Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Creating Dialogue at PaperWest

One of the many benefits of a juried exhibition that pulls from artists across the country is the potential for variety in the technique and motivation displayed. As The University of Utah’s biennial PaperWest exhibition comes to a close this month, we’re reminded of that potential through work that ranges from graphite and collage to the sculptural and photographic. This is in large part due to the openness with which artist and curator Willie Cole approached the task of selecting artists for what has become a hidden gem of Utah’s art opportunities. Citing Picasso’s view that, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth,” Cole expands that question into an analysis of what makes a good lie and, consequently, what makes good (or as he notes “effective”) art. With an expressed acceptance that is often shied away from, Cole admits that his choices are subjective and in so doing creates the opportunity for the show’s audience to more fully engage with his selection and his definitions. His hope, acknowledged in his juror’s statement, is to find the shocking and the surprising. As a viewer of the collection, that’s what makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

Upon entering the Alvin Gittins Gallery, visitors are immediately greeted by a smoking, Tommy-gun-toting skeleton dressed as a flapper girl. The head is cocked back in a confident display of bravado with an almost comical whimsy about it, making Jessica Burke’s drawing an interesting choice for an entryway. However, it’s that level of confidence that pairs well with its neighbors in the surrounding space. The collection exudes a confidence in execution as well as interpretation, acting as an open invitation for visitors to not only define the art for themselves, but to also become more open to unexpected visual influences. Leave your preconceived notions about what works on paper “should” be and you’ll enter that wonderful mindset of what “could” be.

The reward of this effort becomes evident throughout the gallery space as we view each of the relatively small works as an expression of the individual artist’s own approach to the dialogue it enters with the surrounding work on display. Photographs gaze into adjacent abstractions. Collages mesmerize us with vibrancy, while carefully crafted prints and drawings highlight attention to technique and even craft. The collection of work, though impressive in its own right, is made all the more powerful by the attention paid to its placement in the gallery. This isn’t an easy task in any gallery, and the Gittins has presented challenges for many artists. As a result, any appreciation for the work in the show would be lacking if it fails to also acknowledge the support of its presentation.

While many exhibitions present work as a series of conversations visitors must start with each work of art, PaperWest presents its work as a party arrived at midway through. Guests are welcome to join the dialogue, but the works have been speaking to one another in their absence and will continue to do so when they leave.


PaperWest: A National Works on Paper Juried Exhibition, Gittins Gallery, University of Utah, through Nov. 30. You’ll find all the works on exhibit here.

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