The Value of Art For Josh and Catherine Kanter art is a given by Shawn Rossiter | photos by Simon Blundell
In most families certain things are givens. Religious affiliation in some. Political parties in others. Even which sports team to root for can be an unspoken bond in a household. At the Chicago home where Josh Kanter grew up the given was art. It was talked about the way some families talk about the Yankees, was as much a family ritual as a first communion or bar mitzvah, and instilled as much sense of community involvement as any participation in a political campaign. Whatever it was that made Josh’s parents love art and serve their community it was contagious: his wife Catherine caught the passion when she came into the family and now both wonder how best to pass it on to their own children.
Josh and Catherine met when they worked at the same Chicago law firm. Their migration to Utah began because Josh was spending his winters here, telecommuting when he wasn’t on the slopes. “When I was looking for land to build a house [here] my only requirement was that it be near the canyons,” he says about his love of Utah’s powder. Catherine began spending her winters here too, and when they married in 1998 they did so in the home they had built at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon. In 2002 the Kanters came to Utah for the Olympics and one of their extended stays while Catherine was on maternity leave with their first son. When maternity leave ended and became telecommuting, an office out of sight became one out of mind and Catherine decided to give up the law to raise their children and devote her time to things that were more important to them: like art and the community.
“We’ve been influenced by his parents,” Catherine says, “their notion that if you can afford it through your means and your health and opportunities then you really need to come up with some idea of service, you need to do something for your community.”
Josh’s parents came from humble beginnings, but their desire to have beautiful things in their home was consistent throughout their life. When they could afford nothing else they used to frame swatches of wallpaper and hang them on the wall. As their financial circumstances improved, the wallpaper was replaced by paintings. Josh’s father would troll the old town art fair in Chicago and buy things he liked, or jump at an opportunity a friend mentioned to him and purchase something sight unseen. There was no intent in building a particular type of collection. He just bought what he liked. What he liked, the core of what became a family corporate collection, was postwar abstract expressionist artists as well as living contemporary artists. Josh was a young boy when this art was coming into the home, and it was a natural part of life, a given. “They wanted to have things that they thought were beautiful around them, in their home.” Catherine says. “It wasn’t so when someone walked in they would see it. ”
Some children turn away from the enthusiasms of their parents. Josh embraced his. “It was certainly a bug that bit me,“ he says. “My backpacking trip through Europe as a junior in college for the summer was going through every sculpture market and every museum I could find . . . it was about searching these people out and going and seeing their stuff” (he does admit to one detour: the Heineken factory).
Catherine’s upbringing in Oklahoma was more modest than Josh’s but when she began spending time under the Kanter roof she became intoxicated by whatever was in the air. “The kids couldn’t not be influenced by it because it was such an important part of their lives, and I couldn’t not be influenced by it when I came into the family because you couldn’t go to a Kanter family event without the subject of art coming up . . . you were immersed in it . . . I loved it.”
With their love for contemporary art you might think the Kanters would want to live in a more metropolitan area. “No,” is Catherine’s firm reply. “I now feel like Utah is our home. This is where we’re from. This is where we want to raise our kids.”
When they first moved to Utah they knew few people and nothing about the art scene. Gary Vlasic, who catered their wedding, told them about the Salt Lake Art Center, which became an extended social network for the couple. They were soon on the board.
Josh talks frequently about how important these types of relationships are, how connections can coalesce into amazing projects. One of his proudest achievements is the Jun Kaneko glass piece at the Park City synagogue, Temple Har Shalom. It exists, he says, “because I was on the board of the Salt Lake Art Center, and I was on the board of the International Sculpture Center (ISC), which is why I know Jun Kaneko, and I was involved in building the synagogue.” Three relationships came together to facilitate “a fantastic piece of art.”
It was through the Art Center that the Kanters got to know Adam Price, who was then launching the 337 Project. Catherine was serving on the board of Neighborhood House and her relationship with Price resulted in the 337 Project’s second initiative, the Urban Gallery. The two continue to work together now that Price has taken over as Executive Director of the Art Center and Catherine is the board president. Not to be left out of the fun, Josh used his connections at the ISC to bring Launch 11, an exhibit of contemporary sculpture, to the Art Center.
“These are opportunities . . . neither of us would have had in Chicago, or frankly would have come with a different entry price,” Josh says.
Sometimes in Utah the price to getting things done is a connection that goes back generations. But Josh doesn’t see it that way. How else, he says, can you explain the fact that Peter Corroon asked him to chair the finance committee for his gubernatorial campaign. “This is something I never would have thought I’d be doing when I came here eight years ago,” he says. He jumped at the opportunity because he thinks Corroon will make a great impact on education in the state. And he took advantage of his connections in the art world to come up with a grassroots organization for the campaign: Artists for Corroon (see our March edition).
Josh says these things never would have happened for them in a place like Chicago. “The opportunity here is limitless. It’s really amazing how much of an impact you can have when you want to in this town.”
A more subtle impact the couple has had is as collectors. Their collection of modern and contemporary art is unique in this valley. Much of it is part of Art Enterprises, Ltd, the original family collection, which totaled 1200 pieces at one point and is now held in the homes of the three children.
It’s eye-popping stuff, the type of pieces museums borrow for exhibitions.
Josh and Catherine have added to it with purchases of their own. The first was a Misha Gordin photograph, bought through the Salt Lake Art Center.|3| They loved the piece and appreciated the opportunity to get to know Gordin and were fascinated by his process. That the purchase supported one of their causes sealed the deal.
Besides the moratorium Catherine put on Josh’s acquisitions when the economy collapsed, the Kanters say they usually defer to each other on purchases. They share an interest in work that “is visually beautiful and makes a profound statement” (similar, Catherine points out, to the Art Center's mission statement). When Josh talks about art – or any of his projects – he is as animated as a ten year old at the ball game. Catherine is more poised, but her enthusiasm is evident when she explains her personal tastes, “I tend to gravitate towards thing that I think are aesthetically, astonishingly beautiful.” She is drawn to color and likes to acquire pieces from artists she knows. Because of his participation in the International Sculpture Center Josh has gravitated towards sculpture, and the couple now owns works by a number of nationally and internationally recognized artists.|4-7|
Catherine says some of her favorite pieces are the ones Josh has given to her as a present. Art gifting is a prevalent practice in the Kanter family. When they were part of Josh’s sister’s wedding party they received a Thomas King Baker painting as a gift.|8| For their own wedding one of their good friends bought them a piece by Anna Kunz.|9| They later acquired several other pieces by Kunz and commissioned her to do a large-scale piece through the Hyde Park Art Center’s Not Just Another Pretty Face program. The Kanters encouraged the Salt Lake Art Center to adopt Hyde Park’s fundraising idea, and when they did the Kanters commissioned two pieces from it -- portraits of their two boys by Anne Morgan Jespersen.|10|
Looking to those two faces Josh and Catherine think about the values they have been heir to: the beauty of art and purpose of service. And as they go about their busy lives, Josh asks, “How do you instill these values, that, somehow, without saying anything, my parents instilled in all three of their kids?”
Launch 11 is at the Salt Lake Art Center through May 22. The next installment of Not Just Another Pretty Face opens at the Art Center with the Annual Benefit Gala on June 5. Artists for Corroon will be holding a meet and greet with Mayor Peter Corroon on Friday, May 14th at Kayo Gallery.
Higher Ed In Medias Res A Look at UVU's growing art program by Amanda Moore
For this month's column on Higher Ed, I headed to Orem to visit with the people of Utah Valley University. The changeover from UVSC to UVU has had a major impact on the art department as well as the rest of the campus. UVU has some fresh new professors, curators and dreams to help cultivate some amazing talent.
When visiting UVU, you have to first make a trip to the University Mall. Tucked away on the second floor next to Nordstrom is the Woodbury Art Museum. This temporary space makes you forget you are in a mall the moment you walk through its front doors. The staff has worked hard to create an exhibition space to showcase pieces from their permanent collection as well as temporary exhibits. The Woodbury will eventually move to a permanent space on the UVU campus, but don't wait until then to visit; it’s a short drive with a big payoff. Mark your calendars for the opening of Art of Our Century on June 11th, from 6 to 8pm.|0| The exhibit is a juried show of work engaging the aesthetic dialogue of today. Also, look forward to next January when they will host an Urban Arts exhibition. This summer, youth artists will work in collaboration on large-scale graffiti pieces on raw canvas to be shown in the exhibition.
Assistant Curator Melissa Hempel |1| recently came to the Woodbury from northern California, where she was working at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, CA. At Headlands, she had the opportunity to work and live with a collective of artists from Los Angeles and one tail-less raccoon. Hempel has a BA in the History of Art and Visual Culture and an MA in Museum Studies. She says she loves a challenge, even if that challenge is persuading people that excellent art can be on the second floor of University Mall, or to join the Museum's Facebook Fan page. She wants to make sure the Woodbury is connected to the rest of Utah's art scene, and has been writing for 15 Bytes as a way to get to know the larger community. This fall, she is looking forward to teaching Introduction to Museum Studies. It will give her an opportunity to use the Museum's space and collection to promote the UVU mission of engaged learning.
The current show at Woodbury is a double header with BFA Final Projects and the UVU Student Art Show. The Student Show was juried this year by BYU's Curator for Contemporary Art, Jeff Lambson. Lambson awarded senior photographer Teagan Alex best in show for selections from her body of work entitled Confrontations with Death.|2-3| "As soon as I walked in the gallery I was drawn to her photograph of the dead deer. Its eyes were glazed over in death, but the blue sheen gave it a ghostly life…" says Lambson. He was very impressed with Teagan's ability to make thoughtful, well-crafted work that also has a strong concept. Teagan's dog Tyke, who received a terminal diagnosis of skin cancer in the summer of 2009, inspired this body of work. Knowing she had to come to grips with his mortality, she began photographing dead animals. For her final presentation, she created cement frames that complement the images both aesthetically and symbolically.
David Jones, a student with a double major in Painting and Graphic Design, won the director's choice award in the Student Show for his piece "Stop and Breathe." Jones, a father of five, says he has felt very fortunate to be a part of the student body during the transition to a university, when there has been a strong move to add programs and classes. The faculty has been very supportive and encouraged Jones to explore both of his majors while balancing a hectic family life. His professor Tawni Shuler pushed him this semester to break down what he knew and analyze his own processes. It was in her class that David started his body of work in which the large-scale piece "Stop and Breathe" was created. An abstract piece made of three panels measuring a total of 12 x 8 feet, it dominates the exhibition space and demands interaction from the audience with its sophisticated use of drips and pours.|4|
Tawni Shuler, Visiting Artist at UVU, came to Orem from a residency at the Red Lodge Clay Center in Red Lodge, Montana. Her Special Topics class, the one in which Jones changed the direction of his work, centered on the process and experimentation of painting. This class helped students find confidence in their own abilities both conceptually and technically. She hopes the art department will continue this approach as well as collaborate with areas inside and out of the art department.
Shuler recently had a solo show at the Woodbury and will have a couple of pieces in the upcoming Art of Our Century Exhibition. The work in her recent exhibition is an examination of her own life experiences, inspired by memory, specifically those associated with her rural childhood in Wyoming and the life cycles witnessed on her family farm. "By painting layer upon layer, using both opaque paint and transparent washes, my process is similar to the way memory functions. Using these layers, I can recall the way the mind orders specifics by pushing the less important elements to the hazy background and bringing the more important features to the foreground."|5|
If readers have any information on art in the colleges and universities they would like to pass on please feel free to email Amanda Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exhibition Spotlight Call of Duty EJ Curry at Art Access
This month at Access II Gallery two young artists display their vibrant, street inspired work in an exhibit titled "Call of Duty." Carlos Perez received his training at an Art Access Teen Workshop Program, whereas EJ Curry received more formal training at the University of Utah. Both artists have seen the best and worst of life and infuse their art with that experience.
Curry was one of 35 young artists featured in our 35 x 35 exhibition at Finch Lane Gallery last year. Though his art is vibrant, his inner vision is often dark and problematic. He fights to understand race, gender, class and stereotyping. In that 2009 interview he talked about his development as an artist, the issues that move him, and his working process.