I can’t remember the last time I went to an exhibition devoted solely to sculpture (I know it wasn’t here in Utah), and I’m positive I’ve never been to West Valley City to look at art; but I accomplished both this month when I made my way through the maze of orange and white striped barricades on Redwood Road to visit West Valley City’s Cultural Celebration Center. There, in the ground-floor exhibition space, I saw the third- annual Face of Utah Sculpture, on exhibit through August 1.
Often, in galleries, or even museums, sculpture seems thrown in among paintings, and while you might see the latter without the former you will rarely see the reverse. So it was refreshing to see this exhibition, the brainchild of glass-sculptor Dan Cummings,|0| in which complete attention is given to artists working in three-dimensions.
This exhibition shows the face of Utah sculpture to be relatively small in size (though this might have more to do with the exhibition space than with the artists). Within this scale, the variety and skill displayed provided for a pleasurable experience, one where though you might not be able to adequately describe the look of the entire face, the individual features carry enough charm to recall the visage fondly.
This year’s selection betrayed no aesthetic bias. On display is an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary sculpture. Kiln-formed glass, bronze, clay, stone, fabric and even paper (in the form of origami sculptures) can all be found. What the exhibit seems to say about sculpture in our state is that it is about a delight in the manipulation of material of all sorts. In fact, “3-dimensional works,” as bland as the term may be, is more appropriate to describe the works here. Sculpture, referring to the carving out of something (whether stone or wood) is too limiting for what is going on here.
There are plenty of traditional “sculptures” in the exhibit, however. A whole central room has been given over to wildlife and cowboy-art bronzes by artists like Layne Brady and Tom Ramsbottom. I was unable to tell if this special room was to highlight or quarantine the pieces. Probably, it just made sense for practical reasons. Bronzes made their way out of this room, notably the graceful and gravity-defying figures of Warren Archer. Nathan A. Johnson’s delicate and intricate “Windpod” shows that bronze can be used for something other than the sturdy and the figurative.
An interest in material (pun intended) is nowhere more evident than in Suzanne Larsen’s “Ernie Putting on the Ritz,” a light-hearted bust of a sheep decked out in a top hat made out of a dazzling array of stitched fabric. Other materials used in the exhibit include: traditional stone — from the art-deco styled horse, “Maximum Speed,” by Dahrl Thomson to the elegantly simple zebra marble of Ellza Coyle|2|; glass, wonderfully translucent, in the case of Rod Millar, or opaque like an abstract painting in the case of Jack Bowman; paper (origami sculptures by Matt Jones); fabricated steel (Richard Prazen); and polymer clay, in the wildlife sculpture of Adam Rees.
The circuit of the exhibition space revealed a rich variety of artistic voices, complimenting and contradicting each other at every turn. The smoothed, amber colored surfaces of a burnt piece of cedar in Michael Begue’s “Remnant of Burning Man” was contrasted by the threatening spikes of Shawn Porter’s “Invitatory Urchin.” The folk sculpture of Pilar Pobil was world’s away from the slick metal surfaces of Darl Thomas’ work. With this exhibit, Cummings and crew have shown that variety is the hallmark of our state’s sculptural endeavors.
Unfortunately, the room given over to the Face of Utah Sculpture was relatively small for the project, so that while the diversity and quality of the work was surprisingly grand, the size of the works was not. At one time sculpture was all about size — it was generally public and meant to impress or be seen from far away (Michelangelo’s David was originally meant for a cathedral nook high overhead; hence its size). I don’t know enough about our state’s sculptors to know either way, but I hope that this exhibit serves only as a front showroom for the larger scale works that our foundries, kilns and metalshops are itching to produce.
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.”