On Saturday, Nov. 23, a small group formed in a Salt Lake City backyard filled with chairs and an outdoor heater. After socializing and viewing an art exhibition in the backyard’s small gallery/shed, the group listened to a 20-minute lecture by artist Patrick Durka before time was opened for questions. Decidedly more intimate than a traditional gallery or museum experience, this “pop up” show is part of a new venture by a collective of artists to bridge what they see as a growing gap between artists and audiences in the seemingly elite gallery sphere.
The Open Room hopes to craft a more intimate connection between artists and their viewers by hosting home exhibitions accompanied by artist lectures, food, and critical discussion. The venture, organized by three practicing artists who also teach at the University of Utah — Henry Becker, Nolan Flynn, and Andrew Rice — hosted its first event in October and has shows scheduled for the majority of 2020.
Durka teaches art at Stansbury High School and his “Saline Resistant” project focuses on the nearby Great Salt Lake and surrounding Bonneville Basin, exploring the ambiguity of the notion of land and ownership. For the December exhibition (Saturday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.), Eric Edvalson will exhibit his photographs about the veneration of mundane consumer goods. (Because of the cold weather, the discussion will be indoors.)
At this stage, the venue is accessible by invite only, organized to deliberately engage with a small and committed group of art enthusiasts. According to the organizers, the openings “function a bit different from the typical art show format. Instead of an open door and guests filtering through to casually look at the art and leave soon after … [the] shows center more around a critical dialogue and discussion of the art with a small group of like-minded individuals.”
Salt Lake City’s gallery scene has seen a rapid redirection in recent years, with many galleries either moving locations or shutting down. This trend is in no way coincidental to the threat posed to traditional brick and mortar establishments with the rise of online art galleries such as Artsy and Saachi. It seems inevitable then, that artists will continue to adapt to these new realities by crafting temporary and site-specific exhibitions, which may end up exceedingly more affordable and effective in the long run.
You can follow the project on Instagram at @the_openroom.
Scotti Hill is a lawyer, art critic, and curator based in Salt Lake City. She has contributed to various publications and serves as an adjunct professor of art history at Westminster College. She has a Master’s Degree in art history from the University of Utah.