Thursday, September 4, 2008

Viva la curator!

You may recall last summer’s 337 Project; before tearing down the building at 337 South 400 East right here in Salt Lake City, the owners decided to open it up to a free-for-all of artists who transformed the property into what turned out to be a mess. I wrote about it here, here, here, here, and here. While there were a couple of interesting moments, the overall result was sloppy.

Fast forward one year and behold the power of the curator. That’s right, I said curator. Artists are sometimes better when they’ve been corralled by a good curator. Case in point, the Salt Lake Art Center’s current show, Present Tense: A Post 337 Project. While this show masquerades as a review of the 337 Project, I’d bet that almost nothing currently in the Salt Lake Art center ever set foot in 337 South 400 East. Maybe the concrete spheres in Shawn Porter’s Impermanence of Containment, which by the way was one of my picks for the best works in the original project.

Here’s the amazing thing. By assigning a curator, by selectively choosing appropriate artists, by thoughtfully displaying the work, the current show at the Salt Lake Art Center is leaps and bounds better than the original project. Many of the works still maintain some of the manic nature, the chaos of the original project. But they are presented so artfully that the whole dialogue changes. In fact, was there really any dialogue in the original project? Instead, guest curator Campbell Gray gives us something to talk about. His selection of artists drives the discussion of how art changes space. The artists deserve their credit too. They deliver works that are more thoughtful than those from the original project.

Here are few of my favorites:
  • Master Blaster’s Big Day, Trent Call and Shri Whipple’s large, candy-colored canvases that can be viewed with 3-D glasses for added effect.
  • Dave Dornan’s The Garden maintains an attitude of street art but with a decidedly sophisticated edge.
  • American Mandala by Dessi Price doesn’t need the “sofa, coffee table, and bowls.” The kaleidoscope canvas with drawn fast-food logos is delicious on its own.
  • Impermanence of Change by Shawn Porter looks glad to have escaped 337 South 400 East. It was good before. It’s better now.
  • And my pick for the best piece in the show, Benjamin Wiemeyer’s Self Titled featuring “latex on Tyvek, walnut, steel, 12v. battery, winch.” I can’t explain it. You should see it.
Present Tense: A Post 337 Project is on view at the Salt Lake Art Center until September 27. Go now. It’s free.

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