UTAH MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART: JOHN SPROUL, BERNARD MEYERS, TOBIAS FIKE
Three Intermountain West artists are among the latest to have exhibitions to round out the summer season at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA). The connecting thread for this trio involves asking viewers to consider abstractions that reveal multiple layers going beyond typical binary representations in the work.
In the Projects Gallery, John Sproul’s Here Between There features five large paintings, which emphasize that what we imagine to be inaccessible in the metaphorical black hole of our storied existences is actually a breach that bridges to closing the gap between our present perspective and that of our memories.
The paintings are like ethereal and ephemeral expressions of dancers who are figures that share some traits but differ in others. The settings are typical hallmarks of social performance and interaction, including a restaurant, art gallery, proscenium stage, protest, or playground equipment. The figures are deliberately ambiguous but they also indicate the human propensity to craft their own vocabulary of gazes and classify the value of their relationships, where sometimes the emotional dimensions end up as a partnership of pragmatic social, even business, realities. Sproul’s work exposes the metaphorical dance of our lives where we rarely are acutely conscious of just how strong the stitching is between our contemporary sense of our circumstances and surroundings and earlier memories which emphasize the continuity of our whole being.
Exploring a similar theme but this time regarding the stitching between photographic realism and abstract expressionism, Bernard Meyers’ Urban Abstracts in the AIR Space gallery is the apt companion to Sproul’s exhibition. Meyers, who is one of UMOCA’s artists in residence in the current term, deconstructs photographic images of urban vistas, buildings and street blocks, by using the full extent of current digital technologies to maximize the abstract presentation potential. The results would make spellbinding jigsaw puzzles but where the possibilities of the completed image also could end up differently constructed each time.
Meyers has described his artistic expression as being in the spectrum “between the structural impossibilities of M.C. Escher and the complex color spaces of Richard Diebencorn.” The original image starts from what Meyers envisioned as being best suited to his capacity to reshape and arrange. “The manipulation takes place in Adobe Photoshop. It is an organic process that builds upon itself. I decide which elements are important or new and those form the basis,” he explains. “I play, I experiment, I often push an image too far then back up. I revel in the unexpected and embrace the random visual details that occur. Some images come together in an hour, others I fiddle with on and off for days.” Meyers’ show is another outstanding example of what UMOCA’s artists in residence program has achieved as innovative fusions of multimedia techniques and multidisciplinary expression.
Completing this finely curated triad of existence, memory and the lingering spaces that remain is Tobias Fike’s When I Am Gone, a video piece which is in the Codec Gallery. Fike, based in Denver, is featured in the short film where he uses the green screen effect to erase himself. A can of green paint is present throughout the short film and Fike scoops the paint and applies it to his costumed body. His body never disappears entirely. There are specks of his body frame that flicker but the shadow of his form on the ground is always evident. If one starts by viewing Sproul’s paintings first, and then moves to the museum’s lower level to experience Meyers’ abstract images and finally returns to the upper level’s Codec Gallery to watch Fike’s short film (just a few minutes), one can appreciate the lifelong contemplation of how they might proceed through their own existence, wondering just how resilient and durable the memories of them will be after death.
For more information about these shows and other exhibitions, see the UMOCA website.
When the performing arts coalition of the six resident companies at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts decided on the Birthday Suit(e) theme for Rose Exposed!, to mark the building’s 25th anniversary, it was left to generous interpretation for how the companies would celebrate the milestone.
There were numerous references to a birthday suit, especially in Pygmalion Productions’ contribution which was offered as interlude parts throughout the hour-long show. Anne Louise Brings, who personified the subject of honor for the evening, appeared in a different outfit each time, of course with red rose as the highlight color. Meanwhile, Tamara Howell complimented her each time with “nice birthday suit.”
But, it was the closing number with a trio of performers from the SB Dance Company, which has been offering pop-up shows with Curbside Theater who lived up to the au naturel expectations of the riskier dimension of the Rose Exposed! theme. Stephen Brown’s sexy, hilarious burlesque homage was brought to a rousing climax by dance artists Arielle Hassett, Bashaun Williams and Jorji Diaz Fadel. And, as with the other companies, pianist Koji Attwood provided the spot-on accompanying music.
Opening with a loud chord followed immediately by a string of fast sixteenth notes, the virtuosic scurrying of the last movement (Allegro assai) of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major, K. 332 became the perfect foil for the dancers who strip off a piece of clothing after each section and place it into a shiny wrapped package with a big red bow. The dancers then look to the pianist wondering if that is enough or acceptable. Of course, everyone knows where it ends up. SB Dance, which always has pushed boundaries with gratifying effects, excels at the theatrics in such performing opportunities. The dancers and Attwood play along with good chemistry, maximizing the humorous mischief of the birthday suit theme.
The six independent arts companies — three dance institutions, two theatrical organizations and an international piano foundation — portrayed genuine appreciation for their performing arts home in downtown Salt Lake City. The vision of Izzy Wagner and his family, indeed, was fortunate for companies that previously were artistic nomads using temporary spaces in the community.
The show opened with a fascinating series of visuals of how the space at 159 West Broadway was transformed from 1909 to 1997, when The Rose (as it is popularly known) opened. The Rose is one of the city’s most important cultural centers, which has not only been used by the six resident companies but also as an official venue for the Sundance Film Festival, the site for a good portion of the Utah Film Center’s programs, a performing platform for groups such as 1520 Arts, Samba Fogo and countless independent enterprising artists.
Attwood, representing the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, and Howell and Brings, of Pygmalion Productions, provided the framework for the program. Attwood selected wonderful music complements to each set piece. Howell and Brings introduced each segment with banter, trivia and corny puns, along with a birthday greeting provided by each company. They also performed the closing number — no surprise — Everything’s Coming Up Roses by Jules Styne and Stephen Sondheim.
Plan-B Theatre offered a new short play, Push Back, a two-hander written by MaryBeth Jarvis Clark, which came from the company’s Creative Aging Writing Workshop.
Clark’s tight script tells a timely and broadly relevant story through the eyes of two characters. Limone is a fifty-something woman, despite financial setbacks, who still believes in the promises of achieving the classic American dream. Meanwhile, her nephew, who is in his mid-twenties and is skeptical about the idea about taking on college loan debt and making sacrifices without having a safety net. Directed by Kay Shean, the short play comes through loud and clear with convincing performances by Howell and Pedro Flores.
The strength of Clark’s writing is the matter of generational perspective. Acknowledging that peers of her generation conveniently forget that a younger person’s frame of perspective differs a lot from when they were young because economic, political and social circumstances barely resemble what they remember. Limone seems like a loving aunt but she also believes her nephew lacks ambition, the fire and the boldness to take risks and thrive independently. The nephew pushes back, as Limone struggles to comprehend that he actually is thinking through his options realistically for what he can responsibly do. Clark leaves the right questions at the end of a solid short theatrical piece.
Two of Utah’s longest standing pillars of dance — Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company — offered their usual strong contributions. Choreographed by Marilyn Barrett, RDT’s number featured the dancers in party hats and blow ticklers, accompanied by Attwood performing his transcription of the Allegro from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, in G Major. Barrett aligned the sections effectively with the combinations of instrumental voices that mark the piece. Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s contribution, choreographed by Daniel Charon, the company’s artistic director, featured the six dancers frolicking, also with blow ticklers, to the brio energy of In The Streets of Old Batavia from Leopold Godowsky’s Java Suite.
Atwood also performed a solo, as part of Bachauer’s contribution: Sergei Bortkiewicz’s Impromptu Op. 24, No. 3, also known as Eros. This is a signature Attwood piece, not only because of its dazzling piano athleticism but also because it has an exquisite grandeur of emotional layers which Attwood elucidates so finely. Bortkiewicz was a contemporary of Rachmaninoff but whose music only recently has been rescued from oblivion.
Among the highlights of the celebration was a seven-foot-tall anniversary card, designed by JOYMOB Events. Attendees were invited to write a birthday note and pin it to the card, which will remain in The Rose’s lobby for the 2022-23 season. Visitors are given three prompts as guidelines for signing the card: ”When I come to the Rose, I want to bring _____ with me. (Someone special); My favorite performance I’ve seen at the Rose was _______; Art makes me feel ______.”