The ultimate aim of any multi-artist exhibition is to achieve a pairing, trio, or subsequent combination so brilliant that everyone is left asking why these particular artists didn’t team up sooner. The artworks would enhance and underscore each other so well that it appears to be a match made in artist heaven. On the other hand, multi-artist exhibitions fall flat when disparate artists are shoved into the same space and declared to be in “conversation.” In these cases, the combination doesn’t underscore so much as undermine the art’s efficacy. Recently, the former type of multi-artist exhibition has been on display in Household Gods and Sacred Spaces at Writ and Vision on Provo’s Center Street. The latter is better exemplified by the Provo Library’s Noun Show.
Household Gods and Sacred Spaces highlights the dynamic work of James Rees, Rebecca Klundt, and Adam Thomas. Each is a force in their own right, but together, they pack quite the punch. Their instantly recognizable individual styles complement each other and in most cases highlights the shared strength of their work.
Rebecca Klundt’s still lifes and abstract scenes, each pieced together from bits of reclaimed wood, open and close the exhibition and fittingly provide its name, as Klundt appears to be the linchpin of the show. Her works, halfway between painting and sculpture, bridge the gap between Thomas and Rees. On the one hand, Adam Thomas takes Klundt’s materiality to a new level by taking similarly found materials and turning them into sculptures and installations that stand on their own. On the other hand, James Rees creates monotypes, drawings, and paintings that, while technically two-dimensional, use ink and textured paper to create vivid works every bit as substantial as those of his exhibition partners.
For these three, the pinnacle of the show, or the point at which their works most strongly complement and complete each other, comes early on with their grouping of chair pieces: Klundt’s “Sweet On,” with its buttery yellow background and barely off-kilter kitchen table chairs; Thomas’ “Leveling Up,” pieced together from used box-beam levels and L-square rulers; and Rees’ colorful pair of “Two Chairs” monotypes, better named in pencil at the bottom of the one-off prints as “Two Common Souls.”
Household Gods and Sacred Spaces intends to examine everyday objects that, when looked at more closely, take on sacred significance. Chairs are an excellent place to start. We use them everyday as a place to sit, work, talk, eat, and rest, and it is easy to overlook them in our cluttered spaces. Yet, they are some of the strongest determinants of our health and wellbeing. A chair goes a long way towards improving or increasing the aching in your joints. A well-chosen chair can be a reflection of its owner: the cozy armchair for the avid reader, the ergonomic computer chair for the rising tech worker, the chipped and scuffed kitchen chair for the tired parent. Each chair is its own kind of throne. Klundt, Rees, and Thomas honor them all.
Throughout the rest of the exhibit, the artists diverge to explore other objects that have taken on unique meanings to each of them, such as Klundt’s pencils and piano keys, Rees’ teacup and plant, and Thomas’ banisters, from which he creates a “Long and Winding Road.” Each artwork beckons the viewer into a reflective space in which every common object has a sacred significance, if you are patient enough to find it.
The exhibit is short on words — there are none besides the title accompanying each work and the opening statement which hints that each object explored has “punctuated important moments in these artists’ creative lives” and therefore must have a powerful story and intended meaning. While these are not given to the audience, what is given is time and space for each guest to establish their own meeting. For this purpose, two clean and cozy armchairs sit side by side, overlooking the entire exhibition. Here, you can sit a spell and ponder the sacred significance of the ordinary objects you have just seen in extraordinary ways because of the combined effect of the works of three complementary artists.
If the combination of Rees, Klundt, and Thomas is like a vibrant spice mix, The Noun Show’s amalgamation of disparate Utah artists is like oil and water. Excellent on their own, messy when mixed. The overarching idea meant to unify them is a good one: in art, the subject matter is always a noun, which can be broken down as a person, place, thing, or idea. It has the potential to be a great exhibition, if each artwork can purposefully examine a single noun, and if we can be clear on what each noun is. It could even become a genuinely innovative series of exhibitions —The Noun Show, Verb Show, Adjective Show, even the more esoteric Conjunction Show and Preposition Show.
Unfortunately, The Noun Show falls short of its potential. It’s not that any of the artists featured couldn’t have a successful solo show or be a key player in a multi-artist show (In fact, one of the featured artists is James Rees. The others are Stephanie Hock, Abigale Palmer, Javicci, Beki Tobiasson, Izzi Ballstaedt, and Mike Whiting & Amanda Jane Jones.). But when shown together, the artists’ mediums don’t blend–they clash. Rather than supporting and making room for each other, each artwork demands its own space.
In some sections of The Attic, where the library hosts their exhibitions, it was possible to give each artist their own space. While Laura Erekson contributes only five works to the show, her Winter Wonderland series depicting a little girl in different colored wool hats exploring a white, snowy landscape marked with the impression of different tools, like needle-nose pliers or a wrench, fit on one wall. They can be enjoyed as their own show within a show. And with the exception of one piece, all of James Rees’ paintings are hung side by side, separate from the other artists.
In other places where two artists were forced to share space, the works can at least coexist. For example, while the colors of Izzi Ballstaedt’s pop art-inspired celebrity portraits and the colorful metal sculptures of Block Party (Mike Whiting & Amanda Jane Jones) don’t exactly match, they have loosely the same contemporary “vibe.” And Abigale Palmer and Stephanie Hock’s colorful oil paintings hang side by side well enough.
But sometimes the works just clash. Unfortunately, this is what happens in an alcove shared by Beki Tobiasson and Javicci. While both artists deal with the world of ideas— one-fourth of the noun’s territory — they do so in fundamentally different ways. Tobiasson’s encaustics radiate peace. Javicci’s assemblage sculptures radiate chaos. Tobiasson mixes colors in waves and streaks to create meditative images in which you can lose yourself for a time and ponder the concepts of blessing, love, and cleansing.
Meanwhile, Javicci piles up 3-D printed figures of everything from Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Christus to one of Universal Studios Transformers, each the color of rust and oxidized copper, around a clock, ship, or body with the head of an octopus, and sucks you into a fantastical journey. Again, both artists have created excellent works on their own. But it is hard to give Tobiasson’s encaustics the attention they deserve when Javicci’s sculptures continue to pull focus, and it is frequently impossible to stand back and really look at any of her work without bumping directly into a pedestal carrying a couple of Javicci’s assemblages.
To be clear, neither the artists nor the library deserve any blame. The artists produced excellent work, which is their job, and the library presented community artwork to the community, which is their job. But ideally, in a multi-artist show, the viewer doesn’t experience whiplash from moving between artworks. Rather, they should feel supported, like each artwork enhances the next, leading to a summit, not a cliff.
But if there is one thing we can take away from all of this, it is that Utah County is growing a strong art community filled with talented artists. Perhaps not all these artists need to exhibit in the same space, but without a doubt, having so many artists with so much to offer can only be a good thing.
Household Gods and Sacred Spaces, Writ and Vision, Provo, through Oct. 28
The Noun Show, Gene Nelson Attic at Provo City Library, Provo, through Nov. 22
All images courtesy the author
Candace Brown received her BA in Art History and Curatorial Studies from BYU. Raised in Utah, she is proud of the state’s extraordinary artistic community.