Fall Contemporary Preview at the UMFA

Posted September 6, 2013 in
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A composite by the great Barbara Kruger

Stretched across the heights of the Museum’s Great Hall is a textual actualization of the Lawrence Weiner conceptual work, “Bent To A Straight And Narrow At A Point of Passage.” Under this intellectual canopy lies an exhibition of a diverse collection of prints from the postwar and contemporary moments, entitled Under Pressure: Contemporary Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, and down the hall you’ll find a gender-crushing retrospective of Martha Wilson’s career, among others. Next week, Guerrilla Girls will be giving a highly anticipated talk in the Museum’s auditorium (sorry, it’s sold out). No, you aren’t reading about New York City. Rather, this is the fall lineup for Salt Lake’s own humble Utah Museum of Fine Arts. It’s as if the stars of contemporary art have aligned here, for us, this fall season.

The selection of prints in Under Pressure comes from the private collection of Jordan Schnitzer, a Portland-based Rockefeller-style philanthropist. Schnitzer started collecting art works, mostly prints, at an early age and his collection is a star map of late 20th century art. Though Rockefeller status is a contentious ideology to uphold in the modern art world, Schnitzer’s approach is a populist one. His collection travels the country in various exhibits aimed at audiences of all levels of familiarity with the art community and his donations underwrite educational programs at various institutions.

Under Pressure functions as a primer course on the various movements of the latter half of the 20th century. Its collection offers entry points for a variety of viewers. For the art historical approach, print works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Helen Frankenthaler in the main room act as vanguards of the contentious reintroduction of printmaking to the art world as a democratic process, beginning in the 1950s. The title of the exhibition cleverly plays on that theme, of the pressures involved in the printing process and of the cultural pressures placed on artists of various backgrounds for various reasons throughout this period. Follow that thread through adjoining rooms that cover movements like Pop Art, Color Field, Photorealism, Minimalism and works focusing on body politics, and see just how blurred these distinctions are. Many of the works stretch the notion of printmaking beyond the simplistic idea of ink pressed on paper, toward more sculptural and painterly notions. The juxtaposition of blockbuster names like Donald Judd, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst with lesser-known contemporary artists is a subtle complication of art historical assumptions as well.

For more casual patrons, or perhaps anyone who will confess to dislike the conceptual bent of contemporary art, are provided instructional entrances. There are numerous QR codes that guide less scholarly viewers through the dense vocabulary of contemporary art, and also a case that contains a lesson in the printmaking process, a collaborative effort with the University of Utah’s own print workshop.

Once you’re finished among the prints, wander into the world of Martha Wilson, full of unapologetic body politics, pornography, invasions of sacred identities and critical evaluations of feminism and its narratives. Her work is very much in dialogue with the work of her contemporaries exhibited in Under Pressure, so much so that the two are fortunate to be in the same Museum at the same time. Staring down the hallway out of her exhibit is Donald Judd’s towering display of minimalism, a powerful contrast against the specific bodily representations of Wilson’s career. Wilson’s “Permutations of Breast Forms” is a reactionary piece against Sol LeWitt’s grid works that seek to place forms into discernable categories, one of which is displayed a few rooms over. The interactions are plentiful between the two exhibitions. Utah is lucky to have such an abundance of contemporary art this fall.

Under Pressure: Contemporary Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation runs until January 14, 2014 at the UMFA. Schnitzer will be speaking Saturday, September 7 at the UMFA as part of the opening celebration of the exhibition.

Martha Wilson: Staging the Self runs until November 10. She will be giving an artist talk and panel discussion Wednesday, September 18, for free at 5 PM at the UMFA.

A composite by the great Barbara Kruger The neo-dadism of Jasper Johns The minimalism of Donald Judd 2D+3D = Sol LeWitt Throwing Three Balls In The Air To Get A Straight Line (Best Of Thirty-Six Attempts) by John Baldessari