Exhibitions focusing on the long-term effects of American suburban development, a tongue-in-cheek look at self-medication, enhanced residency opportunities for Utah artists and a creative program for LGTBQ teens will highlight the 2019 season for the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA).
“We focus on the dynamics of how current issues dominate wider discussions,” Kristian Anderson, UMOCA’s Executive Director, explains. “We hear about how policy drives dialogue and vice versa. Our objective is to stay connected between these two threads of public discourse and debate.”
Anderson says that this includes bringing in partners and collaborators with whom a contemporary art museum might not typically engage. In recent shows, there have been contemporary dance artists, independent filmmakers, architects and associates from local and national nonprofits including Urban Land Institute, Spy Hop Productions and the Sundance Institute.
A new Main Gallery exhibition in early 2019 will be Shady Acres (Jan. 26-May 26), which will present works by up to 15 artists who observe and interpret the long-term effects of American suburbanization within the broader contexts of urban density, homelessness and infrastructure in disrepair. Shady Acres will be the culminating show in a triptych of exhibitions that comprise the relevant community and environmental spaces in their totality. The first two, respectively, focused on landscapes and urban centers.
For the upcoming exhibition, Jared Steffensen, UMOCA Curator, says the aim is to challenge how suburban lifestyles have been sold, based on favorable attributes of safety, space and affordability. He adds, “the emphasis turns to the real and cultural costs of suburbia,” which includes transportation and the headaches of commuting to work, the prescription opioid abuse prevalent in suburban communities and the implications for locally owned businesses as strip malls and big-box store construction overwhelmed the traditional ideals of main street commerce.
Other scheduled exhibitions play directly on thematic tangents from the Shady Acres show, which will broaden audience perspectives. UMOCA’s Codec Gallery features video, audio, or technology-based works and installations that expand on nuanced themes from the Main Gallery exhibitions.
Contemporary Suburbium, by Ed and Deanna Templeton, will be presented as a photographic meditation on living in the suburbs of Orange County, California – specifically, Huntington Beach. Once dotted with orange trees, oil drilling and summer cottages for the rich, Huntington Beach is now a popular beach destination for vacationers, and the old cottages are being replaced with tall modern three-story houses. The photographs portray the people of this traditionally conservative stronghold, the disaffected youth and the fortunate (as well as the less fortunate), as they venture out from behind fences, walls and endless blocks of tract housing.
“We create and curate shows that can engage audiences without them fearing about being intimidated about contemporary art,” Anderson says. “We go by the simple axiom that there are no dumb questions and we make it a point to answer everyone’s question when they are curious about something new they see in a show.”
Another Street Gallery exhibition will be Gettin’ By, a tongue-in-cheek exploration by artist Mike Simi who explores the various ways in which people indulge in self-medication, as marked by class and economy. In addition to the show’s winks and self-effacing humor, Steffensen says Simi’s artistic approach blurs the boundaries between self-representation and objecthood in ways that deny their existence in either realm. This approach is manifested, for example, in the wall sculpture of a pair of Tylenol PM pills fashioned to scale. Other representations show cast pitchers of Miller High Life beer and Bloody Mary cocktails.
The only long-term artist residency program available in Utah, UMOCA’s AIR (Artist-in-Residence) program, which started in 2013 and is supported by the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, is expanding its exhibition space. UMOCA will occupy additional space at Trolley Square, a partially enclosed shopping center on the eastern edge of downtown Salt Lake City. While the AIR program is not a new concept relative to other organizations, UMOCA’s program has given a growing number of Utah artists the opportunity to stay in the state and develop their careers without having to relocate to major cities. “For us, it has been a great hedge against the worries of cultural brain drain in the area and it has become a key part of our programming,” Anderson explains.
In 2019, seven Utah artists will have solo exhibitions planned in the museum’s AIR Space, a gallery of approximately 1,000 square feet. Steffensen adds that the new Trolley Square location will give AIR participants the opportunity of a second exhibition to either repeat or expand on their first show or to create new works entirely. The new Trolley Square location will give significant support to a program that emphasizes career building experiences and networking for the local artists. The solo exhibitions come at the end of the residency, which includes learning through interactions with each other along with visiting artists, curators and art world professionals during workshops and critiques. UMOCA also offers one Educator-in-Residence opportunity for a visual artist annually.
Many of the approximately 30 alumni from the AIR program have cultivated portfolios with solo and group shows, fellowships and residencies in numerous venues including New York, Virginia, Vermont, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Belgium, Tokyo and other locations throughout the country. UMOCA also presents shows by Utah artists, both emerging and established, in its Projects Gallery.
UMOCA is set to offer its fifth version of Out Loud for LGTBQ youth in grades 9-12 who are looking for safe, independent spaces in art and creativity. The program consists of 10 workshops, beginning in February, and a two-month exhibition with an opening reception event. Elly Baldwin, UMOCA’s Curator of Public Engagement, says some students are surprised when they begin the program, believing that it will operate as a high school art club instead they are guided toward creating work for the annual gallery show.
Beyond offering free tuition for accepted students, Baldwin says the museum arranges for public transportation passes and parking costs for students who otherwise might not be able to afford coming downtown even if they have been accepted. Funding support for Out Loud comes from the LGBTQ Community Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation of Utah and the B.W. Bastian Foundation.
UMOCA was founded in 1931 and remains the state’s only museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art. Programming includes family art activities, the Art Truck housing mobile shows and a year-round schedule of youth events and tours for students of all ages.