Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Are you a Late Breaking Gay or an Aspiring Sniper?

I recently finished Mark Penn’s Microtrends, the small forces behind tomorrow’s big changes. Here’s the premise: our society is more fractured than ever; and if you want to succeed in business or politics or even religion, you need to understand the small, emerging trends that drive change in our society.

Penn is the brain behind the Soccer Moms of Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign. And this book continues that tradition by looking at a lot of research and ferreting out trends that deserve clever names. And it’s not just the names that are clever. The writing is fresh and fun, a surprising accomplishment for a book that could be dry.

If nothing else, this book provides endless fodder for dazzling party talk. The statistics provide all sorts of tidbits that will make you shine at tonight’s cocktail party. And it might just make you smarter at work too. Then there’s the added fun of Microtrend analyzing your friends. I personally know a Sex-Ratio Single, a Young Knitter, a Neglected Dad, a Caffeine Crazy, and more. I may even be a Long Attention Spanner.

So, if you’re remotely interested in this kind of stuff, I’d get the book and dive headfirst into the world of XXX Men and all the rest of the Microtrends.

15 trillion minutes of fame.

You gotta give Andy credit. He’s made quite a career out of the silk-screened poster—single handedly making the multi-million dollar screen print a reality. And with thousands of these posters available, is it any wonder you see them at just about every museum. The BYU art museum has two of the Marilyn Monroe prints. UMFA has at least one Warhol print. And take a trip to the NY galleries any time and you’ll find several for sale. If that’s not enough, the images are reprinted and ripped off so often that they’ve almost become a cliché. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Warhol fan and I get why he’s so important to art history. But sometimes the endless Warhol prints make me question the value of POP.

It was with this skepticism that I went to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts to see Dream America: Prints by Andy Warhol. And OK, I admit it. It was better than I expected. This was a reminder that seeing the real thing, in person is always better than seeing reproductions. And seeing so many works by the same artists gives extra insight. Take the Marilyn Monroes. Sure you see this image everywhere, either the real thing in museums, or the endless reproductions. But I’ve never seen the entire series in one place. And that was cool. In fact several complete series are on display here. There are also lots of prints that I had never seen. Like the “shoes” and several of the tone-on-tone posters, both of which are worth a trip to the museum.

Getting up close to observe the workmanship is also fun. Warhol had some dang talented printers. The prints are created with such precision that their casual visual nature is misleading. And reproductions of the prints can’t capture the pure saturated colors nor the brilliance and sparkle of diamond dust.

Sometimes, Andy’s images seem trivial. But after seeing this show, I think it’s just because we’ve been so inundated with bad reproductions and rip offs. Go see the real thing and you might get a renewed appreciation for the master of POP.

Wallpaper princess.

Wacky Australian girl leaves the family; travels Asia singing and dancing in Vaudeville-style shows; moves to London where she becomes an etiquette coach and a French fashion designer, marries (or maybe not) and has a kid; moves back to Australia and becomes a painter; starts wildly successful wallpaper business; is mysteriously murdered in her 70s one evening in her office.

In a nutshell, that’s the real-life, bizarre story of Florence Broadhurst. I first learned of her from a documentary at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The magic of both the documentary and this book is the magnificent wallpaper designs that Broadhurst produced in Australia in the 70s. The book provides large plates of more than 200 of her designs. (Although it’s hard to know who is responsible for these designs, Broadhurst or her employees.)

The writing in this book is marginal. But the story is terrific. And if you like pattern and color, the glossy reprints of Broadhurst’s designs are worth price.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Just in time for Christmas: toy cameras.

Well, at least photos made with toy cameras. This is not a review (but you can expect my review sometime next week). Instead, this is my feeble way of getting the word out. Saans Downtown Gallery is hosting an intriguing group show that features photographs made with Holgas, the quintessential toy cameras. I know at least one of the artists (Felix Flores) so I’m excited about the opening reception on Friday, November 16 starting at 6:00 p.m. Refreshments will be served. Rumor has it there will even be a book published with images from the show.

So unleash your inner bohemian and visit the closest thing Salt Lake has to a gallery district. You’ll find Saans at 175 East Broadway (that’s 300 South). Since it’s gallery stroll, the nearby galleries will also be open. Why not bring your toy camera and play paparazzi?

One man’s trash.

Two shows at the Salt Lake Art Center are garbage. SF Recycled is in the main gallery and features works by eight artists who participated in the only artist residency program situated in a US public garbage disposal site. SF Recycling and Disposal is a 44-acre plot on the south side of San Francisco that is known to area artists as “the dump.” Each of the artists in the show was awarded a half-year residency sometime between 2001 and now. And while all the works may not have been completed during the residencies, they do reflect a strong use of the discarded.

Much of the work is ho hum. Nomi Talisman’s photography felt commercial, and I don’t mean commercial as in art that sells. I mean commercial as in quotidian graphic design. I sat through all her videos waiting for that moment when the installation would move me. It never did. In a world of Macintosh computers and HD video cameras in every home, the videos felt amateurish—particularly considering the lackluster content.

Daphne Ruff’s collages are also pedestrian. The handbags and shoes made from the iconic remains of old games and packaging would have been more at home in a hipster gift shop.

But other works were interesting. I liked Andrew Junge’s work, particularly 82 Days at the Dump. This drawing book filled with images and remembrances from a stint at the dump even included a deconstructed work glove. Of all the works in the show, this most effectively asked questions about our consumption and waste.

Other artists that make a trip to SF Recycled worth it? The collages of Mark Faigenbaum, the reconstructed signs of Mike Farruggia, and a work by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Talisman. The latter work (Letters to an Unknown Friend) tried hard to be about the content, but the beauty of the old typewriter juxtaposed with an impossibly thin screen made a bolder statement than the actual letters.

Of course the use of trash in art isn’t new. As with most modern/contemporary art, Marcel Duchamp got there first. But others too have made their name in this arena. The Art Center Projects Gallery hosts Masters of West Coast Assemblage and Collage. The show features works by five artists who are acknowledged masters of mixed media—all of whom used trash to create their works.

A few general comments about the Art Center. 1.) For my money, no other gallery or museum in Salt Lake does a better job of presenting stuff. The galleries always look great. The lighting is just about perfect. And I love the way the gallery posts information about each work on the floor. (Although they could use a good proofreader. Typos, grammar problems, and some terrible kerning could all be fixed with a good proofing); 2.) It’s free; 3.) They have great art talks with interesting guests and movies. So I can’t figure out why more people don’t go. There is never anyone there. So go. It’s so lonely. I’d love the company.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Casting Doubts

Pioneer Theatre Company currently offers Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. I had no knowledge about this play but with a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for best play under its belt, I thought it worth a look. It is.

Let’s start with the bad news. The acting left me wanting. The play has only four cast members. One of those actors (Jeff Talbott as Father Brendan Flynn) didn’t seem up to the level of the writing. And Shannon Koob as Sister James took a few scenes to warm up. But once she did, she proved effective.

The good news? This is a story that whips the characters into a foggy world of questions and compromises. And the audience is never given the answers. The story involves a Catholic school in the 1960s where the priest is either a caring man who helps the most vulnerable kids in the school or pedophile preying on young boys. Juxtaposed against this dilemma, the other characters are either protectors of the innocent or painfully judgmental and cruel.

Doubt got to me to me a little. The end is very powerful—enough to make one fight back emotions. The missing answers are frustrating but I’m still thinking about the way I treat others. Do I jump to conclusions too easily? Maybe I don’t stand up against injustices as often or as loudly as I should. Sometimes I’m so sure I’m right, but am I? In the words of Sister Aloysius Beauvier, “I have doubts.”

SFMOMA Museum Dash: Bonus Two

I’m not sure how SFMOMA is able to cram so much stuff into a museum that’s smaller than many. But in my couple of hours at the museum, I spent most of my time viewing Eliasson and Wall. However I did take about 15 minutes to walk through the Joseph Cornell exhibit. Let me start by saying that if I get a full day in San Francisco any time soon, at least half of it will be spent at this exhibit. You can’t imagine what’s on display.

Cornell’s work is wondrous; box after box of images that make you ask, what was going on when he did that. I was surprised at how the artistic traditions of the early 20th century, from Duchamp to Magritte to Dali, were somehow re-imagined in Cornell’s boxes. The art gathers and juxtaposes not just trinkets and tools, but also ideas and philosophies that draw you into a world where emotions duke it out with visuals.

Maybe most surprising, these works from the mid 20th century seemed to accomplish something Photoshop seldom accomplishes—the mash-up of images into new ideas. Sure Joseph Cornell comes across as a little crazy. But as I’ve said before, when it comes to art I don’t mind a touch o’ the crazy.

SFMOMA Museum Dash: Bonus One

So I went to SFMOMA for the Olafur Eliasson. But as luck would have it, the Jeff Wall touring exhibit opened just a few days prior. All I can say is WOW. I’ve seen individual works by Wall in the past and the back-lit photographs always impress. Imagine walking into a gallery with five or six works. Then multiply that by five or six galleries. It’s almost overwhelming.

Wall’s works are a big reminder that good, old-fashioned photography still trumps today’s nifty digital tricks. Some of his works that use visual trickery are so seamless in their creation that it’s hard to believe they were created in the 70s, well before the advent of Photoshop.

Most use no trickery. Instead, they are beautifully conceived, well staged, and meticulously crafted. Take A Sudden Gust of Wind. You can almost feel the wind blowing through the gallery. My favorite work, Restoration, went on forever.

Sometimes, photography can get old fast. But in the tradition of the 20th century’s best photographers like Gursky, Sherman, Demand, and Minter, Wall dazzles the viewer—and not just with his technical prowess. The content unnerves, surprises, perplexes, and occasionally creeps you out.

Forecast from SFMOMA: Cold, Wet, and Windy.

I’m getting good at the mad-dash-to-the-art-place-before-you-catch-your-flight excursion. I’ve really wanted to see the Olafur Eliasson show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). And when a last minute business trip left me with an extra hour or two before my flight, I did the museum dash.

I’m glad I did. I wanted to see this exhibit because Olafur has gotten so much attention in Europe (and so little in the U.S.). So this was an early opportunity to experience his first big entre stateside. I can see what all the Europeans are abuzz about.

As you enter the museum, you are immediately greeted by Ventilator, a liberated electric fan. Suspended from high above by an extra long power cord, the fan flits and flutters around the hall with whimsical charm.

The second floor architecture and design galleries left the charm behind and delivered a chilly museum experience. The main work here was Your mobile expectation: BMW H2R project. This is Eliasson’s contribution to BMW’s long-running art car program. Blankets are offered outside a chilled microclimate developed by the artist. As you enter, you’re warned that “your glasses will fog as you leave so please be careful”—my new favorite museum warning. Inside the chilled room (about 14 degrees) is a hydrogen-powered race car skinned with a light-weight stainless steel frame, stainless steel panels, and layer after layer of geometrically formed ice. Yeah, I know. It’s hard to imagine what I’m talking about. You have to see this one. Upon exiting, my glasses fogged. I was careful.

The icy car was just the pre-show. The upstairs galleries featured Take your time, an installation that included a whole slew of works by Eliasson. Take Beauty, the earliest work in the show. This darkened room was filled with a constant, misty rain lit by a single Fresnel lamp, creating elusive rainbows. Or how about Multiple Grotto, a big stainless steel thingy into which the view peers or enters. Standing inside is like entering a kaleidoscope.

One of my favorite areas was the Model room, a collection of cabinets filled with models, maquettes, and prototypes made of wire, string, and cardboard. You could see the tinkering that went into the elaborate final works.

Two works built just for this exhibit took the idea of infinity mirrors to new heights, fooling viewers that they were precariously perched on a window ledge or looking into a vast void hidden inside the museum.

I’ve never been lit so well as while standing in 360° room for all colors. The medium for this work is listed as “stainless steel, projection foil, fluorescent lights, wood, and control unit.” The result is an otherworldly space with light like nothing I’ve experienced before.

My only complaint: SFMOMA crammed a whole lot of Eliasson’s work into not a lot of space. Many of these works felt like they needed more room. And if you look at photos for the original installations, they were given more space, heightening their effect. While I appreciated seeing so many of the artists works, the show might have been better had it been edited.

The program for the show said that Eliasson (who is only 40 years old) creates works that are “devices for the experience of reality, provoking a heightened level of enjoyment and engagement that is profoundly felt.” I engaged and I enjoyed. Profoundly.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I like Spam. A lot.

OK so I don’t really like the canned meat product. But the touring production of Monty Python’s Spamalot was sure tasty. Taking its cue from the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this show delivered some of the classic humor any child of the 70s remembers. That was expected.

What wasn’t expected was the savvy send-up of Broadway musicals. Monty Python irreverence was used to make fun of just about everyone and everything on Broadway. No one can a make a mean joke like the Monty Python crew. And the reason those sometimes cruel jokes work so well is that we never question the intention—we somehow know that each and every comic dagger is thrown with a little affection.

The Broadway parodies begin early with the appearance of the leading lady, The Lady of the Lake. She represents a musical theater mash up of divas from Cats, to Phantom, to Beauty and the Beast, and to just about any other Broadway diva you can name. The fun continues when we discover that “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” if you haven’t any Jews. And Sir Lancelot comes out of the closet in a flashy, gay spectacle.

Don’t get me wrong. I like many of the shows that Spamalot skewers. But they can be sappy, and predictable, and just downright stupid—giving the Monty Python crew plenty to lambast. But hidden within the comic critique, as with most Monty Python satire, is a hint of love; a sense that the creators may harbor a soft spot for the sappiness, the predictability, and even the stupidity that is sometimes Broadway.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I wanna play.

I first heard about The Game in a New York Times article about the New York Fringe Festival. No one expects Utah to produce anything interesting enough to make it to Fringe so the Times called it out with an air of disbelief.

Recently returned from a successful run at Fringe NY (two of four shows sold out), The Game made its way to the Larimar Center for the Performing Arts at Rowland Hall St. Marks School. (I didn’t even know this place existed.) The show included members of the Rowland Hall St. Marks Dance Company.

Here’s the idea: a bunch of dancers; no choreography; “variety show antics;” lots of improvisation. Combine it all together in hopes of creating a one-of-a-kind dance performance. And oh yeah, one dancer wins in the end by proving him or herself in the evening’s activities.

The result was pretty dang good, thanks in large part to some impressive dancing from some young performers. I was most impressed with the men. I may have seen some of these dancers at a past Pickle Company performance, but they weren’t as good then as they were in The Game. Jersey Rio Riemo stole much of the show with beautiful, controlled movement. He “won” in the end. But Juan Aldape and Graham Brown were also good. Even Chris DelPorto, who obviously comes from the martial arts world, was fun to watch. (Although the slow motion, roundhouse power kicks got old fast.)

Sure, a few scenes dragged on to tedium and some performances felt forced or gimmicky. But overall it was a fun show and served as a reminder that experimental dance is alive and well in Salt Lake City.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Demolition Derby crashes.

I’ll admit it, I don’t like programmatic dance. You know; dances that waste too much effort telling stories rather than delivering artistic dance performances. So maybe it isn’t surprising that I didn’t much care for Erik Stern’s Demolition Derby.

Sitting through the performance felt more like watching a public service announcement for Alzheimer’s than experiencing contemporary dance. There was enough dialogue for the performance to qualify as a college lecture. And a dry lecture at that. I’ve questioned this before but it’s worth repeating here, “What’s up with everyone asking dancers to deliver lines?” The dancers are seldom good at it and it just distracts them from dancing. Maybe it’s time to shut up and dance.

You may think I’m exaggerating about the PSA-like nature of this presentation. But at a panel discussion afterwards, the choreographer announced that the show will be traveling to New York City for a future performance. And guess who’s sponsoring the whole deal? A large pharmaceutical company about to release a new Alzheimer’s drug. Seriously, have the drug companies taken over the world?

Lest you think I’m just being snarky, I should say that the performance was not all bad. The music was great. The soundtrack was a combination of recorded and live music. The live music was original and performed by the composers, Aaron Chavez and Thomas Priest. It's amazing how much musical variation can be generated from a percussionist and a guy with a piano and a bassoon. Mr. Chavez gets extra points for some nifty marimba work and a dazzling performance on the hubcaps.

But even superior music couldn’t elevate the rest of the performance to greatness. And in the end, “demolition derby” is an accurate description of a show that's obvious and little banged up.

It's kick ball season.

After a scorching hot summer, nothing makes me happier than the arrival of the kick ball league. My bedroom looks out over Herman Franks field. And while the ball fields are home to little leaguers for most of the spring and summer, the kick ballers arrive in late August, signaling a change in the seasons.

The kick ball league is pure silliness. Uniforms consist of an official league t-shirt with a change in color to identify different teams. Teams are generally a hodgepodge of hipsters, geeks, athletes, and parents with kids in tow. This last group a strange reversal of the little league crowd with parents in the stands and kids on the field.

Then there’s the game itself, with its over-sized bouncy red ball. People, adults in particular, just look goofy knocking around a big red ball. And that’s OK. Because it’s obvious everyone in the league is there for the good time.

This year, the powder blue team upped the ante sporting short shorts and striped tube socks worn high—a strange throwback to the basketball uniforms of the 70s. As if kick ball didn’t already make me smile. The new uniforms made me giggle out loud.

Thanks Kick Ball League for making the neighborhood a little more fun. And I’m cheering for the short shorts.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A dang good art start.

I promise this is it. I’ll quit boring you with details from the Denver Art Museum. And I’ll try to keep this short. But I just had to say that the museum has a decent start on 20th and 21st century art collections. And since I gravitate towards the newer artists, this makes me happy.

Here’s why I was impressed with the contemporary collection. I always have a list of artists that I’ve never seen in person, but that I would like to see in person. I enjoy going to a museum and discovering they have works by artists on my list. Usually, it’s at the big museums that you find these works. But Denver knocked four artists off my list.

I’ll start with Kiki Smith. I already mentioned her as part of the RADAR post but DAM also has a large Kiki Smith bronze in its permanent collection. Number two on the list is Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud XXXIII a picture of which is included in my post about the DAM’s architecture. Gormley’s work was shown in a gallery with works by Robert Smithson and Sol Lewitt.

Third on my list is Richard Serra. Granted, the work by Serra (Basic Maintenance) was comparatively small weighing in at a paltry six tons. But the fact that this work was so small for the artists makes me even more interested in seeing his larger rolled steel works. Basic Maintenance is held in place simply by the angles and weight of the steel slabs. A member of the museum staff told me that the floor of the gallery had to be strengthened to accommodate the sculpture.

And just across from Richard Serra was a work by the fourth artist knocked off my list Anish Kapoor. Here again the sculpture was small compared with much of Kapoor’s art but it had plenty of his hallmarks; shiny surfaces; shapes that played with reflections; highly refined metal work.

I guess you could say I lost my art virginity four times at DAM.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dear Vicki and Ken, Can we be friends.

Recently on display at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) was RADAR, contemporary work from the collection of Vicki and Kent Logan. First of all, who are these people? And how do I get invited to a dinner party at their house? The staff at DAM are obviously buddying up to Vicki and Ken and for good reason. This stuff has gotta go somewhere when they die and it might as well be DAM. (Several works were already listed as fractional gifts and promised to museums including DAM and SFMOMA.)

Because DAM won’t let you take pictures of works on loan I’ve had to pilfer images from other sources. So they may not reflect an accurate installation view. The catalog from the show is worth the $40 and since the exhibit closed on July 15, it’s a great way to experience the art.

There was some great stuff in this show starting with the work that greets you just outside the gallery. Let’s call it a cover of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculptures. Created by Jason Middlebrook and titled The Beginning of the End, the work takes everything that makes Indiana's original great and turns it on its head, reminding us that even love is temporal.

Entering the gallery you run head on into Michael Joo’s Headless, a mash-up of Buddhist and American traditions. A small army of headless Buddhas sit below the suspended heads of western pop icons, from Wolverine to one of the Seven Dwarfs. I still don't know what it means but I sure did like it.

And the exhibit just gets better from there. A mini Damien Hirst retrospective features three works including Philip (The Twelve Disciples), a 1994 work that features a bull’s head in a metal and glass tank filled with formaldehyde. No matter how you feel about Hirst’s work, I dare you to stand in front of this piece and not react emotionally.

Three works by Khatarina Fritsch (Dealer, Monk, Doctor) were displayed together to dazzling and ominous effect. Ron Mueck’s Untitled (Man under Cardigan) featured the artist’s trademark realism in a smallish sculpture that made you want to reach out and comfort the poor little guy. Two large sculptures by Thomas Schütte cast in “seawater resistant aluminum” (whatever that is) were shiny and showy and slippery.

But wait, there’s more. This post could go on for days talking about all the interesting art in just this one gallery, from the works of Felix Gonzales-Torres to brilliant works by contemporary Asian artists like the Luo Brothers, Yue Minjun, and Zhang Huan.

Kiki Smith’s life-sized bronze, Virgin Mary was hauntingly beautiful and the first large scale work by the artist I’ve seen in person. The more of Smith’s work I see, the more I like the humanity that comes through so forcefully in her art. (And DAM has another of her large bronze works in the permanent collection.)

There’s no time to talk about every work in the exhibit but I’ll close with the art of Takashi Murakami. I’ve always liked stuff by the man behind “superflat.” And this exhibit offers four large-scale works that are just dazzling. May Satzuki, a huge pink painting with white milky splashes across it, was set as the backdrop for Hiropon, a larger-than-life anime inspired sculpture that features lactating breasts. The two works were fantastic together. Super Nova took the concept of the mushroom cloud to new heights of cuteness and terror. The mini Murakami festival rounded out with DOB in a Strange Forest, a substantial sculpture that makes one wonder, “where do Vicki and Ken put this thing when it’s not in a museum?”

There was plenty more to see at this show but I’ve gone on long enough. If you’re ever in the neighborhood let me know and I’ll let you browse through the exhibit catalog. And seriously; Ken, Vicki, call me. We’ll do lunch.

Next post, musings on DAM’s permanent collection.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I [heart] frogs.

Despite a corny name (Toadally Frogs), the current exhibit at the Utah Museum of Natural History is cool. Who doesn’t love frogs? And the selection now on display will make you love them even more.

From bright green tree frogs to big bumpy toads, the cases are filled with engaging characters. My favorites were the miniature poison dart frogs. Tiffany’s and Cartier have nothing on these gem-like creatures. And their sparkling names only add to their appeal. The Bumble-Bee Dart Frog takes its name from its startling yellow and black color scheme. The Terrible Dart Frog glimmers with a greenish gold glow. And the Blue Dart Frog is obviously blue with a name sure to make the older kids snicker.

For good measure, the curators added a tank full of Suriname Toads. With their lidless black eyes and taste buds on their fingertips, these are some of the ugliest, creepiest creatures I’ve ever seen.

The accompanying educational displays are sometimes boring and poorly produced. But that doesn’t matter when the stars of the show are so dang cool.

Monday, July 16, 2007

DAM it! Denver may be cooler than SLC.

While in the mile high city for a business convention, I took a few hours to visit the new expansion to the Denver Art Museum (DAM). After reading the reviews and seeing so many photographs, I thought I might feel a little “been there done that” upon seeing the building designed by Daniel Libeskind. But the experience was anything but ordinary.

The building was more organized than I expected. Reviews and photographs left an impression that DAM is a bit crazy. But standing in front of the angular building I was surprised by how “at home” it felt in downtown Denver. And in the spirit of Frank Gehry’s belief that architecture should be a good neighbor, the expansion embraces and mimics the surrounding structures in unexpected ways.

The building has its problems. Significant repairs are underway to solve a leaky roof. Although the building opened less than one year ago, the outside façade is currently torn apart, with cranes and workmen hovering like insects caring for their alien queen. And much of the interior space is shut down to allow for the repairs.

However, the inside of the building proved to be a better space for viewing art than reviews would suggest. While there are some tragic display choices that are a result of the architecture’s strange angles and pathways, those same characteristics also create opportunities for beautiful presentations. On the bad side is a two-monitor video work by Bill Viola hung just outside the entrance to the third floor gallery. The cramped hallway didn’t allow you to move back far enough to take in the work comfortably. And the traffic in and out of the gallery meant that no matter where you stood, you were always in the way. This might be fine for a painting. But considering the slow, contemplative nature of Viola’s work the interruptions were frustrating. On the good side was Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud XXXIII. The work was stunning in the angular gallery on the fourth floor. And the natural light from the nearby window only added to the work’s emotion.

In the end, DAM succeeds. Denver has taken a serious step forward on the trail to becoming a great American city. I wish Salt Lake City would take note. Great architecture makes great cities.

Look for future posts on the contents of the new building.

Monday, June 4, 2007

337 Project: The “good” part four.

For the fourth and final review of my favorite works from the 337 Project, I’ve chosen another work without any attribution. So I’m going to call what may be my favorite thing in the show, Untitled (Door). And I could probably take an educated guess as to the artist. But I’m not going to. Why ruin the intrigue of unmarked art?

Untitled (Door) was just inside the main entrance to 337 Project. Its strange content, skillfully-rendered imagery, and visual foolery asked a basic philosophical question about the entire 337 affair: “Is this art or just a great big circus?”

The painting's zaniness seemed strangely at home in the overwhelming clutter of the 337 Project, even while standing out from the mess. The trompe l’oeil style made a Magritte-like, this-is-not-a-door statement. And what about that rabbit with the paint brush? I say why not! If four-year-olds are artists then bring on the rabbit painters?

The front of Untitled (Door) was just the beginning. The door was bolted in place so it couldn’t swing freely, but if you worked your way around to the back, you found equally engaging art. It was dark and sinister with fake flies and a face peaking through a small window. A cleverly painted note appeared to be taped to the door and read, “I’ll be gone for 2 weeks—Back on the first. Thanks!” I just wonder if the whole place won’t be gone by then.

Untitled (Door) accomplished a lot in a little space. It was not only interesting on its own but also as part of the surrounding chaos. Maybe someone will rescue that happy rabbit before the wrecking ball strikes.

Friday, June 1, 2007

337 Project: The “good” part three.

As I mentioned earlier, much of the art at the 337 Project was not labeled, making it difficult to give credit. So I’m calling this piece Untitled. And I have no idea who created it. But for a complete list of all participating artists, you can visit Trying to guess the artist might be fun. And feel free to choose your own title.

I liked Untitled because it seemed grounded in the past. The old floating boots acted as spirit guides to the building's previous inhabitants; remembrances of characters that wandered the rooms in their heyday. But now, just like the structure, they’re old and worn out.

Or, maybe floating boots are just cool.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

337 Project: The “good” part two.

In the continuing review of the best works from the recent 337 Project, today’s highlight is Growth by Michael McGlothlen and Eric Williams. Located in an attic-like area of the building, this work was open to the sky thanks to missing sections of the roof. The work felt like a mash-up of Tara Donovan and Andy Goldsworthy.

Layers of ordinary building debris such as sheetrock, shingles, and particle board were arranged to create a canyon, a geological record of the building’s history. The cliff tops were covered with soil from which grew occasional blades of grass. With its theme of new life springing from the past, and as the farthest work from the entrance, Growth was a rewarding last stop in the 337 progression.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

337 Project: The “good” part one.

Impermanence of Containment by Shawn Porter was recently on display as part of the 337 Project. (Only a handful of works in the show were clearly labeled. I’m not sure if this was because it was too difficult to label all the work or because the artists didn’t want their names attached. Oh wait, I’m trying not to be “Mr. Art Snob.”)

Impermanence of Containment works because it speaks simultaneously to the ideas of destruction and potential. Created from concrete spheres and thin wooden slats, the work reminds one of rubble, the aftermath of an explosion or wrecking ball. Installed in a soon-to-be-demolished building, the sculpture questions our throw-away society, our willingness to just tear it down and build something new.

At the same time, the tension created by the wooden slats and the cascade of concrete spheres wonders what might happen if the walls were gone; what might spring into existence if the materials could escape from the current confines.

Mr. Porter used free space and clean walls to distance him from other work in the building, creating an oasis amid the overwhelming clutter; room to contemplate our obsession with new and better.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Art house.

Let’s say you have a building to tear down. Why not give it a chance to say goodbye? That’s the idea behind the 337 Project. Adam Price, the owner of the building at 337 South 400 East, decided that before demolition, he’d invite local artists to transform the structure into a temporary exhibit space. 337 was open for just 11 days with big crowds and long waits to get in.

The result? Let me start with this; I love the idea and congratulate Mr. Price on such an ambitious project. I was also happy to see such a response from the community, particularly the attendance. I like to complain that Salt Lake can’t support visual arts projects because people just aren’t interested. The 337 Project may have changed my mind (but only a little).

The art was a mixed bag. Most of the work was pedestrian, resulting in an exhibit that was messy and temporary. I guess that’s expected when the work is to be destroyed in a week or two. But for me, it was too messy, a free-for-all that seemed to say, “it doesn’t have to be good because it won’t be around anyway.”

Part of the problem was the extreme inclusiveness, with more than 100 artists and no selection process. I talked to one artist who gestured toward a nearby four-year-old and said, “He created a work.” No offense, but four year olds don’t create works of art, they color on the walls.

Much of the work was street art. While I like the idea of street art as fine art (see Haring, Basquiat, and Banksy) not all street art can make the jump. At 337, the good and the bad were so indistinguishable that neither made much of a statement. It would have been more effective if one artist had created a vision for large areas and invited graffiti artists to help realize that vision.

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh listen to Jeff, Mr. Negatron, Mr. Art Snob. Who made him the expert in scheduled-to-be-demolished-building art?” So before you totally hate me for criticizing the cute child artist, let me try to redeem myself. There was some good stuff. So in the next several days, I’ll select some of the works I liked best and write brief reviews. I’ll try not to gripe too much.

On the road to nowhere.

I like to say that if you’re in Worland, Wyoming you were on your way to Worland, Wyoming. Worland, my home town, is not on the road to anything. OK, maybe if you want to take the long way to Mount Rushmore, you might find yourself driving through Worland. But trust me; the trip to Mount Rushmore is long enough, no need to make it any longer.

I recently travelled to Worland to visit the family and help prepare for the closure of the family business. While the trip can be long and boring, I decided to make the best of it. So, I stopped often on the road to nowhere just for the experiences.

If you’ve travelled through central Wyoming in wintertime, you’re likely familiar with South Pass. In the winter it can be treacherous, even closed due to snow and wind. I planned a trip to Wyoming in April but had to cancel because the pass was closed for three days.

But in May, with wild flowers blooming and mountainsides greening, South Pass was beautiful and dramatic. At about the highest point of the pass, you can take a 10-mile detour to South Pass City. This mining town hit its heyday in the latter part of the 19th century and was largely inhabited until the early part of the 20th century when the town achieved ghost-town status.

Now, as a Wyoming State Historic Site, visitors are once again welcome to town, which now boasts a population of “about 7.” The best time to visit is from mid-May into September, when the town is officially open, allowing entrance to many of the buildings and talks with the “locals.”

During my visit, in what seemed like a set for a television commercial, the local UPS truck showed up for a delivery. I would have preferred the stage coach or at the very least a Pony Express rider.

South Pass City isn’t the only thing to see on the 10-mile detour. Atlantic City is just a short drive away and also shares a mining history. The town is still home to a local population with a strange sense of humor. I was actually mooned by a local while driving through town.

It may not be worth taking a trip just to see South Pass City. But if you’re already in the neighborhood, the detour is worth the time.

Monday, May 7, 2007

I wanna be a genius—or maybe just a little crazy.

I know a guy who is a painter. He’s not a professional painter but he paints. He used to paint the occasional scene, a canvas here and there; but not long ago he started painting obsessively. He painted multiple portraits of the same person in hopes of capturing some intangible. He saw a woman in a park and snapped clandestine photographs of her so later he could paint her over and over and over and over. The walls of his house are now covered with unsold canvases. No one buys his paintings but he continues to paint. Relentlessly. Obsessively.

I’m intrigued by this devotion to creating. I can’t decide if it's the spark of genius or if it’s someone who’s gone a bit crazy.

Recently, in a strange park, I contemplated the questions of genius vs. insanity. Gilgal Garden is near downtown Salt Lake City and features sculptures by Thomas Child. The sculptures were an attempt by Child to give physical form to his religious convictions. Included in the gardens are 12 sculptural arrangements and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and philosophical texts.

Work on the gardens began in 1945 when Child was already 57. The sculptures consumed much of the artist’s time and money until his death in 1963. Many of the stones in the sculpture garden are monolithic (weighing up to 62 tons) and were gathered from Utah mountainsides and streambeds. Heavy machinery and herculean efforts were often required to get the rocks to their current resting places.

The result of all this effort is strange. From the sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith to the artist’s self portrait paying homage to the masonry trade, Gilgal Garden is a weird stew of styles and ideas. I wouldn’t categorize the work as genius. In fact, I’d argue that the sculptures are just OK. But there may be genius in the creative effort. Or maybe, Thomas Child was just a little crazy; a man who didn’t know when to stop; a man who couldn’t stop until he expressed something. Either way, Child left behind something engaging, even mesmerizing.

Maybe someday I’ll be struck with such obsession, be it genius or otherwise.

Visit Gilgal Garden at 749 East 500 South in Salt Lake City.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Christ, a French Impressionist, and Andy Warhol walk into an ice cream parlor.

Christ, Impressionists, and Warhol in the same room. I know it sounds crazy, but it is Happy Valley.

Yes, I recently trekked to Happy Valley. I haven’t been in that part of the world for a long while and had heard tell of wonders and amazements. OK, I went to see the gardens at Thanksgiving Point and while I was in the area, I thought a trip to the BYU Museum of Art might be fun. I’d seen a newspaper article on a current exhibit that had potential. Paths to Impressionism (on view through July 8) features primarily landscape paintings by French and American Impressionists including works by a number of prominent artists, the most famous of which is Claude Monet.

The show is like a mini art history course in Impressionism. Plus, how often will you get to see Monet water lilies in Utah. But the big surprise of the excursion was the other exhibits at the museum. They were good. In fact I enjoyed them more than the Impressionists.

Beholding Salvation: Images of Christ is on display through June 16. OK, I’ll admit it. When I heard BYU was hosting an art show about Christ I assumed it was going to be, how shall I put this, “special.” But the show is interesting. A diverse collection of art is represented, from the 15th century to the present. Take for example an early wooden sculpture titled Dead Christ. It is somehow contemplative and creepy all at the same time. Kudos to the curators for the beautiful presentation. Even much of the contemporary religious art (which I often find condescending and cheap) is interesting.

And that isn’t all. Possibly even more impressionistic than the Impressionist paintings are the 19th century photographic landscapes of William B. Post. I had never heard of this artist or seen any of his photographs. But I like them. A lot. The platinum prints offer dreamy images that are lovely and inviting and melancholy. Seriously, if you’re at all interested in photography, this show is worth the trip to Provo.

But wait, there’s more. American Dreams: Selected Works from the Museum’s Permanent Collection of American Art is on display through 2011. So you have a while to get down to BYU before this closes. That means no “I just didn’t have time to go” excuses. The exhibit takes up a full four of the museum’s galleries and is spread out over two floors.

For you pop art fans you can see not one, but two versions of Andy Warhol’s hyper-popular Marylin Monroe prints. And the exhibit is a veritable Maynard Dixon study guide with nearly a half dozen of the artist’s work on display. Dixon’s landscapes are expected but the intrigue of his paintings of people is surprising.

Robert Indiana’s super-sized, flower-power-fueled, 60s-inspired LOVE sculpture is on display alongside a woven mat designed by Alexander Calder. Both make great big statements and ask questions about the line between art and just stuff. In fact they may out-Warhol the Warhol works.

Less expected works are also worth some attention. I really liked The Kodak Fiend, a small bronze by cartoonist John Septimus Sears. The sculpture’s satirical take on amateur photographers seems almost more telling in today’s digitally-fueled, camera crazed world than in the early days of the Kodak.

Sure there are a plenty of mundane works in American Dreams but there is also a whole lotta good stuff. I may even go back for a second look. After all, I have until 2011 to get there.
Now at the BYU Museum of Art:

The Quiet Landscapes of William B. Post. Through May 28.
Beholding Salvation: Images of Christ. Through June 16.
Paths to Impressionism. Through July 8.
American Dreams: Selected Works from the Museum’s Permanent Collection of American Art. Through 2011.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Absolute FOCUS

Yeah, so I like contemporary dance. Get used to it because I’ll probably talk about it regularly. But hey, even some of my friends are starting to come around. And it’s no wonder when you see shows like Ririe-Woodbury’s spring performance entitled Focus.

There was a time, a few years back when I thought Ririe-Woodbury had lost its edge. The performances were lackluster and the dancers looked bored. But ever since the arrival of Charlotte Boye-Christensen in 2002 the company is back in top form.

For the most recent performance the dancers lived up to the title with a focus that demonstrated whip-smart technique. The evening featured stunning crispness when you wanted it and lush fluidity when the choreography demanded it. The only way this type of performance works is if the dancers are in tip-top shape and well rehearsed. The dancers delivered.

Charlotte isn’t just the source of the company’s revived energy; she also brings immense talent as a choreographer. Two of the works on the program were hers including an inventive interpretation of Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Women of Venice. The piece (Siesta, 1995) replaces Giacometti’s three nuns with male dancers moving to music of Bizet’s Carmen. I’ve seen this work before but it just seems to be more rewarding each time I watch it.

Other works on the program included Lines to Read Between choreographed by John Utans and Tomorrow by Doug Verone.

If you’re one of those locals who blathers on about how “real” art doesn’t exist in Salt Lake City, I challenge you to attend a Ririe-Woodbury performance. There's a reason this company spends more time touring the world than performing for Salt Lake City audiences.

Friday, April 20, 2007

“Just the two of us, you and me.”

One of the first things that happens when someone quits at the office where I work is the pilfering of his or her chair. Everyone in the office seems intent on getting one of a limited number of fancy, ergonomic office chairs.

This is just one of the office-life realities Joshua Ferris exploits in his first novel, Then We Came to the End. The book opens with a brilliant line, closes with an even more brilliant line, and in between provides a superior reading experience.

Anyone who has worked in an office will relate to this book—from the quirky characters to the funny goings on. I laughed out loud several times while reading the book. But the story is far from simple comedy. You become attached to the characters; you see them as friends; you relate to their stories, even when those stories become more serious.

Ferris writes with such ease, the book practically reads itself. The novel, written in first person plural, creates a sense of camaraderie that eventually makes even the reader feel like part of the story. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this much humanity in a story about everyday life.

The only problem with a first novel this good is that you have to deliver a second novel that lives up to the first. Joshua, this is a tough act to follow. But I’ll be first in line to buy your next book.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Travelling Exhibitionists.

This is the first in a series of posts geared toward art encountered while travelling—the art you find in airports, bus stations, subways, or other travel-related locations. Readers are invited to send stories of favorite art works found in travel terminals.

Let’s start in the Central Terminal of the Seattle Airport where Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter’s suspended sculpture Landing is on view. The Boston-based duo completed the work in 2005.

Measuring 48’ high and 25’ deep, Landing is composed of thousands of individual snow geese, trout, raindrops and ambient elements that reference the culture and history of the Pacific Northwest. The carefully suspended items come together to form the image of a goose landing, complete with a reflection in water. The sculpture serves as an exploration of nature and civilization.

Known for their ambitious public art projects, Helmick and Schechter’s work can been seen in major metropolitan spaces around the country. In fact, you can see their work right here in Salt Lake City. The artists were commissioned to create a sculpture for the Salt Lake Main Library. Hanging in the Library’s Urban Room is Psyche, a work consisting of 1500 suspended mini sculptures of books and fluttering butterflies. Together, the sculptures form the shape of a human head. Some of the butterflies sport wings covered with words in twenty different languages taken from the humanitarian bill of rights.

You can see more works by Helmick and Schechter at

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A room with a bad view.

What’s “outside Blake's window?” A bit of a mess if you trust Tandy Beal and Repertory Dance Theater (RDT). Outside Blake's Window was the most recent offering from RDT. The work, choreographed by Ms. Beal, delves into the imaginative world of William Blake and calls “forth the amalgamation of many theatrical forms.” The result is disjointed, uneven, and sometimes downright boring.

There are several valuable lessons one can learn from the performance:

1. Modern dancers aren’t necessarily actors. I’m baffled by the current trend of asking contemporary dancers to deliver lines. I don’t know of many respected contemporary dance companies that hire dancers based on acting ability. Contemporary dancers are first and foremost dancers. Go to Broadway if you’re looking for a “triple threat.” Because when dancers recite lines, it usually just distracts from the performance.

2. In the age of the super circus, second rate circus performances just don’t cut it. Sure the trapeze artist had amazing flexibility, but hang a women from the ceiling in silver spandex and I expect thrills. Here, the result was more distraction than performance enhancement. And while the fire twirler provided an interesting visual, the act just fall flat. The best part was the smell of burnt chemicals that lingered in the theater after the flames were extinguished.

3. People who aren’t dancers might not be able to dance. Don’t get me wrong, the idea is alluring; eight or ten sets of identical twins entering the stage and performing with dancers sounds like a great idea. But in practice, finding identical twins that can move was obviously impossible. Many of the twins moved so stiffly, so unconvincingly that I’m still wondering if they were real or automatons.

I will admit that Ms. Beal offered several moments of beautiful choreography, particularly when she left theatrics behind and focused on dance. She is at her best when devising lyrical movements for the dancers. Sections where dancers gracefully spun and swirled were not only well choreographed but also beautifully performed by the company. These moments reminded me that I’ll definitely be back to see what RDT does next.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Allow me to illustrate.

If you’ve never been to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (and even if you have), now is the perfect time to grab the kids and make the trip. Currently on display is The Art of Robert Sabuda, a whimsical installation of illustrations and paper pop ups that will appeal to anyone who likes a good story.

The paper engineering involved in Mr. Sabuda’s books is astounding. The exhibit includes mock-ups created during the planning stages of each book, helping the viewer understand how such amazing mechanics are achieved. You can also sit down at a table where all of Mr. Sabuda’s books are available for browsing, allowing you to see the transformation from initial idea to completed form.

Even more dazzling than the paper engineering (if that’s possible) are the original illustrations. Mr. Sabuda writes, illustrates, and engineers most of his books. And the illustrations are striking. By choosing mediums that relate to the story, the artist offers a surprising variety of illustration techniques while still maintaining his own graphic style. Thus, an Asian story (The Paper Dragon) is told with carefully painted and cut tissue paper while a story about St. Valentine is envisioned as intricate paper mosaics.

A table in the center of the room offers paper, tools, and instructions so visitors can make their own simple pop ups.

The Art of Robert Sabuda is on display now through September 9. But, if you go before May 5 you can also see Bill Viola’s video installation, The Quintet of Remembrance. I’m guessing it will be a long time before we see another Bill Viola work in Salt Lake City.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Worth the trip to Park City

Moses Pendleton’s Momix dance company paid a visit to Park City this past weekend to present its original production, Lunar Sea. Before I get to the details, let me send a shout out to Alwin Nicolais. The abstract nature of this performance with its stylized costumes, impressive use of projections, and intriguing lighting effects is a tribute to Alwin's genius.

Nonetheless, plenty of kudos is due Momix. The opening sequences are stunning and leave the viewer asking, “how’d they do that?” The amazement continues even as one begins to figure out how the dancers are able to deliver such surprising results.

The performance relies heavily on symmetry, from the frequent use of “half” dancers that combine to create a whole, to the beautifully-executed video projections. The result is a strange sort of Rorschach test that intimately engages the audience.

Sure, the black light effects feel gimmicky at times and the costumes occasionally serve only as distractions. In fact, the best moment of the evening may be a duet that leaves black lights behind and utilizes little costuming, focusing attention on the dancers. Still, one can’t deny that even gimmicky moments (such as the spider sequence at the end) are entrancing.

This is dance theater at its most engaging (even to the point of scaring some of the younger audience members, as evidenced by occasional screams from kids during the most frightful moments). I left the performance wanting to quit my job and join a dance company. At the very least, I wanted to approach life with renewed creativity.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

What's in a name?

Viva Variety. So what’s with the name?

Consider this an homage to “Europe’s favorite variety show.” A show that wasn’t afraid to ask, “Klingon or Galliano?” A show that launched the careers of so many stars. A show that never really had a chance.

So to you Mr. Laupin. And to you the former Mrs. Laupin. And yes, even to you Johnny Bluejeans. (May you all rest in peace.)

To you, I say, “Viva Variety.” And in your honor, I will see things. I will do things. And I will write about those things right here on the digital pages of Viva Variety.

“Nature has a rhythm,” William Betts.

Artist William Betts (whose line painting Myth of Insight was just purchased by the Salt Lake Art Center) spoke as part of the Salt Lake Art Center’s Art Talks series on April 4, 2007. The presentation offered insight into the process used to develop the line paintings currently on display as part of Fab Ab (see previous post).

Mr. Betts captured the essence of modern and contemporary art by suggesting that painting now requires more than just skill. “The ability to make a great painting is not the same as the ability to paint. Making Paintings has always been about making objects.” This philosophy supports the artist’s work, which is largely created by a machine.

But make no mistake—the use of machinery does not simplify the creation of the line paintings. In fact, it may only make the process more difficult, requiring hundreds of hand-mixed colors that are applied individually using a large, computer-controlled plotter. Mr. Betts writes his own code to control the plotter. The machine has to be cleaned and reloaded for each color.

Particularly interesting is how the artist arrives at the abstract images that are translated in acrylic. Final paintings are absolute abstractions of photographs taken by the artist. A one-pixel slice is extracted and then “stretched” to create a unique series of lines. Paints are mixed to match the colors in the image. Then each color is applied individually to the board. Seeing the original photos and the final products makes one realize how much the paintings reflect the subject matter.

Mr. Betts also discussed his current work which uses plotter-applied acrylic dots in works of random paterns as well as re-imaginings of surveillance and traffic photos. These paintings seem to follow in the traditions of artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Georges Seurat, and even Damien Hirst. To see more of Mr. Betts’ work, visit

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

See it free: Fab AB

Just when "abstract" seems so last century, you lean in for a closer look and find something interesting. That's what happens with the Salt Lake Art Center show, Fab Ab: New Acrylic Abstraction. The show brings together several abstract artists and the results make for a good time.

The stars of the show are the line paintings of William Betts, which bring such precision to the application of paint that one isn't surprised to discover machinery is involved. Mr. Betts is scheduled to discuss his techniques at an upcoming Art Center lecture. Expect a future report.

Mr. Betts's works aren't the only bon-bons to enjoy at this show. Colin C. Smith delivers several paintings that would be at home on a hot rod. Using techniques from vinyl blocking to air brushing, Mr. Smith applies pigmented resin to aluminum panels with whimsical results. And yet, for all their whimsy, the paintings seem somehow sinister.

A work by Joseph Drapell features three large panels with thickly applied paint. The gray and blue hues of the work engulf the viewer in dense swirls, an effect that is only heightened by the holographic inclusions. Mr. Drapell's other works in the show however aren't as enticing.

Other artists provide additional interest and intrigue, from the mind bending Op Art of Susie Rosmarin to the surfboard aesthetic of Jesse Simon. Also on view are works by Graham Peacock and Prudencio Irazabal .

With a truly international cast, this show (curated by Salt Lake Art Center's own Jay Heuman) is definitely worth the trip downtown.

Fab Ab: New Acrylic Abstraction
Salt Lake Art Center
March 31 through May 30, 2007
Admission is free.