The Size Of The Open Room: A New Contemporary Art Gallery Worth Talking About
An open room doesn’t have to end where the door would be. This means that an open room has virtually no boundaries. The conceptual quartet of artists behind Salt Lake’s rising independent art gallery, The Open Room, is creating a venue for contemporary art that lives in this liminal, threshold-type space.
The South Salt Lake gallery exists in the backyard of graphic designer Henry Becker, but the installations only survive for the night of the exhibit before existing solely on the internet—a physical space being expanded by their use of social media. The generous atmosphere of a local community of artists gathered over home-cooked food at the house breathes the same pensive air as the globe-spanning conversation on what art is and what it means to be contemporary.
The Open Room has been putting events together for the past nine months, with all of 2020 already booked out. It started when Kevin Thomas, a graduate of the University of Utah, crafted a beautifully designed book that functioned as a history and remembrance of all of the mass shootings that had occurred since the year he was born. Becker, printmaker Andrew Rice, painter Nolan Flynn and art educator Josh Graham (all of whom teach at the U) got together to create the space that would become The Open Room for Thomas to share his work.
“The Open Room is bringing Utah’s art scened into the global art conversation.”
During that first exhibit, Thomas shared the meaning behind the concept and design of the book in a lecture format, and all of the exhibits that followed have continued the tradition with the exhibiting artist standing in front of the crowd, describing what they were doing and then answering any questions attendees may have.
Artists from Salt Lake County, Cache County and Utah County present their work in the very same space as artists from Washington, Kentucky and Alabama. They all join the conversation on what contemporary political art looks like, what contemporary environmental art looks like, as well as topics such as printmaking, internet art and design. The aim of the gallery is to bring Utah’s art scene into this national and global conversation, with the flow of ideas moving in both directions.
On March 21, The Open Room were scheduled to showcase East Coast–based duo small_bars—run by Nick Satinover and Ry McCullough—who will be holding a hands-on listening party. Amid COVID-19 precautions, it has been postponed. The project is based around the idea of a band as a concept, and—as previous band members and current visual artists—they work in the space of what a band “looks like.”
The duo recorded a DIY punk rock EP under the moniker slab_marls, which they’ll be exhibiting at the same time as a record-listening party. The central idea stems from the nostalgia they feel for their days as a performing band, feeding off the community and trust that helped propel them on their tours. They want people who come to the event to bring a record with them to play for the crowd afterward, and since the two will be Skyping into the event, they’re hoping to see and talk to the rich local music/art community as the night rambles on.
“What I’m interested in is why these artists are making what they’re making.”
What’s really great about The Open Room is their direct intention of making art a shared experience. While talking to the four artists behind the project, the importance of this dialogue about art is brought up again and again. “Our pursuits with the gallery deal with our interests with art in general,” Becker says. Rice chimes in that, when it comes to the art being presented and the way it’s presented, “What I’m interested in is why these artists are making what they’re making,” he says.
When choosing which artists to exhibit, the curators resist the limitations of genre. “The idea is the primary concern,” Graham says. They want to be able to question the art and get at its underpinnings to stick their fingers in the mess of what makes this particular artist’s work operate, regardless of whether or not it’s aesthetically pleasing or comfortable. While, to a certain extent, what the group is trying to showcase could be considered “artists’ art,” they successfully make the space one where any type of person with any type of background can participate in the conversation.
It’s a space dedicated to making art a communal, if ephemeral, experience with an emphasis on dialogue and a robust artistic atmosphere, one where you have to show up to the exhibit to participate. The democratization of conceptual art is a driving force in their decisions, one which has led them to exist for purposes other than money. As Rice says, “You don’t have to spend a dime—come hang out.”
“The Open Room is a space dedicated to making art a communal experience.”
In order to plan appropriately for each show, The Open Room has an invite list in order to account for the amount of people who may attend. That said, shows at The Open Room are by no means exclusive—Rice says, “We want to connect with people who may be interested in this kind of event space whom we don’t know yet. We’re certainly looking to meet new people and help foster connections within our growing art community.”
To keep up to date on upcoming exhibits, get on the invite list and ask about the current location of The Open Room, email them at [email protected] or message them via Instagram @the_openroom. And remember to bring a record when you show up to the small_bars exhibit for when it’s rescheduled.
Editor’s note: Amid precautions taken vis-à-vis COVID-19, the small_bars event has been postponed, the new date to be decided.