Art Professional Profile: Salt Lake City
The Art of Exhibitions
A discussion with the UMOCA's new curator Aaron Moulton
Aaron Moulton, Senior Curator of Exhibitions at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) curates exhibitions as an artist would make art. He has a quiet but alert presence, constantly aware of how things connect and relate. Extremely articulate and passionate about contemporary art, he discussed his personal vision and what is up and coming at UMOCA.
The passion and energy Moulton has for art and his exhibitions is inspiring. He grew up exploring art, in high school and college, taking classes in hopes of finding greater understanding and meaning. He found early that he was drawn to the materials and process of different media. He explored not only painting and drawing but also photography, printmaking, ceramics, and even glassblowing. He knew early, though, that he wasn’t going to be a studio artist, so he mixed art with psychology and began exploring art therapy. A fundamental understanding of process, he found, was needed to best apply art to therapy, and this early understanding of the importance of process has helped shape his approach to curatorial practice. “ I think that is where art historians and curators fail, is that they have no idea of how to make art, or what goes into the actual material process of art making," he says. "So there's this disconnect that often really commonly exists and that's just natural.”
The idea of art therapy quickly fizzled, though, and Moulton focused on Art History and Italian Language. As he studied, he recognized, almost randomly, many of the works of art discussed in class. That recognition came from his parents, both doctors, who though they had little interest in art themselves (they didn't collect art, or make it, even as a hobby), took him to museums as they traveled.
After school Moulton started to work in various jobs and internships, picking up experience and insight along the way. Working at Christie's auction house and Gagosian Gallery in New York, for example, he gained insight to both the primary and secondary art markets. But the most important experience, he says, is what he learned working as a curatorial assistant at the Guggenheim museum with Susan Davidson. “She gave me a really interesting sense of research, approach and ways of thinking about maintaining the context of an artist. I think a really delicate responsibility of a curator is how to go forth and make cohesive ideas and themes that are not subsuming the artist or are not taking them for granted -- how to maintain and nurture the individual's context within the group setting and help it benefit by proximities of other artworks.”
After earning a master's in Curatorial Practice from the Royal College of Art in London, Moulton started to work closely with artists in the documentation of performances and helping production of art alongside the artists. It was as a journalist, though, that he says he gained his most important professional experience. The constant exposure to so many different artists and ideas encountered while an editor at Flash Art filtered through his own interests to shape his curatorial aesthetic.
It is the sum of all of these experiences-- the museum visits with his parents, studying psychology and art history, practicing studio art, curating -- filtered through his journalistic sensibilities that shape his vision today.“I don’t think an exhibition is just about material or pure ideas, I think it is about
really subtle overlaps of all of these characteristics and then some that just come out, based on this issue of juxtaposition, which is a simple and fundamental thing that the curator does -- the mutual growth that things take, or the context that things take on based on the process of setting them next to each other. It's complicated, but it's a lot like cooking, putting together a recipe, about certain ingredients that enhance others and it's about just making sure that all the ingredients are present.”
From 2007 to 2011 Aaron and his partner, Mette Ravnkilde Nielsen, cooked up their personal vision of contemporary art as directors of Galerie Feinkost in Berlin.
The pair, who are expecting their first child, moved to Salt Lake when Moulton accepted the curatorial position at UMOCA in January.
Moulton is very busy getting settled into his new responsibilities at UMOCA, meeting a lot of people and seeing a lot of what is going on here in Utah. He recently visited both Weber State University and the University of Utah to help critique and curate student work, and says he's excited about the younger generation. “It's exciting some of the stuff I’ve been finding. There’s an amazing microcosm of really good artists making really strong work, in their undergrad. That’s exciting. That’s typically something that people start to get excited about or recognize in a grad situation, rather than in an undergrad.”
He sees his role as a curator as more than just someone to put on the latest work from outside the state, but to mix what is happening locally with contemporary art on a global scale. “I like the idea that my job isn’t just in import/export, but it's about cultivation. Centers of the art world are always New York, LA, London, and Berlin. We can kind of pretend it's Utah too, and prove it.”
UMOCA's name change this year from the Salt Lake Art Center to the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art is emblematic of the new vision and responsibility it has taken on in Utah. Moulton is at its epicenter, leading the way. “I think you can tangibly detect what kind of effect contemporary art can have on the culture here," he says of UMOCA's role in the community. "It can fundamentally change the way people think about art.”
His influence is clearly shown in the exhibit just installed in the main gallery. Cantastoria not only embodies Aaron’s vision, but also the function and purpose of UMOCA itself, to preserve culture and to tell stories. The exhibit features an international mix of artists, including Utah locals, all using a myriad of media to explore their ideas. Those ideas then expand as they are mixed together within the context of the exhibition. “That is what is exciting about this show. I’ve got 3 generations of Utah artists in it, which I’m really excited about in terms of thinking about the differences and specificities within each of the practices and then putting that within a larger international contemporary art dialogue. I mean, it's just thrilling.”
The show focuses both on the stories we tell, and, as we might expect from Moulton, how we tell them. “I think this exhibition is about what the museum is, it's about who we are as people. It's about narrativity and how we try and construct history, like history painting; it's about how we try and preserve ideas and the difficulties and the delicate nature of information as it relates to truth but how it relates to continuity, thinking about the telephone game, and how things get lost through time." Technologies, whether current or obsolete, play an important role in many of the pieces, from videos and thumb drives to the anonymous tomes of Adam Bateman's tower of books, the aural evocation of the typewriter in Ignacio Uriarte's video piece and Janos Fodor's "Amendment," which references the ancient Cyrus Cylinder. The show, Moulton says, is "about the artist, who wants, through their research, to communicate an idea -- that’s often narrative driven. Then it's about the larger researches that are happening within those projects that are dealing with news, tech, information, language, and the Cantastoria itself.”
Another exhibit that shows Moulton's curatorial hand is the screening of Christiann Jankowski's Casting Jesus (2011). Jankowski is a video and installation artist Moulton knows from his days at Feinkost. His film allows the viewer to become a fly on the wall, observing as a distinguished panel of representatives from the Vatican engage in the process of casting actors in the role of Jesus Christ. “Jankowski’s participants are both unflinchingly thoughtful and yet vulnerable to unscripted qualities such as frankness and folly within this pursuit of the adequate profile," Moulton says. "The format of a casting call is disarming, inviting each of us to think more carefully about how we imagine the physical appearance of Jesus, and why.” It is a subject that has a particular resonance locally.
"Exciting things are here at UMOCA," Moulton says. "I can already feel how we are changing how we think about art, and I am looking forward to finding those connections, through the juxtaposition of local and international work."
Artist Spotlight: Springville
The Entire Field of Vision
A discussion with artist Mark Crenshaw
Big things are happening for emerging Utah County artist, Mark Crenshaw.|0| Having recently completed new work for an exclusive three person show at Meyer Gallery in Park City and with a piece currently featured in the Springville Art Museum’s Spring Salon, Crenshaw talks about his process, the direction he is taking with his work, and the experience of transference through art.
There was a definite seriousness to Crenshaw’s early artistic development. “I wanted to be a pilot and was fascinated with drawing jets when I was younger,” says Crenshaw, but “I was never a doodler.” Although primarily self-taught, in 2008 Crenshaw decided to take more initiative and expand his ability as an artist. “I felt like I owed it to myself to develop my talent and see where it goes.”
Crenshaw took a job at Baer Bronze Foundry in Springville. Although not a dream job by any stretch of the imagination, the environment allowed for a daily interaction with art, a deviation from his typical work environment thus far. It was here that Crenshaw heard about the Bridge Academy of Art, a private institution in Provo whose instructors were all full-time artists and included the likes of Justin Taylor, Kirk Richards and Sean Diediker, among others. Although Bridge Academy has since closed its doors, during his time there Crenshaw gained validation from his peers, and an enhanced perspective and confidence that has helped launch his art career. During his time at the academy, he worked primarily on figurative pieces in graphite, one of which earned an Award of Merit at the Springville Museum of Art’s current Spring Salon (Awards of Merit from Springville are nothing new to Crenshaw, who has won an award three out of the past four years). “Josh” is a fairly abstracted piece, juxtaposing vertical marks with the organic shape of the male figure.|1| There is a mystery to the drawing, which speaks of a hidden reality and elusive form.
Whether figure studies or landscape paintings, Crenshaw’s works are representational of the visual world. In his process, though, he is looking for something more than representation. “Lately I’ve started to abandon my reference points, not relying so heavily on the picture but more on the experience of memory when I took the picture,” he says. “In my painting I want to find a way to represent that, in a way that a picture can’t. I don’t know if it’s an emotion or a feeling, I’m trying to use the other senses besides sight when I’m working on my art.” During the process of recollecting a scene and the feelings associated, two colors may come together on the canvas and a moment presents itself—transcendence from space and time that Crenshaw refers to as Zen-like. The non-verbal conversation that takes place during this process opens up an intuitive state wherein Crenshaw listens to what the painting is telling him. There is a distinct feeling of actual being in the place that is pictured and an arousal of awareness that takes over for the viewer and a sense of motion and life that inhabits Crenshaw’s paintings. “People refer to my work as contemporary, which really just means it’s of today—and I guess it’s a compliment that I’ve chosen to create representations which point to a certain time and place.”
There are occasions when Crenshaw has the desire to create a subtle message within his work and deviate from the purely representational genre. “I grew up listening to a lot of punk rock when I was younger and now I look back on it and a lot of the views put forth I still agree with, and I want to occasionally put ideas out there that present opportunity for reflection.” He draws my attention to a print of a painting of sheep |3| and describes the feeling of panic and claustrophobia that he experienced when interacting with this scene while driving. “I don’t want to write 'meat is murder' in blood across the bottom of it, but just to project the feeling of panic I got from the sheep,” he says. An active audience will interact with the work and if there is a message, they may or may not experience it. However, there is a real beauty to the painting, which surpasses any message, something that can be said of all of Crenshaw’s work.
In his recent show at Meyer Gallery, Crenshaw premiered six new pieces and when asked if there were a connecting theme he reflects on his photography process. “Recently I’ve been photographing scenes with a Holga wide-angle camera which can capture your entire field of vision. This encouraged me to create paintings without boundaries and if there’s any theme to the new work, that would be it.” Eventually Crenshaw wants to drop photos completely from his process, making studies of landscapes every day and relying on memory to create pictures in his mind from which to paint. “I don’t have to use my memory as much when I paint from a photograph . . . eventually I want to get away from that dependency and build memories, getting closer to the experience in real time where my recollections of the scene are easily called to mind and expanded upon.”
As an emerging artist, Crenshaw seeks acknowledgement for his work and wants to reach as large an audience as possible with subject matter that is recognizable—the epitome of representational. At the same time he hopes to evoke some mystery and intrigue. “People who are tired and worn out can become reinvigorated through viewing a piece of art and in this way it has this power to transfer an experience from subject to viewer.” For many, the transference that occurs between the viewer and the art being viewed is the ultimate experience when appreciating art. When you become transfixed by a piece of art and step into a painting, you transfer your reality to that of the painting and vice versa and this is nothing less than a pure, mystical experience.