Richard Johnston was the chair of the art department at the University of Utah and director of the Salt Lake Art Center for a while. Johnston made the first Untitled Horse Form in 1990 for the main quad on the UVSC campus in Orem. The original piece was brightly colored with reds and blues.
As is the case with many contemporary pieces, someone didn’t like it. In this case, that someone was Gilbert Cooke. Cooke was an administrator for UVSC and apparently his distaste for the sculpture grew to such aggressive levels that he hired a grounds worker to take a blowtorch to the piece over Christmas break in 1996.
Obviously, this caused a big stir in the art community. In 2001, the piece was reinstalled at a different location. Johnston decided to make the second version all black because it was “a much more serious piece now.” The original was meant to be playful. He and the piece had both been through hell.
Gilbert Cooke remains in administration at UVSC and someone told me his business card reads “blowtorch” underneath his name, but I don’t know how true that is.
The State Fine Art Collection, begun in 1899 as the Alice Merrill Horne Collection, now consists of over 1,100 works by Utah artists in all media. The pieces are on display in various state and office buildings throughout Utah and many travel with the Utah Arts Council Traveling Exhibition Program.
The continued acquisition of artwork comes from purchases made through the visual arts program and donations from patrons and artists of the state of Utah.
This series is an effort to preserve and share the stories and experiences surrounding the artwork and artists of Utah as seen through the eyes of the Utah Arts Council staff.
Compiled by Laura Durham
Assistant Visual Arts Coordinator, Utah Arts Council