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 theInternational 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.
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?”
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.