Artist Profile: Logan
A Matter of Form
The life and art of Larry Elsner
“As a sculptor, my concern is for form,” Larry Elsner wrote in 1977, “a maddening search for the unity of space and mass.” An Idaho native and longtime Utah State University professor, Elsner would always choose form over function, regardless of the medium in which he was working: bronze, clay, metal, stone, plaster, or wood.
Elsner died suddenly 25 years ago, on March 27, 1990, at the age of 59. At the time of his death, more than 700 pieces were collected from the Southwest to the Orient to be sorted and selected for a major 1992 retrospective at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum in Logan. Since then, little of his work has been seen in public. But as part of Phillips Gallery’s 50th anniversary exhibition, his sometimes humorous Asian-influenced modernist ceramic sculptures will be paired with Denis Phillips’ abstract hard-edge paintings. “Who else could I pair Denis with?” says gallery director Meri DeCaria, about planning the exhibit. “They are both from the same era and sort of ‘try anything’/experimental types.” Elsner’s works, she says, are “at once serious and playful but mostly they are achingly desirable.”
Culture Conversations: Dance & Music
Municipal Ballet Co. & Holy Water Buffalo at the State Room
Before the final performance of Municipal Ballet Co.’s “Oh Yeah! A Rock ‘n’ Roll Ballet,” Sarah Longoria, the company’s director, ended her curtain speech by sincerely thanking the uncommonly boisterous and large audience for taking a chance on ballet. The challenge of getting the general public excited about performances is ever present in the minds and conversations of dancers and dance makers, especially those moving in the realm of concert dance. As keepers of an art form often seen as unapproachably insular, we seem to endlessly brainstorm community involvement plans, collaborations, and outreach-based performances with the hope of enticing someone with nothing to do on a Saturday night to venture into a dance space and experience what we hope are interesting, challenging, even fun works of physical and artistic prowess.
Exhibitions Review: Ogden
Church and State
UMOCA's exploration of our biggest collecting institutions shows both tension and resolution
Utah is often spoken of as a cultural monolith, even a theocracy, where church and state are inexorably intertwined. While recent legislation reminds us of the enormous sway the hierarchy of the LDS church does exert over state politics, it should not be forgotten that there has also existed a dynamic tension between church and state, ever since Johnston’s army set up cannons above Salt Lake City at Fort Douglas. Even in the beginning, miners have held sway alongside Mormons, so that both groups push and pull against and with each other, especially in cultural domains like the arts. The State of Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been the biggest collectors of art in the state, and the dynamic between the two has done a great deal to determine our cultural heritage. Pulling from recent acquisitions by both institutions, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art’s Church vs. State: Contemporary Collecting Praxis examines this dynamic in a structurally impressive and informative show.
The first thing that makes this group show function — almost on a scientific level — is its masterful curation. What Kristian Anderson has done reinforces the binary relationship that is Church vs. State in a way that is supportive to each side, galvanizing the early pioneer vs. miner reality that has not diminished over the past 168 years, but only become more complex. But Anderson has also brought together works that are pulled together by subtle relationships creating discursive dialogues that bring the binary opposites towards a certain gestural resolution.
As one might expect, several of the pieces are overt commentaries expressing the cultural divide implied by the title of the exhibition. Brad Slaugh’s “Latter Day Saints,” from the state’s collection, is an homage to a Sunday drive in the canyon, where the driver has become a contemporary St. Sebastian, with eyes rolled in ecstasy, his head in a halo of light; meanwhile his passenger, a modern St. Lucy, serves up her eyes on a platter. Slaugh's conflation of the tagline of the state's dominant religion with traditional Catholic saints, a classic American car and a recognizable Utah landscape, will certainly unsettle mainy in the majority. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Mark Hedengren’s “A Church Member Cleans the Ward, Gunlock, Utah,” featuring an LDS chapel interior, is an uncomplicated and comforting cultural reflection that any church-going member can easily identify with and find comfort in.