Remembering the Great Things of God, the LDS Church’s 8th International Art Competition currently at the LDS Conference Center, is a bold and vibrant display of more than 200 artists’ individual manifestations of the religious experience. In this exhibit, artists of many nationalities address their own spiritual perspectives and incorporate subject and meaning in a spectrum of art which takes advantage of a broad range of tools and forms, resulting in an art exhibition that is as lively as it is meaningful.
The artistic inventiveness pervasive in the show is generations beyond traditional LDS art which, using works by artists such as Arnold Freeburg, had become homogenous and created a latent canon of its own. As seen in this exhibit, much of the art representing the LDS faith might be included with the best of today’s art world and captures spiritual interpretations in ways that may be surprising to many viewers.
Photorealism is a method used often to capture reality at its most brutal, yet despite its gravity, it might also reveal hope that is often hidden in humanity. In “A Caring Savior” Steven Barker of Colorado paints an image that can compete with any photographic essay dealing with a coarser side of reality but also presents hope, which is the backbone behind all who thirst for salvation. Here, a woman in a tattered coat, surrounded by the cluttered bags that hold her only earthly possessions, prying into a can of some meager food, faceless behind her lowered hood, sits on a pavement ledge. Behind her hovers a face of Christ; a Christ who is knowing, compassionate, real, and whose spirit emanates around the unwitting woman, protecting her.
The gritty realism of Barker’s homeless woman –and the lost multitudes, searching for light and truth, that she represents — may be contrasted to the symbolic realism in a digital image by Esther Deborah Benn of Germany: “Light in all Things.” In a densely wooded forest with a clearing in the trees, darkness is penetrated by a ray of light. This light, like the hope searched for by Barker’s homeless woman and longed for by many who linger in obscurity, is available in abundance with power enough to illuminate a dense forest. The wanderer, the traveler, the seeker or the woman who is lost — who longs for this illumination and possibility, simply have to turn and look.
Symbolism, such as light, is abundant in the exhibition, expressing abstract universal and spiritual truths. Though the figure of Christ, the central figure in the LDS Church, is absent from many of these works of art, what is seen ubiquitously is a product of the reality of Christ and the spirituality which he represents: the reality of the salvation that comes through his sacrifice. “Eternal Family,” a sculpture by Robby Ray Burton of Florida, is a simple yet exquisite form. Carved from alabaster, three unified beings hold one another, clad in white — the purity that may come when the family is united in spiritual oneness. The head of the mother and father and their interlocking arms embracing the child form a heart-like shape — a moving portrait of the core of the best in humanity.
The art in Remembering the Great Things of God is largely illustrative, rendering narratives of the religious experience, whether speaking to the general or the specific. In “The Gathering,” a pristine and emotive canvas by Joshua Wallace Jensen of Utah, a loosely grouped collection of individuals traverse a sloped field, not aimlessly but in a manner which shows submission to something greater and belief and faith and knowledge that that greater power is within sight, is tangible, is real. The sacred subject painted by Gary Kapp of Utah in “A Voice From the Dust,” speaks to LDS members and those interested in the miraculous moment as the prophet Joseph Smith, guided by the Angel Moroni, unearths the Golden Plates.
People of all faiths, individuals who are in tune with their spirituality, will find no dearth of meaning at the Conference Center. One does not have to be African or LDS to appreciate “A Family History,” by Carolyn Ida Kolb of California. Kolb sculpts an orb-like form where, nestled into this sheltering cocoon is a scene of primitive beauty: an African mother and child, prior to any advent of difference or separation, personify the intimacy and unity of mother and child and the potential unity of all humanity. In David Andre Koch’s “Journey to Moriah” the strength of the young girl, with a dirty face and ragged clothing on an arduous journey with her hand in her mother’s, cannot be denied. The eyes of this child tell that hers is a challenging life for one so young but she will see it through.
Impassioned art from impassioned souls speak messages of spirituality in inventive dynamics and capture elements that are sacred to Latter Day Saints and to all who believe that there is more to life than the day to day; that which is unseen but believed. These images are the essence of this exhibition and speak to all who seek for more than the temporal; to those who have faith, as in “A Stop Along the Way,” by Carmelo Juan Cututupa Caares of Peru, where life has greater meaning and purpose. Here a man, a worker, and his wife, beautiful yet humble, stand in a plowed field underneath an illuminated sky with colors rarely seen except on such moments of the sublime. The painting encourages the belief that happiness is attainable in this life and that it is never ending.
The example set in a painting by John Zamodio of Peru called “Come Unto Me” professes a message permeating this monumental and portentous exhibition. The message is simple and unique to every spirit; to submit themselves, give of themselves and explore a deeper sense of one’s own spirituality. The works in this exhibition encourage viewers to find within themselves value, worth and peace knowing that, like the most humble and faithful — such as the man born blind and healed by Christ, depicted by Tyson Snow of Utah in “Whereas I was Blind, Now I See” — all are of that same flesh, of that same being as he, with the power to have vision beyond the temporal and think less of mortality or mortgages; the world or of work; injustice or income taxes; the ego or the economy. This competition is a healthy reminder that economy is not eternity and that for those “Looking Past the Veil,” (as painted by Kent Wood of California) spirit is universal. Visitors can find for themselves spiritual realms that have gone dormant and see them rejuvenated once again.
Ehren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. For a decade he lived in Salt Lake City and worked as a professional writer until his untimely death in 2017.