Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
The art of Gentry Blackburn
It is characteristic for Gentry Blackburn to undervalue her own work. This is not surprising, as her pieces, unique and surprising to the outside viewer, emanate from a world that seems all too natural for Blackburn. This is a world spiced with tin lunch pails, piles of aging LPs, vintage furniture, even a vintage storefront pony ride to accompany her and her guests who sit on 1980’s vinyl chairs on the front porch. The paintings she is currently working on, for a show at Kayo Gallery this month, are a series of images of figures from 1980’s popular culture Blackburn calls “uniconic icons.” For Blackburn, what she paints is an extension of herself, for others it is a flight of fantasy into nostalgic regions of yesteryear.
In showing at Kayo Gallery, Blackburn returns to a space that she made her own for 5 years. “It was like people were walking into me, into my world,” she says of Frosty Darling, the retail space she maintained on Broadway, now occupied by Kayo Gallery. “It made it kind of emotional at times… it was like walking into my living room.” The store featured art, candy, clothes and handmade gifts, in a setting described by the store’s website as a “western-pop microcosm that seamlessly fuses old-time, state fair wholesomeness with a strange Warhol art aesthetic.”
Essay: Land Art
From Place to Place
Exploring Land Art in Los Angeles, Lucin, & Wendover
Reviewing Geffen Contemporary’s recent exhibition Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974, Art in America contributor Kristen Swenson writes, “The exhibition portrays Land art as a museum and a gallery-based phenomenon.“ Continuing, she boldly asserts, “Most often, artists did not have the expectation that viewers would encounter their works in situ; rather the majority knew that documentation in film, video and photography, or through sketches and plans, would be the primary public expression of their practice.” While Swenson’s statements may be an over-simplification of the central message of the exhibition, curated by Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon, her take-home interpretation echoes familiar sentiments.1
That is, that Land Art exists in other objects, in the gallery, for the gallery. And I agree with Kwon, Kaiser and Swenson, that there are a variety of Land Art objects that capture the aims of the movement and make messy the push and pull of site/non-site. But certainly the grand civic engineering sculptures, by Heizer, Holt, Smithson, Turrell and DeMaria, while perhaps the exception rather than the rule, are not just theoretical objects created with no expectation of encountering viewers. In fact, to disavow the actual land pieces as ephemeral, or to see Land Art as primarily, “a gallery-based phenomenon,” is a misstep.
Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
The Right Answer
Battleground States at UMOCA
Recently, two of Utah’s best-known art centers underwent major changes. One lost its home, the other changed its name. Through the turmoil, both pledged to continue supporting a particular brand of art, which they somewhat counter-intuitively label ‘Contemporary.’ Many in the audience may have missed the drama in that commitment; after all, what’s controversial or in need of defending about art made in the present day, rather than the past? Battleground States, an ambitious and commendable showcase for 31 working artists—some well known, others who are new or obscure—challenges viewers to distinguish this brand from the more familiar, cozy work being done all over Utah at the same time, which in spite of being ‘contemporary with’ the work displayed here, is apparently not the same animal as that deliberately called Contemporary.
One difference becomes clear at once. Contemporary art is thematically driven in a way that previous art wasn’t, and the theme is posted at the door, then restated in smaller signs beside each work. Traditional exhibits employ categorical themes: the landscape, portraits, artists with some quality in common. It’s not hard to imagine a single work appearing in quite a few such shows, because while a theme resonates with the art, it belongs to the exhibit. By contrast, Contemporary artists consciously imbue their works with thematic content—a message—which precedes making the work and displaces conventional aesthetics. A curator who has identified similar themes in disparate artists assembles them to show, instead of 31 subjective views of Mt. Olympus, 31 ways people today think about their lives. Hierarchies of technique and skill are dissolved in the democratic power of free speech. This goal was underscored for me by a curator who offered to explain any work I didn’t understand. When I replied that I could decide for myself what I liked, he insisted: “It’s not liking I’m concerned about; it’s understanding.” In other words, the sensual pleasure of seeing is no longer the point. Although it arrives via the eye, this work must be grasped by the mind alone. Simply to witness the varieties of gender identity proposed by these artists would be to miss the point, which advances the belief that understanding others will lead us to accept them.