The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art has become one of Salt Lake City’s most reliable venues for the art of our time, and its ambitious program, combined with the number and variety of its galleries, can challenge the capacity of the local art press. As this is being written, four small shows have been shoehorned into the spaces between UMOCA’s Main and Street Galleries. While they could easily be overlooked, each presents an artist of international scope that Utah’s art community should be grateful to see.
Stefan Lesueur’s Obscura hangs in the hallway near the back of the upper floor, juxtaposed with the view, through the glass wall opposite, of Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler’s monumental (in subject matter as well as scope) retrospective, Grandma’s Cupboard (see our review here). Not in the least coincidental, this placement of Obscura draws attention to the relation between these two bodies of work. Lesueur’s photographic perspective essentially reverses Ericson and Ziegler’s lifelong look at America’s monuments—Washington, D.C., the national parks, Mount Rushmore, the battlefields of Texas, even Old Glory—and gazes back at Americans while they behold these spectacular sights through the viewfinders of their cameras. Unlike, say, Robert Lakstigala, who toured the country 30 years ago, standing at the back of packs of tourists and photographing them as they photographed the Statue of Liberty and similar sights, Lesueur has meticulously removed the context of each of his large prints, so the details that surround his tourists become negative space, white paper that shapes the figures in their touring attire and backpacks, holding cameras through which they don’t so much see their country’s monuments as accumulate proof: “I was there in person. I saw this myself.” Indeed, what differentiates their photos from any other, often far better shots of Canyonlands, Cannon Beach, or Yellowstone, is who took them, which is what they exist to prove. In essence, Stefan Lesueur has captured the historical moment between the post-Kodak Brownie democratization of photography during the digital age, and the onslaught of the selfie, when everything, even the most imperishable monuments, became mere background to our selves.
Stefan Lesueur: Obscura, part of the Youth and Family Program, is at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in Salt Lake City through December 19.
Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.