Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Under the Surface Assembles a Roster of Artistic Explorers

Installation view of Under the Surface, with a view of Frank McEntire’s “Silent Spring” (left) and a photographic work by Jason Allred (right)

When we care about our message, no matter what it is, we will also care about its delivery.
—from the exhibition statement by Jason Lanegan

There are times when a viewer can stand before a work of art and see that it’s real, yet be unable to understand how someone could have created it. A recent addition to this select body of objects is by UVU Professor Alexandra Giannell. “Fallacies of Structure” makes visible how the pursuit of knowledge inevitably leads into contradictions that stymie reasoning and comprehension. It’s paradoxical that Giannell succeeds in accurately depicting this failure to grasp using only graphite powder on a huge piece of paper. Yet the structure of thought, seen clearly in the foreground, becomes more and more resistant to resolution as its implications multiply in the cavernous contrasts of light and dark.

Meanwhile, it seems odd that, with so many excellent local art programs, more stress is not given to using the gallery as a teaching tool. That’s surely part of the idea behind Under the Surface, an exhibition now in UVU’s Gallery on 6th, a small space tucked behind the box office of the spacious, modern Noorda Performance Arts Center. Here are works by professors and graduate assistants who share the desire to demonstrate characteristics of quality.

Together, these 30-plus works by nine artists show how substantial achievements in craftsmanship, drafting, composition, color handling, and similar surface qualities can overlay and contain story structure, memory, the projection of identity, and more. While their works look forward to Contemporary approaches, they also hark back to the refined object. They boldly answer a host of criticisms: that beauty no longer has a place in art; that content is the business of academics, not artists; and that social outreach has turned art into a source of mere propaganda.

Alexandra Giannell’s “Fallacies of Structure”


Installation view of Under the Surface with works, from left to right, by Jason Lanegan, Adam Larsen, Mary Anne Crabtree, Abraham Kimball (x2), Mary Anne Crabtree, and Jason Allred.

It starts with “Silent Spring,” a five-year-old nature study by Frank McEntire, kept relevant by the contrast between the natural beauty captured in its assemblage—salt blocks, a wasp nest on a branch, elaborate bird feathers—and the stark warning of its title, which refers to the disappearance of the living animals who created them. The works that follow include small gems, like the sculptures of Jason Lanegan that call for close looking, and large pieces like Giannell’s, or Mary Anne Crabtree’s “Still-life Aftermath,” which reverses the relative proportions of parents and children by bringing adult viewers into the company of an enormous high chair they couldn’t hope to climb, thereby reversing feelings of helplessness and dependency.

Another installation that inverts roles, this time in order to expose the mechanisms of deception, is Adam Larsen’s “Eloquence Simulator,” in which the audience goes behind the curtain to witness some means by which mediocre performers can be given greater powers. While the orators—let’s say the candidates—aren’t present, the sources of the artificial skills that manipulate the impressionable are.

The Wasatch Front sustains many artist-recyclers and assemblage makers. In addition to McEntire, Lanegan, and Larsen, Abraham Kimball supplements dynamic prints like “CHAIRished Friends” with ominous architecture in “A Plot Upon This Ledger.” One wonders if their combined influence inspired multi-conceptual printmaker Samantha Snyder to pile on the genre dimensions of “Little Grey Cells,” in which photo-collage on a trompe-l’œil panel turns into 3-D collage and finally into a window-in-the-round with a real curtain and rod. She certainly puts the viewers’ perception to work.


Installation view of Adam Larsen’s “Eloquence Simulator”


Installation view of Jason Lanegan’s “Hair-loom Series”

Completing a circuit of the gallery, a viewer may exit past Jason Lanegan’s “Hair-loom Series,” three carved stone animals wearing harnesses woven from his daughters’ hair. For anyone curious about arts education today, this is a chance to lift the hood and glimpse how the machinery works.


Under the Surface, Gallery on 6th, Noorda Center for the Performing Arts, Orem, through July 18


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