Spring exhibitions at Utah Museum of Contemporary Art include Boombox Benefit, along with global contemplations and multimedia of home, place, memory

The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA)’s current spring exhibitions are about various expressions and perceptions about home, place, memory, history and entitlement, with direct and indirect interpretations. They include:

Horacio Rodriguez, (Why can’t we) Be Free, 2023, Ceramic Decals, Gold Luster and Glaze.

Boombox Benefit 

When boomboxes emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they became an icon for hip-hop’s rapid blossoming, in defining break dancing, ciphering and rap battles. One of the most prominent examples was in the 1982 indie film Wild Style (directed by Charlie Ahearn), with a boost by Fab 5 Freddy. The film focused on the South Bronx which included graffiti artist Lee Quiñones along with rappers, breakdancers, emcees, DJs and promoters. Likewise, the boombox was at the center of Beat Street (directed by Stan Lathan), a 1984 hip-hop film distributed by Orion Pictures. The film opened with street dancers on New York City sidewalks, accompanied by cinematic stills of the film’s central characters. The boombox also was featured in the 1979 cult classic The Warriors (directed by Walter Hill), as well as the 1983 feminist classic Born in Flames (directed by Lizzie Borden).

Boomboxes were ubiquitous in 1980s pop culture. The character of boombox-toting Radio Raheem provided the Fight the Power musical motif in Spike Lee’s 1989 cinematic hit Do the Right Thing. Earth, Wind & Fire, the soul funk masters, were the faces of Panasonic’s advertising campaign for its boomboxes. LL Cool J’s I Can’t Live Without My Radio (1985), vividly captured the mobile power of boomboxes in urban centers, with lyrics such as “Walkin’ down the street to the hardcore beat /While my JVC vibrates the concrete.”

Boombox Benefit, Horacio Rodriguez, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

Capturing the multifaceted dynamics of boombox culture with a marvelous throwback to its most durable creative impacts, Horacio Rodriguez, a Salt Lake City artist who works in ceramics among other media, has curated Boombox benefit featuring pieces decorated by 10 artists. 

Rodriguez cast ten porcelain boomboxes. Once molded and fired, each boombox was then passed to local artists—Lilian Agar, Andrew Alba, Fidalis Buehler, Hazel Rodriguez Coppola, Miguel Galaz, Jiyoun Lee-Lodge, Vicky Lowe, Andrew Rice, and Jorge Rojas — to paint and alter. 

The collection is a spot-on homage to the resilience and historical resonance of the boombox phenomenon. More than forty years ago, officials in New York City and other metro areas saw boomboxes as a disruptive gateway, just as they did with the graffiti, music and breakdancing of hip-hop. But in their rebellious and artistically gratifying purposes, boomboxes signified the coalescing forces of a dynamic music culture that eventually attracted attention at all levels — underground, pop culture, literature, music production and technology, commercial appeal and cinematic expression.

Boombox Benefit, Horacio Rodriguez, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

More significantly, the exhibit extends to an auction which benefits each artist as well as funding for local nonprofit organizations that each artist has specified. The online bidding for each piece continues through April 22 and bidders can visit this site to place their offers.

On April 22, starting at 6 p.m., the exhibition will culminate in a UMOCA event, featuring music by DJ Skratch Mo, and break dance performances by artists from THE HERC, Utah’s Hip Hop Education & Resource Center. Drink and hors d’oeuvres also will be served. One-half of the proceeds will go to the chosen non-profit organization, and the remainder will go to the artist.

Haimaz, Heimr, Hjem, Heem, Hām, Home

The main gallery exhibition Haimaz, Heimr, Hjem, Heem, Hām, Home is beautifully synthesized in its multidisciplinary spectrum of the practical, aesthetic and emotional dimensions of home. The Utah Review highlights several of the outstanding works in the show.

Various manifestations of memory and history are explored. Almost like a theatrical, stage set, Frank Poor’s House-Milton, GA (2021), with photography on sculpted basswood, emphasizes the durability of architecture as an archetypal metaphor for memory. In a Take magazine interview, Poor explained, “I guess these abandoned buildings are like cicadas that leave their husks on trees. It is this sort of shell, this evidence of a life that just happened inside.”

Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.
Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

Also featured are photographs compiled by Niko Krivanek, a native of Salt Lake City, moved east to complete his bachelor of fine arts degree in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. He has compiled the photographs into “quilts,” as assembled from images he went through from family archives. The photos are not necessarily finished or posed. There are blurry snapshots and often the series represents certain family memories as repetitive, redundant or ordinary. Krivanek, who has been previously featured at UMOCA, has examined family in his photographic work. In Niko Krivanek’s Dear Sally, Love Mom, the exhibited photographs become a loving missive to his mother who has been incarcerated since a particular yet unspecified year. The works express what her absence from his life and that of the family has left as a personal impact. Krivanek previously quoted from Susan Sontag about the nuclear family and the family photo album, which concludes with, “As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure.”

In partnership with the National Public Housing Museum while serving as the 2021 Artist-as-Instigator, Tonika Johnson’s Inequity for Sale (7250 S. Green St.) highlights the notorious predatory practice of land sale contacts that targeted Black homeowners during the mid-20th century. Johnson cements the history by using the practices reminiscent of Kodak Suggested Photo Spots and Nationally Register of Historic Places markers. While Johnson said in a Chicago interview that some Black community members initially criticized the project because it triggered traumatic memories of such racist practices, many now see it for its historic importance.

Willie Baronet, We Are All Homeless, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

“I had so many Black people from Black neighborhoods in Chicago that knew what happened in our communities and are relieved and proud to have an immersive experience that shows people the unfair things we’ve been through,” Johnson said in a 2022 interview with Block Club Chicago. “Seeing that mother and son who are from Englewood be proud to learn about it and demonstrate their happiness affirms that this is why I do what I do.”

Displacement and sanctuary also are explored in the show in various ways. Homesick, a 2014 two-channel video by Hriar Sarkissian, which came from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, is a response to the stresses of separation fans exile from one’s homeland during times of civil war. Sarkissian, a Syrian-Armenian, recreates and destroys an architecturally precise model of his childhood apartment building where his parents still reside. As curator Murtaza Vali explains, “the building seems to implode, slowly collapsing in upon itself, its’ leveling the result of an inner pathology rather than an attack from the outside.” This scene is paired with a closeup video of Sarkissian himself striking a hammer with repeated blows. While the model apartment is the assumed target, it’s never shown. “Homesick,” Vali writes, “is a form of cathartic therapy, an attempt to exorcize the memories, traumas, and paranoid projections that cohere to his childhood home.”

Boombox Benefit, Horacio Rodriguez, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

From his Live, Love, Refugee series of photographs, Omar Imam, who lives in Amsterdam, stays in contact with the subjects of his work, which includes Syrian civil war refugees living in Lebanon. In a 2020 interview with Julie Reintjes of Justice for All, he explained, “I went back and put up an exhibition in the camp. By installing the photos on the tents, the refugees living there were able to see the work. Discussing conceptual art with them was something I enjoyed. Usually, if you’re an artist, you live in an art bubble, and you discuss your art with your art friends. I always think art should be for everyone, especially for the people who are not looking for it, because it’s a way of communicating.”

Exceptionally detailed miniature masterpieces, six charcoal drawings on paper from Erin Fostel’s Women’s Bedroom series underscore home’s qualities as sanctuaries for sustaining and fortifying individual strength. In Baltimore, starting in 2019, Fostel began photographing bedrooms, especially those where its occupants use them during difficult transitional periods of their life. The focus turned to this point after Fostel had photographed the room of a woman who stayed at a YWCA shelter in Virginia. “As I was creating this piece, I was aware of how my assumptions were shifting,” wrote Fostel in a blog post about a room so quickly vacated by an abused woman that wigs, make-up and shampoo were left behind. “I thought about how those items could have been used for disguise,” wrote Fostel. “[That] she needed to alter her appearance while living in Norfolk, but [maybe] she went somewhere where she didn’t need to hide.”

Willie Baronet’s work We Are All Homeless has been widely featured around the country. For the last 30 years, the artist and Southern Methodist University professor (who teaches advertising) has purchased signs from homeless individuals and has learned more about their lives and circumstances. He has collected more than 2,000 signs and has organized numerous events at the SMU campus to benefit nonprofit groups which serve the homeless community in Dallas. His students also participate in numerous activities to serve the homeless community. 

Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.
Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

Baronet ties the signs directly to his teaching. “First, homeless signs are one of the purest forms of advertising,” he said in an interview for a SMU feature. “Second, as a creative project, it is a great example of how creativity IS problem-solving and that creating compelling content is the best way to persuade people. This past year, one of the posters I designed for a We Are All Homeless  exhibit was accepted into the Communication Arts Design Annual, the most prestigious design competition in the world. It’s hard to find a stronger intersection than that.” 

The Epicenter community in Utah’s Green River region also is featured in several works. What started as an AmeriCorps volunteers project has expanded into a wide ranging rural community planning project which converges on consensus building about art and architecture, creativity and community service, pragmatism and experimentation. Focused on holistic engagement by the community stakeholders, Epicenter’s work arises from a sensitivity about engaged contextual practice in preserving a genuine rural model that rises above stereotypes regarding its constraints, isolation or lack of sustainable services.  The renderings capture a forthcoming planned neighborhood, called Canal Commons, which will be built along the historic irrigation canal in Green River, Utah. The home planning and construction projects arose from a decade of conversations and meetings involving the town’s residents.

In conjunction, prints and a short video by Calista Lyon are featured. Lyon received The Frontier Fellowship for Epicenter’s artist residency. Epicenter has hosted more than 70 artists since 2011. Lyon’s Localized Gestures features waved hands from a diverse array of Epicenter community members: “a veteran melon farmer, a council worker about to celebrate thirty years of service, a woman who missed the fireflies of Missouri, a senior citizen wearing a MAGA hat, a young girl, a pheasant farmer readying for a delivery of twelve thousand chicks, the local mayor, a mechanic, a Vietnam vet poisoned by agent orange, an artist, a back-country mule aficionado, a man who wore a high-visibility vest in solidarity with the French protestors, the high school principal followed by her graduating seniors, a sandwich maker, a nurse, a couple who recently started a snow-cone business, a man embodying a deep-seeded anger, a gardener, among others.”

Matthew Sketch, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

Matthew Sketch: FAM(ily)

Industrial designer Matthew Sketch builds on the prevailing theme of home and geographical place in a series of painting that glimmer with optimism. Each painting highlights the sun, which Sketch accentuates with layers of gold leaf. While the paintings are composed of abstract geometric shapes, his deft use of engineering and artistic skills makes the abstract remarkably familiar in terms of its representations of landscape which would resonate with the Utah viewer.

Mountain ranges are discernible and his depth of perspective is enriched by his counterpoint of color and focus on capturing distance in the composition. He maximizes the two-dimensional format with outstanding effect, giving the appearance that the sun is rising through and above the geometric shapes portrayed. The works cumulatively emulate the changing perspectives of the rising Sun until it has reached its highest point of the day. He is bold in his expressions, with strong hues and strokes that evoke a sinewy muscular sense, emphasizing the potency of memories and of family attachments. 

Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (video still); Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.; © 2023 Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Gordon Matta-Clark: Splitting, 1974

Yet another mesmerizing video installment in the museum’s Codec Gallery is Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting, from 1974, that is as much architectural and sculptural in its synthesizing expression as it is in its filmed realization.

This film shows the results of the artist meticulously cutting almost in half a suburban home from Englewood, New Jersey. The late artist was well known for his critique of urban renewal in his works but Splitting stands out in particular for how he mined a structure in a most unusual manner. In a 2004 article, Anne Wagner explained why he sought out this particular working class home in Englewood:

Not only was the Englewood house cut, but from it were extracted four fragments that did duty as a gallery work. And it also generated both a film and photographs of Splitting’s stages, with the latter then taking further shape both as a suite of individual signed collages and an artist’s book- the last of these not a high-end object (it sold for $3.50) but one whose production nonetheless spun out the project into the following year.

Wagner added, “Never has a domestic domain been more thoroughly anatomized; never did its restoration seem more willfully dream-like, a more fragile effort to reassemble a (scarred) whole.” 

A Way of Working, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.
Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

A Way of Working

The 360-degree view of the architectural planning process is evident in the exhibition highlighting the work of Sparano + Mooney Architecture, a collective of architects, artists and craftspeople in Utah and California. There is a genuine sense of harmonizing all aspects of the architectural considerations in building homes and other structures for a specific landscape.

Established more than a quarter century ago, the firm consistently has won design awards and is recognized regularly by the industry’s major peers. A good example of one of the firm’s recently completed home projects is the Wabi Sabi Residence, a 4,000-square-foot (370-square metre) structure on a nine-acre lot in the Wasatch Range. “The house is clad in Western Red Cedar Select that references the landscape and works to reduce construction waste by using 14-foot (4.2-meter) boards that extend from the base of the exterior wall to the parapet without cuts,” Kate Mazade wrote in Dezeen magazine. “Employing the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of wabi-sabi – the beauty of the imperfect and incomplete – the north volume uses a natural cedar finish while on the south volume, the cedar has been stained black.” Indeed, the collection of exhibit documents and materials highlight the broader harmonizing aesthetics incumbent in the firm’s work.  

For more information about the museum and exhibitions, see the UMOCA website

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