Monday, March 28, 2016

Utah.com Insert: Is Modern Art a Joke?

Publication pans 'Spiral Jetty' and 'Tree of Utah'

Posted By on March 28, 2016, 3:32 PM

click to enlarge UTAH MEDIA GROUP
  • Utah Media Group
If you were thumbing through the inserts in your Sunday Salt Lake Tribune, you might have noticed a glossy magazine branded to Utah.com, with the catchy title "Utah Under the Radar." And if you actually opened it up to read about the "lesser-known attractions" it appeared to be promoting, you'd find an attitude towards modern art that you could conservatively describe as snarky, and perhaps even more accurately as condescending and dismissive.

In an article titled "Top 9 Bizarre Utah Places," the editorial team addressed such natural oddities as Fantasy Canyon and Church Rock, as well as man-made spots like Thistle Ghost Town and the Delta Solar Ruins. But the writers reserved their choicest words for descriptions of two pieces of distinctive modern art: Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty and Karl Momen's Tree of Utah.  "Modern art, amiright??" reads the description of Smithson's land art masterwork. "Some guy with a tractor dumps a million tons of basalt in some cutesy circle in the middle of nowhere, and we're all supposed to, what? Clap, or something? ... Go at sunset and watch a pink sun sink into a raspberry-lemonade inland sea, experiencing the marrow of what it means to be human? Pshaw, your kid could do that. Well, if your kid had a tractor, which he will never have, because you don't want him to become a modern artist."

Things don't get any less condescending where The Tree of Utah is concerned. "Some people are artists. Some people see a stretch of salt flats and say, 'I shall build an 87' tree out of 2,000 ceramic tiles, 225 tons of cement and five tons of welding rod.' ... And some people must have other artist friends or doting mothers who say, 'You shall, no serious you totally shall do that That makes so much sense.' And some people are named Karl Momen, and millions of Wendover-bound tourists who see the Tree are redeemed. Inspired. Confused."

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click to enlarge spiraljetty.jpg
This is a long-simmering issue with modern and/or contemporary art," says Kristian Anderson, Executive Director of the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, in response to these write-ups. "People who spend time and training to create things get the short shrift these days. We don’t appreciate connoisseurship; we don’t appreciate expertise.

"I think the real issue for me is, making fun of modern art is such low-hanging fruit. It says the [writers] haven’t done the research to understand the work in the context of the history of the state, or the history of the artist’s work.”

While Utah.com—a product of KSL Digital Media—is not affiliated officially with the state of Utah, it's easy to imagine that someone viewing the magazine cover emblazoned with "Utah.com" might assume such an affiliation.  Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding, said that "people are periodically confused" regarding the connection between Utah.com and official state tourism-promotion efforts. Varela provided a document which is used as a guideline for communications representing the "Utah Life Elevated" campaign and setting its positive tone. It reads in part, "[Utah Life Elevated] is a summary of a wide range of Utah experiences—from outdoor recreation to cutting edge business—that have the power to lift the heart and stir passions."

"I think one of my dreams," says Kristian Anderson, "in terms of drawing people to Utah is, yes, we have amazing resources of natural beauty, but my goal is that people would add a couple of days to know that we are people that create an amazing amount of culture. When you look at our license plates, I don’t think that’s exceptionally highlighted. Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef are amazing places, of course, but we could be making it an 'and' instead of an 'or.'" 

As of this posting, Utah.com has not responded to requests to speak on the record regarding the publication's editorial content.

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