Visual Art | Wall Eyed: Local artists turn the hidden spaces of Sam Weller’s bookstore into a gallery. | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

Visual Art | Wall Eyed: Local artists turn the hidden spaces of Sam Weller’s bookstore into a gallery. 

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Every building contains volumes of stories, tales that don’t always see the light of day. The staff of City Weekly is keenly aware of that, having moved several years ago to share a building with Sam Weller’s Bookstore, among other tenants. The site is brimming with legends from their decades in the bookstore business—a gathering place for some of the most captivating books, authors, employees and local characters, as well as previous occupants of the building. n

One of the more intriguing new places to see art in town, Weller’s most recent exhibit is inspired by the space itself: “Off the Wall” allowed local artists Edward McKenna, David Ruhlman and Patrick Weeks access to explore hidden spaces of the bookstore and as the show flier said, “bring its ghosts to light.” “The concept for this show emerged out of a relationship with the interior architecture of the bookstore,” explains Stephanie Leitch, who—along with fellow bookstore employee Shari Zollinger—curated the show.


Leitch had taken seven years of her own history as an employee where she encountered the build-up of materials and décor of previous occupants, the labyrinthine qualities of the bookstore space as well as sections customers don’t see: remnants of an old nightclub, collapsed-in bathrooms, piles of old shelving materials, velveteen wallpaper and patinaed surfaces. “I’ve always felt the space is inspiring and ripe for influence and interpretation,” she explains.


The artists responded in unexpected ways. McKenna created a huge triptych made up of panels—including old wood paneling—that evokes surfaces seen by past inhabitants. “Unaware of the rooms’ history, I saw each room as a hue, a temperature and a visual relic,” he recalls. The result is an oversize work to fit the large wall—one that isn’t overwhelming, but understated. As he notes, the piece resembles a wall taken out of someone’s living room, and it produces the odd sensation of voyeuristic ephemera, like the cliché “if the walls had ears.” What dramatic scenes did it once frame?


Ruhlman used archaic typeset boxes as a sectioned artistic topography that ties aesthetically to his other work. “The catacombs are amazing, seeing the history of a city almost frozen in time,” he said as he described his journey. “I wanted to fill the boxes with something other than small objects.”


Instead, he used color swatches inspired by Robert Rauschenberg, a small portrait and some color pencil drawings. It was a brilliant choice to use the boxes, since they evoke the genesis of the books themselves. As with most of Ruhlman’s works, the boxes are noninvasive but slightly unnerving, a common quality of a relic invoking an edifice’s former life.


Weeks combined drawings, scrawls and found objects attached with strings as a visual metaphor for the sprawling inner avenues of the building’s history. “Weeks’ perspective on the world is as labyrinthine as our building, and the branching representation of his drawings and chalk scrawls feels like that,” notes Leitch. “Patrick’s work was also the most immediate and responsive in the way it plays with the exhibition space.”


The exhibit takes up the two walls leading up and down the stairs to the upper and lower levels of the bookstore. With only a month between being contacted and the show opening, each artist has created works that are challenging and strikingly individual in addition to providing much fodder for contemplation. In bringing unseen sides of the bookstore to light, they provide recognition of the history of a downtown institution.


At the opening, Leitch observed, “There is an emotional and psychological component to the work that elicited a visceral response.” The ghosts of the past tend to make their presence felt in ways that are unexpected, uncanny … and sometimes downright tangible.



nSite-specific works by Edward McKenna, David Ruhlman & Patrick Weeks
nSam Weller’s Bookstore, 254 S. Main, Through Dec. 5, 328-2586

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