“Domestic Remiss” is the title of a work by Kylie Millward that appeared in Space Maker, a 2021, pandemic-inspired exhibit at UMFA that, as 15 Bytes reported at the time, was drawn “from work by faculty within the University of Utah’s Department of Art and Art History to showcase compellingly the ways in which artists have navigated their own art making during this once-in-a-century crisis.” The pandemic panic may be over, but the relevance of Millward’s take on domestic servitude remains as biting and truthful as ever. Thankfully, Emily Larsen, curator of the Bountiful Davis Art Center’s 48th Annual Statewide Competition, agrees we could all use another look. The 24 images of “Domestic Remiss” tell an initially neutral story of household labor that in subtle stages breaks down — the first definite sign that all is not well being the chef’s whisk planted among the garden flowers in frame six — and culminates eighteen frames later with the presumed housewife, suitcases in hand, departing a house that is not only on fire, but sinking into a small lake flowing from faucets she’s left open.
So natural, so easy to read, are Millward’s artworks that the casual viewer might overlook her choice of format: technically, they’re comics, though part of the good news abroad these days is how many of her peers also choose this universal visual language. Her other contribution here takes this a step further by animating its image, of a vase of flowers being spilled on the floor. Yet despite being comics and cartoons, these are sophisticated works. The vase from which the flowers fall in “Menstruation Rhythm” may be the first time anyone has called attention to the resemblance between the two-handled victory quaff, a vessel often symbolic of two-fisted masculinity, and the most essential, and so of course most female, parts of human anatomy. In addition, the artist loops the scene so it repeats incessantly, capturing the exhausting inexhaustibility of what is often styled “the curse” and, perhaps, expressing some frustration at one of nature’s more extravagant and profligate strategies. Millward’s appearance here also coincides with her selection for one of Utah Arts five Design Arts Fellowships for 2023.
For 176 years, Utah society has resonated with the theme of “arrival.” Whether escaping the poverty of Liverpool slums or the anomie of modern life anywhere, people came here and continue to do so expecting a kind of Utopia. Perfection, of course, means things not only need not change, but cannot. And unfortunately, humans—and especially the creative and artistic among them—don’t deal well with things they aren’t allowed to change, to tinker with, and even outright replace. So it should come as little surprise that a collection of 88 works of art from across the State of Utah shows the result of a gradual and long-standing shift from an emphasis on arrival to thoughts of, for want of a more inclusive term, “departure.”
Even the most conventional-seeming works here show signs of it. Take Andrey Sledkov’s bronze figure of “Moroni.” At the moment when the iconic angel has begun to disappear from some temples, Sledkov has chosen to augment the familiar realistic image with a more rugged, almost expressionist version. His Moroni is less etherial, less unworldly, and more like the ambitious, hard-workers who followed him here. Meanwhile, Carlie de Jesus relocates the popular, if often controversial “Joy Ride” to a jungle setting, with an ox, a rubber-tired wagon, and a suggestion not so much of pleasure, but of the child labor that poverty too often imposes.
While a show like BYU’s Maynard Dixon retrospective, Searching for a Home, will not soon lose its nostalgic appeal, there are signs of change here in how artists view the landscape. “Die Wüste Lebt,” which in German means “The Desert Lives,” gives us Günther Johannes Haidenthaller vision of the desert, not as empty, Wagnerian stage set for a purely human drama, but a lively environment in its own right. In “Born to Be Wild,” on the other hand, Valerie Hollstein is content to see the redrock country as a backdrop for a less sanctimonious, more playful drama, which she represents with a figure collaged from rainbow shards of colored glass. Even Trish Melander’s “Capitol Reef,” in which a path leads among trees and fallen rocks, presents a deliberately more approachable landscape.
And then there’s the family, another of Utah’s great themes. Kevin Madden’s “Portrait of a Mother” could have been titled “Black Madonna” – if, that is, he’d wanted to look back to a time when race was taken for granted, instead of ahead to a time when it’s not thought of at all. Sarah Maynard’s “A Mother on the Phone,” on the other hand, asks that this vignette, in which a woman, as she often must, handles two tasks at once, be seen as simply stating the facts — nothing more, nothing less — including the universal curiosity and caution of children.
This may well be a case of the artists running a few steps ahead of their audience, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that they’re not alone in having reached the point where cultural assurances that life is unfolding as it should are no longer convincing. It’s human nature that some who have found a place will choose to stay there, but it’s also natural to want to go beyond. That penchant is what Clinton Whiting has captured in “Foresee,” wherein a pair of figures lean into the future, already anticipating what is to come. And more often than we might think, that’s what our arguably best artists do.
48th Annual Statewide Exhibition, Bountiful Davis Art Center, Bountiful, through July 31