Utah Museum of Fine Arts receives $80,000 Warhol Foundation grant for 2021 exhibition highlighting human impact on air quality and pollution

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Continuing a major trend of earning national recognition for its commitment to contemporary art and innovative programs for the public, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) has received an $80,000 grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, its second award from the foundation since 2014.

UMFA will apply the grant toward an exhibition in the spring of 2021, tentatively titled Air, highlighting contemporary artists who explore air as a historical creative medium and as a creative platform for demonstrating the effects of the human impact on air quality. Air, which will be organized by UMFA senior curator Whitney Tassie, will be structured as a multidisciplinary exhibition featuring the work of artists, designers, engineers and scientists from the local, national and international communities.

“We are thrilled to support the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in its efforts to provide a platform for artists addressing environmental concerns through their work,” Rachel Bers, program director for The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, says. “The exhibition exemplifies the foundation’s belief that artists, through their voices and visions, have significant contributions to make to social, political and cultural discourse.”

The cornerstone piece of the forthcoming Air exhibition will be a work by Andrea Polli that reimagines the digital media artist’s Particle Falls within the architectural context of the UMFA building as well as its air quality. Polli, who created the first version of the installation seven years ago, uses specialized software she designed to generate real-time visualizations of air quality data.

Andrea Polli’s Particle Falls is a large-scale, real-time visualization of air-quality data that the artist will be re-imagining for the UMFA’s exhibition. On a background of falling blue light, spots of bright, fiery color emerge and crackle, representing the presence of fine particulate matter as detected by a nearby air monitor. Particle Falls at the City Center, UNC Charlotte sponsored by Clean Air Carolina, Charlotte NC 2016, photo by Jared Rendon-Trompak.

Polli’s new installation will be linked via a network to PurpleAir sensors, which will facilitate comparisons of regional air quality as well as consider the contexts of the inequity of air pollution. When the installation was exhibited at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, Polli explained, “Air—it’s invisible. We can’t really see it, touch it, know that it exists.” She added, “How can we become more aware of what’s happening with our air before we experience asthma or other problems that come from poor air?”

UMFA’s previous Warhol grant, also $80,000, from 2014 supported four installments of salt, a series of semi-annual exhibitions showcasing work by emerging contemporary artists from around the world.

The recent round of 46 grants from the Warhol Foundation went to organizations in 19 states, totaling $3.93 million. This latest group of grantees was selected from a competitive pool of more than 250 applicants. Among the criteria determining UMFA’s eligibility for the award included four elements: artists engaging in important conversations, challenging and experimental work, promotion of dialogue important to the immediate context as well as connecting to national and international debates.

Utah Museum of Fine Art, located on the Salt Lake City main campus of The University of Utah.

One recent UMFA was the 2019 exhibition Power Couples: The Pendant Format in Art, which, as The Utah Review described, exemplified the representation of gender roles and social status and highlighted art’s potential intellectual, philosophical and story-telling powers.” In 2019, UMFA was one of five institutions in the U.S. West that the Smithsonian American Art Museum selected for an unprecedented five-year collaboration known as the American West Consortium, supported by a nearly $2 million dollar grant from Art Bridges and the Terra Foundation for American Art. The first phase of this initiative is underway, as UMFA is exhibiting four works from titans of the American art scene, including Thomas Moran (1837-1926), Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), Alma Thomas (1891-1978) and Diego Rivera (1886-1957).

In a statement, Joel Wachs, president of the Warhol foundation, says the selections epitomize the creative impact and the mission which defined the name of the organization’s namesake. Warhol, who died in 1987, specified the foundation’s mission in his will. “The selection of grantees highlights the foundation’s commitment to art and exhibition making that takes risks, and to its belief that artists are key contributors to sociopolitical and critical conversations taking place across the country,” he says. “Recipients hail from the country’s major art centers and beyond including Alaska, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Utah.”

For more information about current exhibitions, see the UMFA website. The museum will open two exhibitions of Japanese art in February, including Seven Masters: 20th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints and Beyond the Divide: Merchant, Artist, Samurai in Edo Japan.

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