Salt Lake City boasts many diverse and culturally vibrant quarters—including Sugarhouse, the historic Avenues, and 9th and 9th. A new spot has now been added to this list. Conveniently located along Salt Lake City’s grid system, 200 South and 200 East is generating renewed attention due to the inclusion of a new gallery, Modern West Fine Art (MWFA). This intersection of streets is already home to Salt Lake’s most prominent contemporary art gallery, CUAC, and the Guthrie artist studios are across the street. The convenience of this location creates an apt juncture of life and culture in downtown Salt Lake City.
Modern West Fine Art is the brainchild of art collector and philanthropist Diane Stewart and curator Donna Poulton. The collaboration arose from a shared interest in not only Western art, but a desire to present it in a new and innovative fashion. As a passionate art lover, Stewart has amassed a large gathering of Western works over the years, eliciting various opportunities for Poulton to mine and curate her collection.
One such occasion occurred while Poulton worked as the Curator of Art of the American West at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, a position she held from 2006 to 2014. The two quickly realized their shared affinity for art of the American West. Modern West Fine Art was born from a desire to expand this visual trope. Stewart maintains that in order to understand the West as an artistic theme, one must first uncover the historical context that drove countless artists to gravitate towards this rich and continually diverse subject. Recognizing the visual history of the American West is a basis for understanding its contemporary manifestations. It is here that MWFA stands apart from its competitors—critically situating the West and its landscapes within the confines of contemporary artistic practice.
With this intention in mind, Stewart and Poulton solicited the help of Mark Hoeffling, a film set designer who helped implement their vision of a space steeped in both design and utility. The gallery manages to combine sleek sophistication with a comfortable environment. In the “Keva Room,” paintings are paired with a wooden coffee table dressed with jewelry and books and comfortable seating for guests to enjoy in between roaming the gallery space. Stewart describes this as an attempt to contextualize art in a domestic setting-allowing visitors to envision how art functions within the personal realm. This facet of the gallery’s design creates a more relaxed and comfortable locale for those wary of the typically sterile museum environment.
In addition to creating comfort within the gallery setting, Stewart and Poulton recognize the significance of their downtown location. The space was once home to the Salt Lake City Bicycle Company, who in an attempt to reduce their blueprint, moved to a smaller space. MWFA seized the opportunity to set up shop in the coveted corner of 2nd and 2nd, next door to CUAC. From the outset, the objective has been to create an active collaboration between the two institutions and to attract a larger congregation of downtown art seekers. The two galleries already plan to organize events simultaneously and have envisioned art fairs in the near future. Stewart cites the strong local reaction to CUAC, and the visibility of its street gallery as an indication that 2nd and 2nd has the potential to be a hub of artistic interaction, a walking quarter easily accessible to large and diverse sectors of Salt Lake’s population. The foot traffic alone has brought in new visitors to the gallery, which has attracted roughly 50 people per day since its opening.
While Stewart acknowledges the strength of various Utah galleries of Western art, she affirms that Modern West is exceptional in Salt Lake City. Through her extensive philanthropic contributions to Utah’s art scene, Stewart has assisted institutions in garnering artistic visions that may never have gained exposure otherwise. She acknowledges the difficulties of pushing art-related agendas through the state legislature, especially in times of economic stress. She upholds that, “Utah has a remarkable amount of talented artists and Salt Lake City has a population big enough to support galleries of diverse voices, indicating an exciting legacy to come.”
Stewart and Poulton sustain that Utah’s history is a rich palette by which to draw multiple artistic perspectives. By and large, Utah is excluded from the various hubs of Western art in the surrounding states of New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado. As such, MWFA attempts to include Utah within this conversation, and to confirm that commercial galleries are capable of facilitating an intellectual dialogue. MWFA is not concerned with promoting a particular agenda, but rather exposing the wonders of art to the largest possible audience. Artistic institutions are slowly changing national—and often internal—stereotypes of Utah as a shut off cultural bubble absent from a larger discourse of the American West. By exhibiting a range of voices and visual practices, MWFA is helping to create a more nuanced view of Utah as a culturally rich artistic landscape in its own right.
Scotti Hill is a lawyer, art critic, and curator based in Salt Lake City. She has contributed to various publications and serves as an adjunct professor of art history at Westminster College. She has a Master’s Degree in art history from the University of Utah.