I recently returned to Utah after spending two years on the sinking ship of state we call California. Wanting to get back into the Utah art scene I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to check out Salt Lake’s November Gallery Stroll, and after the depressing situation I saw on the coast I was thrilled to stumble into the pocket of excitement happening along Salt Lake’s Broadway.
I began my Gallery Stroll exploration at Phillips Gallery, a long-time favorite that was packed with art and people. Phillips is still the most professional of our galleries. Everything there is so impeccably hung and they manage to put together so many works in so many spaces that I find myself wishing they would come decorate my house. The only drawback I find is that there are no surprises. Their end-of-the-year group show is a chance to see a lot of their artists who remain in storage during the year, and I’m sure many of these artists are new to me, but I still had the sense that I had seen much of this before. The gallery has a set of tried and true genres that, despite the artists that come and go through the stables, they always seem to fill. There’s the Utah landscapes, not too stuffy or old-fashioned, reliably colorful and with a contemporary touch; there’s the abstracts, either densely worked or broad color fields (Dave Malone’s work stood out as the most unique to me). And finally the narrative work, which seems to be done exclusively by women, and ranges from the quirky to the creepy. When I first came across Lori Nelson’s work at Phillips it had a certain punch, but she or I has changed, because now the work seems to have lost its verve. It has shifted from creepy to quirky and teeters on the cartoonish. Dana Costello is one artist who has remained creepy – a word I heard a young patron use – and her simply executed but unsettling works still have the power to captivate.
The activity at Phillips was no surprise. I don’t know that I have ever been to a show there that was not well-attended. What really excited me about my return to Gallery Stroll was what I found a couple of blocks away in the Broadway district: poetry readings, live music, guerrilla film screenings, a huge mural and throngs of people made me wonder if I was in the right city.
I remember Nobrow Coffee as a generally interesting venue, but this month’s exhibit disappoints. Eight.zero.one is an exhibit of photographs displayed in such an obvious DIY, I-don’t-care attitude that I wondered why I should. Each images is pasted on to a piece of raw plywood and hung with thick, visible wire. For the most part the photographs are unexceptional, the type of snapshots the increasingly narcissistic youth generation posts on their Facebook pages. Some, like “The Morning After,” give the hint of something a little more, but the rest of the work is so bland I find myself not wanting to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Nobrow is in the space first occupied by Kenny Riches’ Kayo Gallery. The Gallery has moved a block west and Riches has since sold it, but this month he once again occupied the space and made it uniquely his own with an “event” that spilled onto the sidewalk and around the corner. The narrow gallery only provided enough room for a single-file flow of people to examine the works. Luckily the small drawings — most of them a single figure executed on a sky blue wash – demand intimate inspection.|1| The quality of drawing gives the pieces a distinct charm. The rowboats, toy horses, and houses that function as ideograms of nostalgia call to mind the work of Cheryl Warrick (a Boston artist who shows at Meyer Gallery), though with a lo-fi production quality. The short film screening at the gallery, shot in old 8mm film, shows Riches and Cara Despain painting an old rowboat and launching it onto a placid pond. It’s sweet. I could see it as a video for a husband-wife or brother-sister indie band. Riches’ show made me wonder what it is about twentysomethings that makes them revel in nostalgia – especially for a time they are too young to have known. It may be connected to the same penchant for people these days to write memoirs before they’ve even hit mid-life.
Out on the street, another film, which I preferred to Riches’, was being projected on the exterior of the building, accompanied by trancy dance music. On the street corner young poets were declaiming, attracting as much of a crowd as inside. Nearby at Michael Berry Gallery, where Judith Wolbach is exhibiting a series of drawings and sculptures,|2| a four-piece, tango-inspired group straight out of some Buenas Aires side street was performing.
I don’t know that any of the galleries here will be able to keep their doors open through the patronage of the coffee-shop connoisseurs who seemed to make up the majority of the crowds I weaved through, but the very fact that there was a crowd at all is heartening.
A sidewalk sign set out by Copper Plate Press, advertising their t-shirt screening event (bring in a t-shirt and we’ll put a print on it), sent me up the street to the Guthrie building. On the way, Brent Godfrey‘s large paintings hanging in the windows of what used to be Pictureline, screamed out to me and forced me in.|3| I remember Godfrey as a magpie of an artist, collecting styles hodgepodge from the various artists that passed through A Gallery. But in these large explosions of line, texture, and color, Godfrey seems to have found his own voice. They still suffer from his trying to do too much at once, but at least everything he is doing is related, and with a little editing he could become a strong abstractionist.
Apart from the Copper Plate Press t-shirt screening (what a great idea) the Guthrie building was relatively quiet. But there was plenty of art in the street-side shops below, and most stunning of all, an amazing mural, two-stories high, on the side of the Guthrie building.|4-5| The piece, Ave Maria, was done by The Mac and Retna, a graff team from California. By Saturday morning the excitement of Gallery Stroll will have faded, but that mural will still be there to astound and convince people that something is happening here.
The art I came across this month was not the best I’ve seen in Salt Lake. It was the general activity I encountered as much as any of the pieces on the walls that gave me such a thrill. If this type of momentum can be kept up then surely something noteworthy will happen.
Gallery Stroll happens the third Friday of every month with the exception of December. December Gallery Stroll occurs this Friday, December 4, from 6 – 9 pm. To view a list of participating venues go to www.gallerystroll.org
Kasey Boone is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and has been living in Utah since 1990. He has a BA in French and Cultural Studies. He is a self-described “orphaned post-modernist.”