Visual Art | Building a Collection: Salt Lake County adds to its genre-spanning showcase for Utah artists. | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

Visual Art | Building a Collection: Salt Lake County adds to its genre-spanning showcase for Utah artists. 

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Art and government entities go together like oil paint and water bills—but the largest and most comprehensive collection of Utah artwork is housed in a government edifice. Salt Lake County’s collection of more than 450 original works in paint, photography, pottery and sculpture assembles many of the best-known local artists with some up-and-comers to create a surprisingly eclectic grouping. n

Every year since the facility was constructed in 1984, a 15-member collection committee has been given a budget to acquire a few more works, slowly but steadily creating a roster that is impressive by anyone’s standard. This year, 16 new additions were made, and collection curator Valerie Price points out that artists must have local ties to be selected: “They have to be born, live or go to school in the state, and most live in Salt Lake County,” says Price. “We are helping support local artists.”


The new works were unveiled first at a press conference Nov. 18, but they are soon to take their permanent home on the second floor of the north building of the County Complex on 2001 S. State. A handful of the artists explained their motivations in a video produced by Michael Stack. Sandy Brunvand’s abstract print “Inaugural Code” (pictured) still has ties to nature: “My art reflects the outdoors with a plant form,” she says. “Seeds are the DNA of the plant, represented in binary code, zeroes and ones.”


Shalee Cooper’s photographs serve as important documentation, and she has traveled the world looking at street signs. She used a Holga and twin-lens Roloflex to capture storefronts of Salt Lake City’s Bar-X Inn and McKay Diamonds, and the black-and-white prints lend the images the patina of history. “I like to document places before they change,” she explains.


There were fears that funding for this year might be cut to the bone, especially with the current economic crisis. But Price reports that only their 2009 budget was reduced by only $5,000, leaving $40,000 intact. “In times of hardship, art is one thing people turn to for solace,” Price maintains. The “One Percent for Art” statute allows 1 percent of construction costs of new or renovated state buildings to be used toward the commissioning of art in the building.


The North building of the County Complex, which houses the collection, is a large and airy gallery space, and the wall space of its four floors is barely half full. But the county also disperses pieces throughout all of its facilities, including libraries, the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts, Capitol Theatre and Abravanel Hall. Works at the State Street location include the earliest work in their holdings—the landscape “Wilds of the Wasatch” painted by Ruben Kirkham in 1876—as well as, a little farther down the hall, a 1980s Lee Deffebach abstract.


Inasmuch as many of the older works portray points along the way in the state’s development, like Depression-era WPA depictions, one of the new works reveals a dramatic story indigenous to today’s world. Walt Hunter teamed up with Jesus Silva, a former gang member he mentors, to create the chalk portrait “What Now, Jose,” that combines the relatively new genre of street art with the pensive moment of a subject at what may be a turning point. The result is a powerful image that is just one of many surprises as you wend your way through the building.


The collection puts the lie to the stereotype of Utah art being all landscapes. “We realized we had a lot of landscapes,” Price admits, “so we tried to correct that by including more still lifes, portraits and photos.” Chris Baczak explained her oversize photograph of a baseball game at Franklin Covey Field “The Big Game” with a statement that could apply to the collection as a whole: “It’s not sentimental; it’s about the space, and being there.”



nSalt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State, 468-3517

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