The Utah Cultural Celebration Center is a large, beautiful building tucked away on many acres of land, lending the space a quiet ambiance that makes visitors at once feel welcome and as if they are in a world all their own. This month, it is also home to Face of Utah Sculpture Exhibition XIII, a diverse and well-rounded show that is currently up for the 13th time in as many years.
The Face of Utah Sculpture Exhibition is the brain child of well-known glass artist Dan Cummings, who wanted a place to showcase a collection of sculptures from artists who had been turned away by other venues. Cummings envisioned a place where sculptures would be the focus of the gallery. Too often, artists who work in three dimensions are denied because galleries are not open to taking their kind of work, or simply do not have the space. This was where Cummings saw an opportunity to create something unique. Michael Christensen, the Visual and Performing Arts manager at the Center, embraced the idea and helped bring it to life. “[Cummings] approached us as a representative of the sculpture community, and we said we’d love to help you facilitate that,” he says. The idea fit the Center’s mission: “It’s more about bringing art’s experiences to communities who aren’t going to get downtown, or they’re not going to get up to UMFA. We respond to community initiatives,” he says. The first show, in 2005, presented the work of 40-45 artists and was so successful the Center was inspired to make it an annual occurrence. Many artists return year after year. As Christensen explains, new artists must submit their work to a panel, but once selected for one exhibition, they are always welcome to come back.
The sculpture show has been transformed over the years into an inclusive space where artists are welcome to show up to two pieces each, and there are no holds barred on the media they work in, as evidenced by the variety of techniques on display this year: there are some traditional bronzed pieces, but the show also includes upcycled materials, sculptures made from fabric, ceramic pieces, glass, stone carving, and even walnut shells. As Christensen explains, “It’s really an eclectic mix of mediums and styles, and what we’re trying to do is say ‘how can we put a face on what it means to be a Utah sculptor?’” One of the ways in which the Center focuses on keeping opportunities open for creators is by not telling them what they are looking for, or guiding them regarding what they should make. With artists who are returning to the show, this means that the gallery often doesn’t see the pieces until they arrive. The task then falls to the gallery to arrange a plethora of sculptures in a way that will be pleasing to the eye, and will show the merits of each piece to its fullest potential.
One of the most visually stunning things about the gallery is the dynamic between the sculptures that are presented, and the way they are staged in the space. One of the most commanding pieces in the room is one of the most non-traditional. It is a piece by Richard Prazen titled “Steampunk Airship,” a 5-foot-tall intricately crafted metal boat that looks as if it came directly from the high seas and was modified into a Zeppelin-style airship, complete with sails and an air-powered propeller. On the same side of the gallery, a Ryoichi Suzuki wood sculpture called “Falling Water” commands the space with effortless grace, the fluid curves and lines for which Suzuki has become well known playing directly against the earthy ceramic sculptures by Kristena Eden on either side of it. The juxtaposition between these styles, and the styles of all the other artists in the room, creates a dynamic story that allows the viewer to be transported to the world of each artist. The opportunity to go to a gallery and see organic forms presented next to fanciful, intricate creations is simultaneously breathtaking and intriguing.
A stroll through the gallery at the Cultural Celebration Center seems to beg the visitor to stop and look for a moment at every piece presented within the space. Not only does each artist have an individual voice, each has a completely unique approach to creating sculptural pieces. Some pieces are cheerful and bright, such as the honey-gold stone carving called “New Twist” by Dahrl Thomson, and some are more sinister and complex, like “60 Russian Fairy Tale Images” by Michael Melik. The faces are carved onto the backs of walnut shells, and some are grimacing and making frightening expressions, each crafted with absolute precision. The flow of the space, however, remains uninterrupted despite the multiple different styles that are presented in the gallery room. It is truly the kind of show that can only be deeply appreciated when effort is taken to interact with the space, consider each piece, and carry on to the next.
Regarding the future of the Face of Utah Sculpture Exhibition, Christensen says that the Center will respond to the requests of the community. The team behind Face of Utah would like to see the exhibition expand and use the outdoor spaces for a large garden exhibition. For now, though, the inside gallery space holds enough art to get many different voices heard, and to make art readily available to the public. Genres and materials complement and juxtapose one another in the gallery, and the exhibition is an opportunity for new artists to show with established ones, and for patrons to view new work by their favorite artists. Christensen says “it’s almost like a family reunion” every year when the artists return for opening night of the exhibition, and they vote for each other’s pieces to win cash prizes. All in all, the Utah Cultural Celebration Center has gone above and beyond to create a gorgeous, inclusive gallery space, and to showcase many different definitions of what it means to be a Utah sculptor.
The Face of Utah Sculpture XIII is at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City through August 30.
Andrea Wall is a graduate of Southern Utah University with a BA in Creative Writing, and minors in both Ceramics and Theatre Arts. She completed an honors thesis that focused on the synthesis of literature and ceramics. She plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Master’s degree in ceramics, and to work as a studio artist and writer.