Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

The Modern West Explores Identity and Landscape in Utah’s Backdrop

Xi Zhang, “Double Reflection in Salt Lake,” 2023, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 36 x 48 in.

Featuring ten artists, including five guest artists and five whom the gallery represents, The Modern West at Modern West Fine Art hones in on personal ties to the state of Utah and the interconnection of the West and individual identity. The exhibition both combines the physical body with landscape as well as examines the inner workings of personal identity in the geographical location of the West. Through these lenses, the West becomes a sort of entity for transformation, taking on a persona, sometimes with mythical powers, that allows it to hold multifaceted experiences simultaneously.

Fidalis Buehler’s many works exude a resounding presence that fills the gallery space and the majority of the upstairs walls. His pieces offer potent examinations of identity and persona through sheer layers of material, textures and paints. “Bathers” depicts two figures twirling by a body of water underneath the star-filled night sky. Perhaps a mother and son, the pair sheer against the background, becoming one with the water and land. The symbiosis of land and body is mineralistic, possibly the body of water is the Great Salt Lake, the stars in the sky becoming salt crystals that shine above the dancing pair. This delicate fusion of body and land links physicality to the West, emphasizing the necessity of the body within the iconic landscape.

The sheerness of Buehler’s work is shared in Xi Zhang’s “Double Reflection in Salt Lake.” Zhang’s brushstrokes hold fruitful movement as the work seems to melt beyond the confinements of the canvas. Portraying an individual sitting on a park bench at the edge of Salt Lake, the work shines an alternate, nearly psychedelic universe back at the viewer within the reflections in the water. The individual is glowing yellow like a divine spirit, while their reflection is murky and dark. In fact, the bright sun’s reflection is also murky, appearing like an unknown planet when reflected in the lake’s waves. Zhang is a master of his color palette, his highlights exploding against his dark contrasts creating an otherworldly essence. The work effectively suggests that the West is a location for pondering and that its physicality constantly changes and morphs with the ideas of those who reside upon its surface.

Antra Sinha, “Wave,” 2022, ceramic, 5 x 11 in. each / set of 32 pieces

This connection between the physical body and the landscape is prevalent within The Modern West as the exhibited artists often depict the body growing from the landscape or vice versa, the origin of which is hidden deeply within each work. “Untitled 1” by Moana Palelei Iose shows a Polynesian woman growing from the city like a skyscraper, while Jiyoun Lee-Lodge’s Waterman series combines wavelike abstractions with human body parts. “Wave” by Antra Sinha further blurs the line between land and body. The 32-piece ceramic work features her computer-modeled shape, the Tetrarc. Possessing the qualities of both industrially manufactured detritus and biological formations like seashells, the shape and resulting work embody similarities across global landscapes. In her process of composition, Sinha placed each ceramic creation in different parts of a wood kiln, yielding unique and differing colors and patterns across the striated surface of each piece. The work itself is cohesive, hung unusually in a straight line across its wall space. This cohesion is reflective of Sinha’s experience living in seven countries, where she saw similarities in the personalities, mannerisms, reactions, and struggles in individuals living across the globe. While each piece is distinctive and unique, it shares a broader identity in its similarities to the collective whole. In regards to Utah, the work has an unmistakable primordial energy as if it belongs to the state’s antediluvian landscape while simultaneously appearing to be the crumbled sides of an edifice from one of Utah’s modern cities.

Eugene Tapahe, “Remember Our Sister, MMIX,” 2020, archival pigment print, 37.5 x 55 in., edition of 5

Eugene Tapahe’s “Remember Our Sisters” stands fiercely at the far end of the exhibition. Part of Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project photo series from 2020, the work represents painfully familiar sentiments, namely the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. Four indigenous women stand like an immovable obelisk clad in traditional wear. The red handprint connected to the MMIW movement is replaced by red facemasks, a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic and disparities in health treatment and access to medical care and equipment for indigenous nations. The women stand upon the Bonneville Salt Flats, which is native land of the Goshute people. Through their deep connection with the land, the women call out systemic disparities and injustices that steal the lives of indigenous peoples, specifically women.

Gender is further explored in Angela Ellsworth’s “Stand Back Untitled 2.” The self-portrait features Ellsworth sheathed in a rose-pink pioneer dress and bonnet, a chiffon cape extending off the back of the dress as she floats against fluffy clouds and blue skies. Ellsworth appears divine, the pinnacle representation of ideal femininity in religious factions across the Western landscape. Her character takes to the sky, the pink starkly contrasting with the blue background as she floats in the heavens above the West. The work addresses gender confinements in religion, as well as idols of feminity within these confinements and their relationship to the atmosphere and land.

The Modern West extrapolates our idea of the landscape that Utahns call home. Simultaneously an idea, a place, a portal and a persona, the West yields a multitude of intersecting, contradicting and coexisting viewpoints that mesh into the fabric of the space.

Angela Ellsworth, “Stand Back Untitled 2 (Still from Performance Stand Back), Archival Pigment Print, 29.75 x 44.75 in., Edition of 5

The Modern West, Modern West Fine Art, Salt Lake City, through Sep. 30

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