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.