The Salt Lake City business licensing department handles a lot of paperwork, most of it more voluminous than inspiring. But the paperwork is kept in color-coded file folders, and the result is an odd combination of bureaucracy and serendipity that you might even call art.
Lined up on shelves along one wall of the office, the folders combine to form a kind of abstract mural of undulating color. You can see it the next time you have to wait in line to pay a parking ticket because the two offices share the same space.While you stand there bemoaning life's little injustices, you can glance over and be uplifted by life's little surprises. Found art. Beauty in the eye of the beholder, as the beholder travels through the everydayness of his life.
In a similar vein, French artist Marcel Duchamp used to paint what he called "ready-mades" paintings of ordinary objects which he then elevated to art simply by putting them on canvas. Found art takes Duchamp a step further. You don't even need a canvas. Just a willingness to keep your eyes open.
A block from the business licensing's folders, as you walk up State St., you can find some art in the reflections on a mirrored-glass high-rise on the corner of Second South. The reflections of other high-rises change shape in the glass as you walk by, caving in and then expanding, like images in a fun-house mirror.
And just around the corner, on Second South, stand the colorful remains of the old pawns shops torn down for Block 57's urban renewal. On the adjoining walls left standing there are now rectangles of red and gold and turquoise paint. It looks like a giant Mondrian, hanging in the great outdoors.
"It's a matter of practice," says Salt Lake sculptor Stephen A. Goldsmith about the knack for noticing the art around us. Goldsmith, whose work with the Urban Design Coalition focuses in part on learning to see the city itself as an art form, adds: "We're a culture that's forgotten how to see something unless it's two-dimensional and electronic." A good way to start out, he suggests, is to capture the vistas in an imaginary frame.
All kind of unexpected places turn out to be art galleries. A railroad yard full of storage drums. The stairwell of a parking garage. A construction site. A junk yard full of crumpled cars.
Salt Lake lawyer/photographer Chris Wangsgard has been shooting pictures of junk for years, enchanted by close-ups of sun-baked steel and decaying bumpers, and disintegrating safety glass that reflects sunlight in unusual patterns. His wife, photographer Erica Wangsgard, prefers close-ups of peeling wallpaper.
Pop artist Andy Warhol found art, or at least fame, in Campbell Soup cans. The rest of us can find art, or at least beauty, in as unlikely a place as the neighborhood car wash, where the sudsy brushes twirl like Polynesian dancers. Kinetic art, free with a fill-up.