Object[ed]: A Light in the Mist of Contemporary Art

Picture and Story by Forest Smith

Contemporary art is the art of now. Defined as art made in the last fifty years up to today, contemporary art has the ability to convey the problems and peculiarities of our present reality. The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art highlights some of the best pieces and collaborations from both local and widely recognized artists. Their brand new gallery “Object[ed]: shaping sculpture in contemporary art” tells a story of production and consumption, whilst blurring the lines between sculpture and painting. Six artists contributed to this piece and their combined efforts create both an intriguing and thought provoking arrangement. The UMOCA has done an amazing job at creating a gallery that guides viewers through a type of art that can be hard to understand, controversial, and at the cutting edge of new mediums.

The Gallery

As you walk into the gallery, you discover the work of Gill Tall from Israel. Her work comments on our everyday complacency within consumer capitalism. Her art features three pieces working together to convey her message, the first of which is three completely full blenders. They have been slowed down to the ticking of a clock, suggesting how congested and inefficient our process of production and transportation of commodities is. Complimenting this piece are two videos and two photos. The videos are looping scenes, one of the front of a supermarket and the other from a waiting area of a commercial printer. These go to further the idea that our society is ruled by capitalism and that it is a cycle. The photos are both of the same of a boy wearing sports clothing, a shirt from Miami and a hat from Los Angeles. It adds another piece to the story of how capitalistic society influences our life and choices.

From Tall’s work you are inevitably drawn to Olga Bolema’s, her work often relates to the body through human size scale. For Object[ed] she created a collection of feeding troughs collected from around the world, painted green, and with thoughtfully placed bright yellow stripes. This highlights how these objects are used both in the cultivation of our food and commercial purposes as decoration. It suggests how the process of cultivation and ingestion in our culture ultimately influences our society. She also does a great job of mixing sculpture and painting by creating a uniting color scheme for her found materials that purveys the theme.

Moving along the gallery you will find Lizze Maattala, Lizze likes to highlight the flexibility of unexpected materials. A constant digger of junkyards, beaches, and flea markets she uses these found objects to create sculptures and mixed media. Her series in Object[ed] is five different sewer grates all with different materials strung throughout. Her work requires you to take a second look, when you look closer you can see the intricacies of the interacting objects. This exhibition blurs the lines between sculpture and painting by using patterns and textures. What is especially interesting is her use of shadows to enhance her pieces. This piece abstractly shows the waste created by our consumer culture.

The most peculiar piece in the gallery belongs to Tove Storch. Storch likes to create visual conundrums with her work and often throws out the rule book when it comes to sculpture. Her piece layers two dimensional images between thin steel rails, effectively turning two-dimensional images into a three dimensional object. This creates a very interesting dynamic where you struggle to see the images within but are not able to and are forced to step back and admire the structure as a whole.

The biggest piece belongs to Leeza Meksin which covers a whole wall. Meksin explores interactions between buildings, bodies, and paintings. Her site specific installation in Object[ed] features the prominent structures in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square nearly life sized, dressed up with geometry and colors. She explores the potential of fabric to change viewers looking experience of a picture again blurring lines between painting and sculpture. The overlay not only makes you focus on the geometry within the architecture but casts a surreal appearance over the photo.

Mute City, Big Blue, Port Town 2014 by Caitlin Cherry

Finally the centerpiece of the room belongs to Caitlin Cherry. An absolute wizard at mixing mediums, she refuses to separate sculpture and painting. In perhaps the most interesting piece in the Object[ed] gallery, she created a small swimming pool with a submerged painting at the bottom. The pool is complete with a no diving glyph and beach towels, the sculpture invites viewers to peer into the image below. As you walk around the piece it challenges your perception as the image changes with angle.

Problems with Contemporary Art

However no art exhibit is without its problems and the UMOCA’s lies in the attendance rate. Contemporary art remains controversial and less recognized than your average piece of art. A 2008 article by Pat Villeneuve and Mary Erickson in the Art Education journal explored the problems behind the public perception of contemporary art. In their own words “Many people in the United States are not equipped to deal with it.”

People of all ages are used to and more comfortable with classical art forms. Unconventional materials, the installation style, and difficult or controversial topic matter can all lend to the initial distaste that many people feel when confronted with contemporary art. This situation is highlighted in the Journal of Ethnology’s article by Pamela Sheffield Rosi, it describes the difficulties faced by Papa New Guinea’s contemporary artists and their struggle to gain recognition. While government leaders label these new artists as, “national treasures whose work embodies a sense of national spirit,” many find themselves struggling to gain recognition and even find an opportunity to display their work. Traditional tribal and aboriginal style art remains popular in global markets, while professionally trained contemporary artists find themselves running out of funds and even homeless.

The situation is much less extreme in the United States and a slow societal shift to a more interpretive and informed judgement of art common amongst highly educated artists. However there is still a lot of work to be done to spread this viewpoint that is key in understanding the art of today. It is necessary to change how you are judging art when viewing and understanding contemporary art. Do not consider whether the artwork is good or not, but if it is interesting and thought provoking.

The UMOCA museum and specifically the Object[ed] gallery did a good job to give a sense and purpose to art that can sometimes feel directionless. Thoughtful choices of artists and pieces helped show both the state of consumerism today and the emerging tactic of combining sculpture and painting. Beyond that information provided on the walls about the artwork was extremely helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of the motivation and message behind it. A shining example of a well put together gallery that provides an engaging experience. Just remember to keep an open mind and that there is message and beauty within every piece.