Present Tense under pressure
It seems everyone is banking on Present Tense to usher in the shake-up.n
The exhibition is a nice slice of who’s who in local contemporary art (see box, p. 27). Each artist has created stunning works that range from Alvey’s scientific exploration of emergent phenomenon, with Mason and Ball jars filled with found objects and stacked in an orderly fashion, to Wiemeyer’s 20-foot self-portrait in which he looks like Rasputin, affixed with mechanized shredder designed to eat away three inches of the painting every day until the show ends Sept. 27.
Other highlights: Amy Caron and Margaret Willis are reprising a section of their collaborative piece, “Waves of Mu,” a wall-to-floor installation based on neuroanatomy—essentially a “walkable brain”—using diptych oil paint, digital photo print posters and two large chandeliers. Dessi Price builds on the Buddhist themes explored in her 337 piece, depicting a multitasking woman in meditative space, with "American Mandala," made entirely of fast-food logos to convey “the misfortune we bring to ourselves by eating fast food,” as well as to comment on the hypnotic effect of modern advertising and subliminal messages on American psyches. CJ Lester, who worked on 337’s text-heavy main-level bathroom installation, continues her focus as a social commentary artist with “Zaftig Dolls,” three 6-feet-tall “paper doll” silhouettes covered in text reflecting their thoughts and dialogues with one another. At press time, Forbes was still struggling with how to create an illusion of false rocks disturbing the gallery space and “attempting to re-create the awe of an outside project.”
Dave Doman, who “had a few things lurking around the 337 building,” including the striking ’20s-flapper girl with the word “love” in red dimensional-style lettering, distanced himself a bit from his usual art-making process. He created a flower garden of Masonite 2-by-4s and miscellaneous scrap wood, with painted flowers placed on different levels to create a level of depth. “My favorite street texture is the cinderblock wall,” he says. “So I decided to try and bring that feeling into the gallery.”
“The public response made me realize that people do pay more attention to art in Salt Lake, so in that aspect, it definitely inspired me to feel good about making things,” Doman says of 337.
Some artists took issue with Present Tense’s supposedly exclusionary nature—believing that the submission process was somehow unfair and biased. To counter that perception, curator Jay Hueman worked to ensure he had no part in the curatorial process, instead handing it off to Brigham Young University Museum of Art director Campbell Gray. A thoughtful, articulate Australian expatriate, Gray emigrated from Sydney to the United States 11 and a half years ago.
“I suspected at some point as curator of education I was going to be developing programming for it, and obviously I ended up inheriting a very different role in relation to the project as a whole,” Hueman says of his current position. “I didn’t want to conceive of educational programming that necessarily favored artists that I knew.”
Gray was only vaguely aware of the 337 building when he received a phone call from Hueman offering him a guest curator position for Present Tense. “He had a certain amount of aesthetic distance from 337. He wasn’t involved with the project; he’s not really that familiar with the artists’ personalities,” Hueman says. The distance, he says, allowed Gray to objectively consider Present Tense submissions in regard to contemporary art in Utah, nationally and globally, and to make a qualified selection that best reflected a cross-section of the 337 building.
Thomas adds, “Of course, there are always people who aren’t happy they weren’t chosen.”
Gray walked into his guest curator position with an open and optimistic mind. Though he was, “a little suspicious of the quality of work before I saw 337,” his visit to the building erased any doubts he might have had about submissions to Present Tense. The whole experience “has been a real eye-opener to the practice of contemporary art in Salt Lake City,” he says. “It’s broader and much more vibrant than what I thought it was.”n