Going forward, we’ll have to be careful. We’ll have to specify whether we’re talking about the “new” Gittins Gallery or the “old” one.
The old one is located in the University of Utah’s fine arts building, that towering Brutalist hunk of concrete slab and wood trim that can be hard to navigate for the neophyte. It’s fairly easy to find the Gittins Gallery, however. (The old one, that is.) It’s on the bottom floor, just past the information desk, and it has for decades served as a resident exhibition space for group and solo shows from faculty, students and those in-betweeners, MFA candidates. It’s kind of the hearth around which the entire department would gather.
The new one is not far away, just north, across the patio, in the less imposing Film and Media Arts building. Think of it as the mother-in-law apartment to the old gallery’s family hearth. Film and Media seems appropriate considering the way new media are proliferating in contemporary art practice, so that knowledge of Photoshop and Final Cut is as important as facility with oil paints and clay. The 2,360 square-foot space has been specifically designed with these developments in mind and includes two new video/installation spaces, created, as the U’s press release indicates, “with an eye to future possibilities for artists — both for students and professionals — to grow and expand their research.” One accesses the exhibition spaces through a foyer that also serves as a small gallery, and the new Gittins Gallery also features a kitchen for catering, energy-efficient lighting, ADA accessibility, and adjustable climate control and sound control.
In Return, the gallery’s house-warming exhibit, the emphasis on new media is represented by the work of Ephraim and Justin Watson. The former is a graduate from 2003; his “GAMMA,” a collaborative piece with his sister and father, was first exhibited outdoors in a remote desert location and now occupies one of the stand-alone exhibition spaces, so that its audio component does not intrude on other work: the installation features four Geiger counters, amplified by speakers so the sound of pings of cosmic gamma particles bounce around the four corners of the room (a second installation room, given over to movie posters from graduates of the film department, could be missed without much regret). Watson is a more recent graduate and in one corner of the main space tripods mounted with screens display his phantasmagoric deconstructions of digital imagery. This inaugural exhibit brings together alumni from across disciplines: art history, art teaching, book arts, ceramics, graphic design, illustration, painting and drawing, photography, printmaking and sculpture. Like the mainstays at family gatherings, you’ll recognize lots of names from the local scene: Connie Borup, Denis Phillips, Nancy Rivera, Vanessa Romo; one of Stefanie Dykes’ always imaginative interpretations of the printmaking process unspools down one of the main walls. But, like the cousin who returns after years abroad, there are some delightful additions to the conversation, like the sprawling narrative paintings of Ben Duke or the floor sculpture by Brad Evan Taylor that wends its way among the movable walls.
The generally contemporary feel of the exhibit is interrupted by a wall of somewhat dated portrait work. They are by and of the U alumna who has helped to keep the Gittins name on the new exhibitions space (and cause confusion for us all, at least for the immediate future). A graduate from 1948, Mary Lois Wheatley was a student of the gallery’s namesake, Alvin Gittins, who was appointed to the art faculty in 1947 and served as the chair of the department from 1956-1962. For a generation of U graduates, he was the realist yang to Doug Snow’s abstract yin. For now, at least, you’ll also find his name attached to the old space, where you’ll find the annual exhibition of BFA students through April 25.
Return, Gittins Gallery, Film and Media Arts Building, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, through Apr. 14
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.