Two art projects — one recent, one future — point to the nature of art as the “intersection of many human needs,” to paraphrase a quote by contemporary New York City sculptor Carl André. Both projects intersect with a segment of the population often excluded from the art world– those living in poverty. “Art in Your Home” provided a rare opportunity for people living in transitional housing to own an original work of art. No Fixed Address, opening this month at The Leonardo, will give viewers very personal perspectives on “home” in the streets, alleys, and parks of Salt Lake City.
On September 12, the Utah Division of Arts & Museums (UDAM), partnering with The Road Home, gave away 112 unclaimed paintings, drawings, and prints to the residents of Palmer Court, a permanent supportive housing complex for individuals and families that have experienced chronic homelessness. The facility is managed by The Road Home.
For Felicia Baca, manager of visual arts for UDAM, the project was the culmination of a vision she had after joining the division a few years ago. As she and other staff members searched without much success for artists who had never claimed their artwork submitted for exhibits going back as long ago as 30 years, she began to think of the abandoned art as an enrichment opportunity rather than a storage problem. At the time, however, there were other priorities and the project stayed on the back burner until early this year.
Baca and staff at The Road Home and Palmer Court came up with an orderly way for residents of the 210-apartment complex to view and select art for their homes. First, residents registered for half-hour time slots, then showed up at the selected time to look and “shop.”
“I didn’t know what to expect, whether it would be hard to get people there,” said Baca. “But people were lined up in the hallway to sign up for a time slot, and then everyone showed up on time to make their selection.”
Just about every genre of two-dimensional art was represented in the works distributed. Baca and her team had bets on what would go quickly. “But we were wrong,” she said. “The choices were very personal.”
One woman, said Baca, spent almost the whole time slot deciding between two pieces. One was a painting of a church and the other a portrait of a woman who looked a bit like her. In the end, she selected the church painting because of the memories it evoked.
Another resident who is legally blind arrived with a written list of things she likes: barns, horses, and western scenes. Baca helped her pick out a painting of a barn. She held it very close to her face to study it and finally decided to take it.
Residents responded with gratitude to this unusual opportunity to own a work of original art. One resident, named Jennifer, said, “I totally appreciate the time and effort people took to make this happen.” She added that she has never been to an art museum. In addition to being able to pick a piece of art, she appreciated seeing so many different kinds of artwork.
In the end she selected a painting of two penguins on an iceberg. “I’m all about animals, and penguins are my daughter’s favorite,” says Jennifer. The new painting hung for a while in the living room of their apartment, but now it’s in her 7-year-old daughter’s bedroom. The daughter proudly proclaims, “That’s my penguin picture, Mom.”
This month in The Leonardo’s human rights gallery space, the focus will be on people with “No Fixed Address.” Curator and Leonardo creative director Jann Haworth expects the exhibit will give the community an opportunity to learn about and talk about “shelter as a human right.”
“Homelessness is a pejorative word,” says Haworth. In American society today, where a large home is frequently seen as the ideal, many struggle even to find basic shelter. “They find their own solutions,” Haworth says, “and the solution may be sleeping outside.” As recently reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, some prefer to sleep outdoors, and for others, Haworth says, it may be the best option available. “Maybe the shelter is awful, or the person’s mental condition can’t withstand it,” says Haworth. “We’d like to remove the stigma from those choices.”
The centerpiece of the exhibit consists of photographs from Lynn Blodgett’s series, “Finding Grace, the Face of America’s Homeless.” The photographs were published in a book in 2007 and have been exhibited widely in the United States.
Blodgett lives in Salt Lake City. In addition to being an accomplished amateur photographer, he serves as executive vice president of Xerox and president of Xerox Services, a position that includes global travel. In 2004, he began taking his camera and a white backdrop on his trips, and ventured into shelters and neighborhoods that the homeless called home. He photographed anyone who would agree to stand in front of his backdrop. According to the website www.findinggracehomeless.org, he photographed more than 1,500 homeless people in 50 sessions, and heard their stories as he did so. Like the Depression-era photographs by Dorothea Lange, Blodgett’s pictures capture the dignity as well as the pain of his subjects.
In addition to Blodgett’s work, the exhibit will include 4x6-inch prints of photos taken by some of Salt Lake City’s residents “with no fixed address.” They were given disposable cameras and invited to capture images from their everyday lives. Of the 30 cameras distributed about 24 were returned, for a total of 300 images. “You look at them in a different way because you know something about the person who took them,” says Haworth. “Almost every one has a thought behind it that you can read very clearly. They speak eloquently without words.”
A third part of the exhibit is a collage of writing by local journalists. Altogether the project aims to arouse compassion in its viewers, provide information about a problem that few people want to confront, and to be a call to action — to continue the work begun by a number of Utah agencies and a caring community. In fact, Utah has been recognized nationally as a state that has done more than most to provide housing for its most vulnerable citizens. Haworth believes we need to tell that story, too.
At the opening of the exhibit on November 7, a monument to those who have died on the streets will be unveiled. At the close of the exhibit six months later, the monument will be permanently installed at the Fourth Street Clinic. And, yes, those residents of no fixed address, who cannot afford The Leonardo’s entry fee, will have opportunities to enter and see the exhibit.
||Exhibition Reviews: Provo
The Rhyme and Reason of Place
Kim Schoenstadt at the BYU Museum of Art
California artist Kim Schoenstadt has returned to Utah, where she has received a warm welcome from the Brigham Young University Museum of Art (MOA): an entire gallery on the museum's bottom floor has been devoted to one of the artist's sprawling, architectural mash-ups. "Block Plan Series: Provo" spans two adjacent walls before extending three-dimensionally into the exhibition space, eventually returning to two dimensions when it ends (or begins) on the gallery floor. The work — part drawing, part painting, part installation — is a flowing amalgam of area landmarks, executed in a style akin to architectural drafting and welded together with Sol LeWitt-inspired sections of abstract geometry.
Utah audiences will remember Schoenstadt from her 2012 exhibition at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, where the recipient of the inaugural Doctorow Prize for Painting filled the museum's Street Gallery with her work. The exhibit included traditional works on canvas and paper, but was dominated by a series of large wall drawings, full of a sense of place and nostalgia, of which "Block Plan Series: Provo" is a continuation.
When Schoenstadt first approaches these locale-specific drawings/installations she investigates the place virtually, exploring what a search-engine perusal of place might reveal. She combines these impressions with what she discovers on site — in this case what locals (museum staff and others) thought to be significant landmarks. She blends all of these into a flowing, linear work that, in Cubist tradition, collapses space and, with the inclusion of vanished buildings, time. The work has a certain surety, a sense of continuity that doesn't exist in disjointed reality. At first glance, it appears to be a computer-generated vinyl work affixed to the wall, but a closer inspection of the sometimes wobbly lines reveals the work is hand drawn.
What virtually struck Schoenstadt about the locale was Provo's "Silicon Slopes" reputation, its growing stature as a hub for computer technology and animation. This is made evident in the right half of the drawing, which is a mirror image of the left half but has been rendered to look like a three-dimensional wire drawing, similar to those used by animators to create digital objects.
As to the area's physical landmarks, viewers may find more rhyme than reason to Schoenstadt's interpretation of Provo: the town's iconic (and since the remodeling of the Ogden temple, singular) temple is missing; and while Adobe's Lehi building is certainly one of the more interesting architectural structures in Utah Valley (and can't be missed on a trip south from the Salt Lake airport) it seems out of place in a drawing that otherwise is exclusively devoted to the town of Provo. Local haunts like The Malt Shoppe, and the old "turtle-shell" Reams store make sense, as do the BYU structures that predominate. Most of these are from the same modernist period, making easy visual transitions from one building to the next. Earlier structures, like the Maeser building, on campus, or the Provo tabernacle, and BYU Academy, off campus, are missing, so that one is left wondering if the buildings served the purposes of the drawing rather than the other way around.
For the most part, though, the rhyme carries the work. Visually it is a pleasing piece, both as a whole — the work flows nicely and makes inventive use of the space — and in individual moments, whether they be the recognition of a single building or the warm effect of a wiggly line. The seemingly extraneous additions of graphic elements inspired by Sol LeWitt's "Incomplete Open Cubes" serve to give the piece depth and provide some much needed color. And ultimately the reason of place will be the work's most magnetic appeal. Sometimes it takes an outsider to present the familiar anew, and locals will undoubtedly enjoy moments of recognition as Schoenstadt's simple lines and shapes trigger memories and associations (and for those unfamiliar with Provo, images and descriptions of the structures depicted have been provided by the museum).
Exhibition Reviews: Provo
A Season for Violence
Amar Kanwar's "A Seaons Outside" at BYU MOA
You can be forgiven if you have a tendency, when visiting a museum, to pivot on your heel and turn around when you come across a projection room. They are becoming increasingly prevalent and the works on display can too often disappoint. Frequently the production quality is low, the imagery lackluster, and the purpose, if we presume there to be one, opaque. But that's not the case with Amar Kanwar's "A Season Outside," now on exhibit at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art's Electronic Media Gallery.
If you catch the end of the 30 minute loop you may get a clue as to why: credits roll for script, direction, camera, music and more. "A Season Outside" has the trappings of what we call film, though it's not strictly narrative in the sense of a feature film or documentary. Rather, it is a poetic musing with words and visuals.
The film opens with the sunset ritual of closing the gate on the border at Wagah-Atari, a town divided during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Like prancing peacocks, soldiers from each nation beat out an elaborate military ceremony to the applause of audiences on both sides. Another shot follows the elaborate, international exchange of parcels from blue-clad porters in Pakistan to red-clad porters in India, separated only by a white line and the threat of violence from nearby guards. The film examines violence in other parts of India, from state-sanctioned violence to impromptu ram fights and refugee camps along the Tibetan border.
All the while, in a voice over that is at times difficult to understand, but hypnotic nevertheless in tone and cadence, Kanwar examines the effects of violence in his own family, his country and the world at large. The visuals are compelling in their own right, but this plaintive voice stitches them together, providing a narrative thrust that will keep you in your seat if you're wise enough to turn that corner into the darkened gallery.