Still time to catch several impressive exhibitions at Utah Museum of Contemporary Art before year’s end

While downtown Salt Lake City is the hub of many holiday activities and the season’s hospitality and retail commerce, one ideal respite for some quiet enjoyment and contemplation is the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, where several outstanding exhibitions still are available for viewing through the end of the calendar year.

Among them is Her Maiden Name by Genesis Jerez, a Bronx, New York artist who is the 2021 winner of the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Contemporary Painting. The exhibit comprises six large works produced on mixed media of charcoal, paper and oil on linen and featuring various elements including old photos, photocopied transfers and patterns and textiles. Jerez, 28, a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, takes the artistic technique and craft of collage to a mesmerizing, absorbing level of viewing. The works emerge from old family photographs but the artist meticulously navigates the reproduction of the stories behind those photographed memories with an eye toward preserving the family’s right of privacy and discretion. 

Genesis Jerez, Blue Ballerina. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

But even as Jerez deliberately sustains discretion in the utmost fashion, each of these large-scale works offers a prodigious accounting of the memories of places integral to her life and family history. Thus, the viewer is invited to approach the experience as closely as possible but also comprehends that one can never fully understand the artist’s provenance, ancestry and accumulation of life experiences as she meditates and reflects upon them. She anchors the presentation of her work with the verse of Romans 14:13: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”

Indeed, the significance of this particular Scriptural reference flows effusively throughout Jerez’s work. The prerogative of judgment does not rest with humans and, in fact, those who attempt to judge do so at the risk of revealing their self-righteousness or contemptuous superiority. It is this which burdens us with pervasive disrespect and lack of harmony, thereby preventing us from realizing what could be the potential of genuine Christianity with humane empathy. We would do well collectively to avoid the reflexive temptation to always criticize. 

Family also is at the inspirational heart of the photographs in Niko Krivanek’s Dear Sally, Love Mom. The 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, 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. His show is an excellent companion to Jerez’s exhibition. Krivanek anchors his show with a quote 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.”

Niko Krivanek, Dear Sally, Love Mom. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

UMOCA’s recent installation exhibitions have been superb in breadth and depth of contemporary overviews of issues critical to the life and health of a community. Some of the best examples have come from UMOCA’s Artist-in-Residence program. Last spring, there was the exceptional seven-channel video installation piece by Zachary Norman titled, This Storm is What We Call Progress. Norman’s presentation stood out for its exhaustive research of the intersecting dynamics at force in the strident debate surrounding the Northwest Quadrant in Salt Lake City and the proposed Inland Port project, which would devastate the historic natural habitat and its underpinnings. 

The latest is Tiana Birrell’s the weight of a cloud, an astounding overview of the linguistic distinctions and meanings underlying the word “cloud” when it references digital storage and the huge amounts of natural resources committed to sustaining and operating the infrastructure involved. In particular, Birrell contextualizes the installation in the massive data servers the National Security Agency maintains in Utah. Like Norman, Birrell girds her work with deep research. One jawdropper: the data servers require 65 megawatts of power and 1.7 million gallons of water daily. 

Tiana Birrell, the weight of a cloud. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

We talk extensively about the carbon footprint but Birrell’s artistic installation shocks us into realizing that the digital footprint may be even more insidious and consequential. We have become accustomed to comprehending our routine digital activities as clean, invisible and ethereal without taking into account that the separation between natural and artificial is a dangerous illusion to entertain. This matters if we are seriously concerned about the preservation and conservation of our natural resources. 

Digital and photographic collages mark the work of Nick Pedersen’s Slow Apocalypse. The works are masterly executed examples of image manipulation and Photoshopping skills. Pedersen’s collages are seamless in their juxtaposing of older and current-day elements where the apocalyptic vibe is not immediately apparent but with focused viewing it pierces through the stunning beauty of its initial look. These include giant wallpaper prints with repeated patterns that represent the artist’s expression of the targets in the endangered ecological community. These hangings complement those of Carol Sogard, an artist who was featured in Space Maker, the show highlighting works by University of Utah art school faculty members, which recently closed at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

Other exhibitions open through the end of this month include All Wall, the seven large murals that are on view in UMOCA’s Main Gallery. The UMOCA murals truly capture the range of what Utah public art creators have strived to do in painting murals, which express genuine identity, culture, history, politics and critical issues of social value and empowerment. For Salt Lake City residents as well as visitors from elsewhere, All Wall is a wonderful visual introduction offering context to the numerous articles and rankings that emphasize the city’s diversity. Salt Lake City continues to be transformed by significant changes in its demographic composition as well as its appetite for creative entrepreneurship, which resonates with the impulses that made institutions like UMOCA in the first place.

Nick Pedersen, Slow Apocalypse. Photo Credit: Zachary Norman.

Located in the museum’s Codec Gallery is a short film by Yoriko Mizushiri, one of Japan’s best-known animation film artists. The film, A Gentle Touch, compiles two of her shorter films Kamakura and Maku. Miizushiri achieves compelling surrealistic effects in her hand-drawn animation with a dreamy, provocative, sensual vibe. The film’s simplicity commands the viewer to focus on the natural movements and interactions taking place on the screen. The setting is so convincingly intimate that it might inspire viewers to engage in public displays of affection in the gallery, a perfectly ideal response to Mizushiri’s video art.

The museum is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to. 6 p.m, and on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., with the exception of the Christmas and New Year holidays and their respective eves. 

For more information, see the new revised UMOCA website. 

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