces were donated to artists María Alós and Nicolás Dumit Estévez.

Alós and Dumit Estévez were invited by Curator of Exhibitions Pilar Tompkins after she met one of the artists in Mexico City.

Tompkins called the traveling and growing exhibition a “memory of people.”

He explained that the exhibition began in Lower Manhattan when a building was about to be demolished in 2002.

The project has been growing in size and depth for the past six years.

“The artists wanted to create a chronicling of residents,” Tompkins said.

The collection then began “with no idea of how it would grow and affect people.”

The only requirement was that the donated objects fit into a plastic sandwich bag.

From a simple idea to preserve a memory, came an overwhelming collection of people’s lives.

“It feels like I’ve stepped into a giant lost and found,” Mariah Winn, gallery attendee, said as she pondered whether the donors missed what they gave away.

Winn’s stare is fixed on a green bracelet found at Pitzer College in Claremont that reads “tienes personalidad.”

After learning its translation, “you have personality,” Winn wanted to know how these items were selected for donation.

“Are these things that people didn’t want anymore?” Winn said. Indeed, the objects are pieces that were given up by their owners.

It is hard to stick to the idea that these are meaningless objects.

Although each item is small enough to fit into a bag made for lunch, they hold huge possibilities and meanings.

From the abundance of condoms and lighters to the number of photos of Jesus Christ and single dollar bills – as well as currency from other nations – these objects tell a story of their former owners.

“This collection is definitely existential,” Winn said. “I want to know more about these people.”

A bottle opener with an engraved photo of Chicago’s skyline was donated in Puebla, Mexico.

One may never know whether the donor was a native of Mexico who once visited the Windy City or an American alcoholic who happened to be in Mexico and who no longer had use for a bottle opener since he decided to quit drinking that day.

Michael Lopez, a student from Pitzer College, also hypothesized narratives about the objects.

“My brother and his girlfriend were asked to donate things, and now I know why,” Lopez said.

Collections took place two weeks prior to the opening of the exhibition on Sept. 21 in Claremont’s the Village and Pitzer College.

Before “The Passerby Museum” made its way to Claremont, it traveled with Alós and Dumit Estévez to Madrid, Puebla, Kitchener, Canada, Manhattan and the Bronx, and twice in Mexico City and Havana, Cuba.

“The Passerby Museum” as well as “Multiverse,” an exhibition that refers to a hypothesis relating to multiple, parallel universes, is on display until Dec. 28.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission is $3 for adults, and those under 18 can get into the exhibit for free.

Victoria Farlow can be reached at

Victoria Farlow
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