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    December 2009
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Interior View of Sam Wellers
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Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Booksellers' Art
Sam Weller's Novel Pulp and Ken Sanders' Greetings from Utah
by Geoff Wichert | photos by Shalee Cooper

Most antiquarian bookstores have a spot set aside to display old maps and prints. These might have once been bound into books, but in any case they resonate with the booksellers' appreciation for fine printing on paper. In Salt Lake, however, two excellent independent bookstores (which are increasingly rare, as fewer Americans read or buy books and more do so from the aggressive, marketing-driven chains) have set aside space to display original works by artists invited in to show their work. In other words, they are not just bookstores, but galleries as well.

Ken Sanders Rare Books has a large corner of floorspace in the front permanently set aside to display what is often called "ephemera." They try to mount some sort of event for Gallery Stroll every month, though exhibits often run for two or three months. For November, the event was the re-release party for The Mormon Kama Sutra, which drew reflexive criticism from the thin-skinned, but hearty, life-affirming laughter from those who believe, along with Oscar Wilde, that pleasure is nature's mark of approval.

This Friday, December 4th, Ken Sanders will debut Greetings From Utah . . . Wish You Were Here, |1| an exhibit that, in keeping with Yuletide nostalgia, will depict the Utah of old through 60 framed, vintage postcards. As someone who, passing through in the 80s, saw the ghostly Saltair II surrounded by the Lake in flood, seeming to float atop its inverted reflection, I know that postcards can be linked like websites to recollections that can trigger an entire archive of memories. This exhibit invites the public to "revisit the original Salt Palace with its salt encrusted dome; journey to Delta and behold the 1940s disco ball and miniature Temple inside Van's Dance Hall; view Brigham Young and his wives;|2| Amelia's Palace, home of Brigham Young's favorite wife; giant racers setting world land speed records on the salt flats; portraits of Utah's most famous actress, Maude Adams,|3| and many more . . . ." Running through December 26, three weeks of unpretentious and accessible art will begin with "Utah's tiniest gallery stroll."

At Sam Weller's Zion's Bookstore, , the gallery is usually the mezzanine, though the art may spill over the railing and sometimes fills the densely cluttered main room. For those too young to remember the great mercantile palaces, a mezzanine is a partial second floor attached to the walls of a building, leaving an open space or atrium in the center. Ascending the stairs to Sam Weller’s mezzanine this month, one can see a row of works on paper extending along the only wall not completely covered by books. There are five artists in Novel Pulp: New Paper Works, which opened November 20 and runs through Friday, January 8. Three artist’s works hang on the wall; the others chose to work with the floor and ceiling.

Marshall McLuhan said that when a new medium takes over, the old medium can become subversive. David Wolske agrees, and his letterpress-printed broadsides question the ‘everyone can be an artist’ mindset that has grown up under the impact of universal ink-jet printing and post-your-own video websites: Looking is not making, he reminds the ‘creative’ consumer: “Saying is not doing.” At Sam Weller’s, in a sequence of pages, each printed with the single word CONSUME, each partially shredded, the text gradually emerges or disappears from view, recalling that while consumption has usually been seen by consumers as a positive addition to their lifestyles, a more objective view of consumption shows it to be destructive and unsustainable.|4|

Lauren Huber is a graphic designer with an international background in art studies. In the last part of the 20th century, many artists took to deriving art from an exploration of materials and their characteristics: wood, metal, glass, exotics. The word "craft" was used to distinguish such approaches from more cerebral strategies. Huber retains some of those material concerns, including the interactions of textures, patterns, and colors in two- and three-dimensional design. All this comes into play in "Participant," which stretches along the wall next to the rare book room.|5| The title is ironic, referring to the inflation and trivialization of award-giving best symbolized by giving every participant an award regardless of actual achievement. Huber notes that as trophies age and gather dust, they often change meaning and become mnemonics of quite different values than those engraved on their surfaces. That said, Huber appears taken with their abstract forms, and here strips them of distracting particulars so they can be studied as physical phonemes belonging to a symbolic vocabulary. In turn they reward the viewer's attention, as much for the exquisite craft with which she has translated them into cut and folded kraft paper replicas as for the way, despite being stripped to their blank forms, they nevertheless evoke recognition and some kind of sub-cutaneous, tactile response.

In contrast to Huber's accessible, neat bas-reliefs, Edward McKenna's drawings, clipped next to them on the wall,|6| require some explanation or guesswork to distinguish them from five sheets of paper that might have simply accumulated in the midst of some project. One possibility is that McKenna, who cites stand oil as the primary medium viewers should watch, stacked five sheets of paper and painted on the top one, using an oil paint with polymerized (previously heated) linseed oil instead of, say, the alkyd resin that replaces oil in most "oil-base" paints. Some of the oil then separated from the pigment and soaked down through the successive layers of paper, leaving a trail of its passage through each layer in the form of a pattern related to the painting above. However, since the one sheet in color is completely covered in horizontal rows of repeated marks, and the four following sheets—the ones marked almost entirely by oil stains—show a single row, like fenceposts in snow, of such marks, it's quite possible I'm entirely missing the point.

Rather than hang on the wall, Jared Steffensen's "Peaks and Valleys" rises from the floor.|7-8| The peaks are paper cones, each meticulously folded into a "geometric solid" with between four and twelve sides. The valley—there seems to be really only one—bisects the protruding angle of the floor and divides the peaks into two triangles while tying the geometry of the paper forms to the larger, simpler geometry of the building. One imagines there being larger links—say, to the Wasatch Mountains just outside, then to the sphere of the world, and so forth—the geometry growing simpler as the forms become larger. It's a surprisingly present and provocative piece.

Amber Heaton chose to hang her "Shroud" from the ceiling instead of the wall.|9| Her curtain of book pages zig-zagging through space, interrupting the view of books shelved beyond,|10| and its title suggests she wants us to think about the predicted death of the bound paper book, whether caused by the loss of readers or its replacement by books made of electrical impulses, light, and shadow. Yet her accordion-pleated pages also recall that there have always been alternatives to the edge-bound book with pages that can only be turned in one way. It's a small comfort, as we look forward to the real likelihood that the book we've preferred for millennia is dying, will be increasingly rare, and perhaps one day will exist only in museums, to realize that it, too, was once a new idea and may simply be evolving to another form.

Heaton's curtain, as it interacts vividly with a background of book spines and shelves, could also be said to separate two audiences: one that is happy to see books used as raw materials for art works that borrow their significance as cultural icons while ignoring their contents, the other that thinks such destructive and derivative works are a kind of vandalism. It's a question for our time: do we as a species give in to exhaustion and plunge like the Romans into oblivion, or do we keep our faith and focus on improving our lot? You can find the answers—both of them—on the shelves of your neighborhood bookstore.

Novel Pulp: New Paper Works, is at Sam Weller's through January 8. Greetings From Utah . . . Wish You Were Here, opens at Ken Sanders Friday, December 4th and continues through December 26.

Exhibition Reviews: Salt Lake
Hope on Broadway
Revisiting Salt Lake's Gallery Stroll
by Kasey Boone | photos by Shalee Cooper

I recently returned to Utah after spending two years on the sinking ship of state we call California. Wanting to get back into the Utah art scene I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to check out Salt Lake's November Gallery Stroll, and after the depressing situation I saw on the coast I was thrilled to stumble into the pocket of excitement happening along Salt Lake's Broadway.

I began my Gallery Stroll exploration at Phillips Gallery, a long-time favorite that was packed with art and people. Phillips is still the most professional of our galleries. Everything there is so impeccably hung and they manage to put together so many works in so many spaces that I find myself wishing they would come decorate my house. The only drawback I find is that there are no surprises. Their end-of-the-year group show is a chance to see a lot of their artists who remain in storage during the year, and I'm sure many of these artists are new to me, but I still had the sense that I had seen much of this before. The gallery has a set of tried and true genres that, despite the artists that come and go through the stables, they always seem to fill. There's the Utah landscapes, not too stuffy or old-fashioned, reliably colorful and with a contemporary touch; there's the abstracts, either densely worked or broad color fields (Dave Malone's work stood out as the most unique to me). And finally the narrative work, which seems to be done exclusively by women, and ranges from the quirky to the creepy. When I first came across Lori Nelson's work at Phillips it had a certain punch, but she or I has changed, because now the work seems to have lost its verve. It has shifted from creepy to quirky and teeters on the cartoonish. Dana Costello is one artist who has remained creepy – a word I heard a young patron use – and her simply executed but unsettling works still have the power to captivate.

The activity at Phillips was no surprise. I don't know that I have ever been to a show there that was not well-attended. What really excited me about my return to Gallery Stroll was what I found a couple of blocks away in the Broadway district: poetry readings, live music, guerrilla film screenings, a huge mural and throngs of people made me wonder if I was in the right city.

I remember Nobrow Coffee as a generally interesting venue, but this month's exhibit disappoints. Eight.zero.one is an exhibit of photographs displayed in such an obvious DIY, I-don't-care attitude that I wondered why I should. Each images is pasted on to a piece of raw plywood and hung with thick, visible wire. For the most part the photographs are unexceptional, the type of snapshots the increasingly narcissistic youth generation posts on their Facebook pages. Some, like "The Morning After," give the hint of something a little more, but the rest of the work is so bland I find myself not wanting to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Nobrow is in the space first occupied by Kenny Riches' Kayo Gallery. The Gallery has moved a block west and Riches has since sold it, but this month he once again occupied the space and made it uniquely his own with an "event" that spilled onto the sidewalk and around the corner. The narrow gallery only provided enough room for a single-file flow of people to examine the works. Luckily the small drawings -- most of them a single figure executed on a sky blue wash – demand intimate inspection.|1| The quality of drawing gives the pieces a distinct charm. The rowboats, toy horses, and houses that function as ideograms of nostalgia call to mind the work of Cheryl Warrick (a Boston artist who shows at Meyer Gallery), though with a lo-fi production quality. The short film screening at the gallery, shot in old 8mm film, shows Riches and Cara Despain painting an old rowboat and launching it onto a placid pond. It's sweet. I could see it as a video for a husband-wife or brother-sister indie band. Riches' show made me wonder what it is about twentysomethings that makes them revel in nostalgia – especially for a time they are too young to have known. It may be connected to the same penchant for people these days to write memoirs before they've even hit mid-life.

Out on the street, another film, which I preferred to Riches', was being projected on the exterior of the building, accompanied by trancy dance music. On the street corner young poets were declaiming, attracting as much of a crowd as inside. Nearby at Michael Berry Gallery, where Judith Wolbach is exhibiting a series of drawings and sculptures,|2| a four-piece, tango-inspired group straight out of some Buenas Aires side street was performing.

I don't know that any of the galleries here will be able to keep their doors open through the patronage of the coffee-shop connoisseurs who seemed to make up the majority of the crowds I weaved through, but the very fact that there was a crowd at all is heartening.

A sidewalk sign set out by Copper Plate Press, advertising their t-shirt screening event (bring in a t-shirt and we'll put a print on it), sent me up the street to the Guthrie building. On the way, Brent Godfrey's large paintings hanging in the windows of what used to be Pictureline, screamed out to me and forced me in.|3| I remember Godfrey as a magpie of an artist, collecting styles hodgepodge from the various artists that passed through A Gallery. But in these large explosions of line, texture, and color, Godfrey seems to have found his own voice. They still suffer from his trying to do too much at once, but at least everything he is doing is related, and with a little editing he could become a strong abstractionist.

Apart from the Copper Plate Press t-shirt screening (what a great idea) the Guthrie building was relatively quiet. But there was plenty of art in the street-side shops below, and most stunning of all, an amazing mural, two-stories high, on the side of the Guthrie building.|4-5| The piece, Ave Maria, was done by The Mac and Retna, a graff team from California. By Saturday morning the excitement of Gallery Stroll will have faded, but that mural will still be there to astound and convince people that something is happening here.

Ave Maria by The Mac and Retna
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The art I came across this month was not the best I’ve seen in Salt Lake. It was the general activity I encountered as much as any of the pieces on the walls that gave me such a thrill. If this type of momentum can be kept up then surely something noteworthy will happen.

Gallery Stroll happens the third Friday of every month with the exception of December. December Gallery Stroll occurs this Friday, December 4, from 6 - 9 pm. To view a list of participating venues go to www.gallerystroll.org

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