Exhibition Reviews | Organization Spotlight | Visual Arts

A New Beginning: The Sego Art Center & Contemporary Art in Provo

Utah Valley happily maintains a substantial cultural arts scene. On any given evening one might see a concert at the new Covey Center for the Arts, a play at one of the theaters at Brigham Young University’s Harris Fine Arts Center, a musical at the Scera Theater or the Provo Playhouse, or a performance from the Utah Regional Ballet Company. However, ask a local where to go for contemporary art and you’ll likely receive a blank stare. Despite efforts by Gallery OneTen and the developing Provo Gallery Stroll, Provo has yet to imprint itself on the local cultural psyche as a center for contemporary art.In most major populated regions of the world, from Estonia to Shanghai, contemporary art is thriving at an unprecedented rate. The world has never experienced such a surge of new forms, ideologies, and artists. It might be said that contemporary art is one entity that the majority of the planet has in common! Never has there been a time when so many artists are producing on such a broad scale, an exciting and invigorating Renaissance from the flux of the Modernist movements of the 20th century.So why is Utah Valley, with its population of half a million (10 percent of whom are college students), missing the point? Why do we here in the Valley not have what Salt Lake, just north of us, has in abundance — this major aspect of contemporary culture? These questions were some the Sego Arts Foundation, a Utah Valley grassroots arts coalition consisting of Ryan Neely, Maht Paulos, Jason Metcalf, Brandon Purdie, Tim Fellow, Conrad Nebeker and Matt Wood, were asking a year ago. Already contributing to the arts scene with music and art festivals, the group of artists, with equal parts frustration and determination, brainstormed the possibilities of bringing Provo out of contemporary art obscurity. Thus the idea for the Sego Arts Center, a new contemporary art center to put Provo on the map, began to germinate.

Sego Art’s inaugural exhibition Genesis

“Miraculously,” says Neely, describing the genesis of the Center, “a space opened up.” With limited funding but plenty of willpower, the Foundation has converted what was previously a bakery on Provo’s University Avenue into a world-class gallery space. Neely serves as Director of Visual Arts and Jason Metcalf as Curator of Exhibits. When Sego Arts opened its doors last month for its aptly titled inaugural exhibit, Genesis, it experienced phenomenal success. Not only was the art on show up to standard and housed in a refined and well-developed space, but the 1,000-square-foot gallery was crowded and enthusiasm and excitement filled the space from 6-9 p.m. Mingling with artists and other patrons that evening I couldn’t help but think: “There really are people in this town who love and appreciate contemporary art!”

The Center, says Neely, “is to educate and enlighten in an art dialogue, to understand more of art and have fun appreciating contemporary art.” The operative word here is fun. Contemporary art is and should be fun. It is not there for a limited elite to be catered to and “get” but for the masses to enjoy and be edified by. If art is to reach its full potential, reflecting the world through the eyes of the artist, the threads of this dialogue must be accessible to all and this is what is now available to the community of Utah Valley.

Hyunmee Lee and others at the Genesis opening


Genesis was no second-rate show thrown together by novices; it is a project representing the passion of artists who believe in art. The Center purposefully included artists who would embody the scope of future artists and artworks to be shown at the Center. This show, which featured works by Valerie Atkisson, Ruel Brown, Brian Christensen, Jared Clark, Jeff Larsen, Jared Latimer, Hyunmee Lee, Ryan Neely and Chris Purdie, is ripe with talent — formal and cognitive — and reveals the power of contemporary art: to be seen visually, heard through the mind’s eye and felt in the heart of the viewer.

Hyunmee Lee’s abstract, “War, Conflict and the Possibility of Attack” evokes thoughts and emotions in conflict or in harmony at the same time. The beautifully crafted composition in black and white is a virtual yin and yang, a duality between the positive and the negative, right and wrong, good and bad, life and death, and most profoundly, in Lee’s eyes, war and peace. The composition is intricately balanced allowing the metaphor to speak for itself. Although Lee does not dictate, the viewer experiences a balance alluding to the title, an objective ostensibly not left-field from Lee’s intentions.

As the viewer meanders through the gallery, the dialogue, in its free-form purity continues with Neely’s “Untitled” piece, a site-specific, three-fold collage that manipulates positive and negative space. This is a collage primarily because it is composed of text in minutiae; secondly because this text is the substance of the larger image, itself a cut-out such as one would find Matisse creating; and thirdly because it is a site-specific work. It is an allusion to the real, the corporeal, and presence and absence.

Chris Purdie’s piece “Atom,” a sphere of shadeless vintage lamps focused in on a single unit, a convergence of light bulbs, is appropriately titled and allows the viewer to confirm what he/she is looking at. It is inner space, it is outer space. It uses the everyday to create an element of sublime hyper-reality and physics. It has an uncanny quality to it, a metaphor of the pervasive yet allusive element, the atom so small yet so infinite.

Sego’s gallery space is highly visible, located in the center of Provo, on University Avenue just north of Center Street. Many pass by the gallery (which thankfully is open regular hours) and will have a chance to experience the local and national art the Foundation will be bringing to the space. While Genesis portends a fine series of monthly exhibits, Sego Arts is a center and not just a gallery. Its primary motivation is education, for the artist and the public. Under the main gallery floor is a subterranean 1,500-square-foot space, a project of Conrad Nebeker’s, who hopes to see this vast basement as an artist’s haven to create and produce.

Neely has lofty goals for the future and also has the financing to back these goals up. The Sego Foundation will encompass much more than just the visual arts. Film, music and poetry programming are being planned and the group is already talking about a larger space. Those involved are highly visible professional artists as well as business owners. Theirs is a grassroots effort that promises an exciting future as, in Neely’s words, they “feel a need” for contemporary artists who “feel that Provo can benefit from participating in the contemporary art dialogue going on today.”

Painting by Allen Ludwig

Sego Arts is busy installing their second show, Lamborghinis, Sacks and the Senior Captain of the Wilderness Brethren, which opens this Friday, June 6. The exhibition, curated by Jason Metcalf, features work by three emerging artists: Allan Ludwig, Rebecca Neely, and Gian Pierotti.
Allan Ludwig’s paintings present many layers of possible interpretation. Ludwig purposefully places in his work an assortment of environments, animate and inanimate objects, and geometric shapes and forms in what at first seems to be an arbitrary arrangement. When given time, the shapes and forms produce compositionally sophisticated relationships which holistically generate equality between the complete work and its parts which possess individual, relevant identities.

Rebecca Neely’s sculpture “Dipped in paint to represent a day,” conceptually reveals and analyzes struggle through personal narrative. The piece is composed of nearly 1,000 crudely made sacs of fabric. Each pod or sac physically and symbolically represents a day in which Neely has sought conception. The work immediately offers varying levels of comprehension to individual viewers — levels which are limited or facilitated by viewers’ gender and experience.

Rebecca Neely’s sculpture “Dipped in paint to represent a day”


Gian Pierotti’s porcelain sculptures contain a freshness in application of media, formalism, and structure. Although small, almost precious in scale, they possess a largeness of presence- a rarity among objects hewn from clay.

It is artists and innovators such as Neely and his companions at the Sego Arts Foundation, that open doors to new ways of thinking and seeing our world today, a never-ending dialogue of meaning and creativity. This dialogue is an open one, all may participate regardless of being a creator or an observer. It is a synthesis between artists and viewer that is reached by an art that is manifest and reveals contemporary reality through meaning and the power of unification of the many through a collective of thought and sensibility. It is nice that Provo may now participate!

Sculptures by Gian Pierotti

The Sego Art Center is located at 169 North University Avenue, Provo, Utah. “Lamborghinis, Sacks and the Senior Captain of the Wilderness Brethren” opens Friday, June 6 from 6 – 9 p.m. as part of Provo’s Gallery Stroll.

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