At South Salt Lake’s newest art gallery, Material, collaboration and community are the same word. Born from the creative minds of local art personas Jorge Rojas and Colour Maisch, Material stands as a model for the progressive art gallery. “As Salt Lake City continues to grow and rents and property costs continue to rise, many people including artists are getting priced out. It’s inevitable that many artists and businesses will continue to move to South Salt Lake and other neighboring areas. We want to contribute to the growing South Salt Lake arts community, while attracting artists and arts audiences from all across the region,” explains Maisch.
Composed of five interconnected rooms fitted with fluorescent lights and crisp white walls, Material’s humble origins are anything but obvious. “Considering that we’ve had to move studios, deal with renovations, permits and licenses for our new space, and programmed five exhibitions, all of which within six months, we pretty much hit all speed bumps at full speed,” comments Rojas. What used to be an unassuming office space underwent an out-of-pocket and gofundme-endowed HGTV moment this past May. What resulted is the multifaceted, multidimensional community space that functions as art gallery spaces, artist studios, stages, and classrooms all wrapped up in one. “The name material refers not only to the physical materiality of the artwork we exhibit but also the conceptual ‘material’ that these exhibitions are speaking to. We see the entire project – studios, exhibitions, classes, and collaborations – as material for creation as a community,” shares Maisch. If one thing is clear, Material is not your typical gallery space.
Material’s stark systemic differences stem from its commitment to serving various artistic communities and the plethora of extracurricular events it hosts within its space. “There are really great galleries in Salt Lake City showing strong work, but we feel like there are still so many contemporary artists that we admire who are not showing their work here in Salt Lake City,” explains Rojas. As artists, both Rojas and Maisch understand the necessity of exhibition space for artists, as well as the absence of many local artists from these spaces. “We are working to create a bit of a different gallery model that is more artist-driven. We deeply understand that the current economic model that artists operate inside of is greatly flawed, and in our own small way, we are striving to put more money in artists’ pockets and to create a highly collaborative experience for those we are working with” shares Maisch. Different from typical fine art galleries, Material splits profits with artists in a sixty-forty divide, rather than the typical fifty-fifty model. To Material, this is a minuscule act aimed at narrowing the gap and creating a more equitable environment for artists. In addition to increased profits, artists at Material co-curate their exhibitions alongside Rojas and Maisch, allowing their voices, visions, and presentation desires to be placed on the front burner. In the words of Rojas, “They know best.” Providing artists with more agency in their exhibitions and displays is a vital change needed in the artistic community, and is one that Material is striving to implement. In addition to giving artists more control, Material aims to diversify the pool of artists it represents. “One of the areas where we feel we can contribute to most is providing space that celebrates and lifts up diversity in all its forms. We are doing this by exhibiting work by both emerging and established artists, artists of color, women artists, and queer artists, partnering with organizations who share these same values, and by providing a space where everyone, regardless of their background or identity, will feel safe and welcome,” says Maisch. In fact, all of Material’s exhibitions this year are only composed of women artists.
That said, gallery exhibitions are not the only events in Material’s repertoire. “We could all really benefit from more unified, community-driven exhibitions and events that through community collaborations will help bring various audiences together,” says Rojas. The gallery will soon provide classes taught by professional artists catered to children, and it seeks to make them as accessible as possible. “These classes will be offered on a sliding scale to make them accessible regardless of ability to pay. We are also offering those students and patrons who have more resources to gift classes to those with fewer resources,” says Maisch. Upcoming classes include Language of Color, which explores color theory, and Drawing with Nature, which investigates repetition, pattern, and mistakes. Material also extends its hand into the performance art world. “We’re excited to host the launch of local designer and musician Andrew Shaw’s Broadsheet project on Aug. 24, featuring work by artists Cara Despain and Michelle Lowry Macfarlane. On Sep.15, we’re presenting Viriditas, an interdisciplinary performance featuring music, dance, and visual art from Ben Swisher, Roxanne Gray, and Scout Invie, with Masio Sangster, Bly Wallentine, and Charlotte Stehmeyer,” shares Rojas. Each performance held inside Material coincides with the artwork that is exhibited on the walls, providing viewers and the community with a multidisciplinary artistic experience that uniquely transcends mediums.
The gallery also has a large parking lot which they plan to utilize to host outside events partnered with local arts and culture organizations. In the next year, Material hopes to start a young collectors group. “We want to provide opportunities to connect directly with artists, collectors, curators and other arts professionals. The goal is to promote a culture of supporting and helping to build a local art market,” says Maisch. Rojas described the gallery as “a cosmic ball of clay,” a malleable substance that can constantly be reshaped to fit the needs of the broader community it exists in. The many artistic outreaches the gallery provides are what make it unique and highly vital to Salt Lake City.
Currently on display as Material’s inaugural exhibition are works by Utah artist Kathryn Knudsen (you can find reviews of Knudsen’s work here and here) and art collective Las Hermanas Iglesias (Lisa and Janelle Iglesias, who are based in Massachusetts and California, respectively). Additionally, the gallery is presently acting as a studio space for Rojas, Maisch, artist designer and illustrator Jessica Wiarda, and ceramic artist Kevin Frazier. Material’s next exhibition opens on Sep. 29, featuring a solo show by Taiwanese artist Lu Wei. Wei works “primarily in Chinese ink painting, focusing on topics of gender politics, mythology, and nature,” shares Maisch.
It is viscerally obvious that Material brings a new energy to the local art scene. Its promising horizon, unique mission, and distinct approach is one that Salt Lake should keep on the front of its books.
Las Hermanas Iglesias: Loose Lips and Kathryn Knudsen: Collaborating with Excess, Material, South Salt Lake, through Sep. 15.
Launch of Broadsheet, featuring work by Jorge Rojas, Cara Despain and Michelle Lowry Macfarlane, Thur., Aug. 24, 7-9 pm.
Avery Greig always has something to contribute. Whether lost in an art exhibition, meandering in downtown salt lake, or haunting a museum, she always has something to say when it comes to art. With her BA in Art History from the University of Utah, she loves sharing her passions for art and writing wrapped up in one.