SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art is known not just for the quality of its exhibitions but also for its educational community outreach. Visitors have come to expect great things from UMOCA, including intelligent exhibitions that tackle many of today’s relevant social, political and cultural subjects.
For those art lovers who keep a watchful eye on Salt Lake City’s monthly exhibitions calendar, the twice-annual break of UMOCA’s programming does not go unnoticed. The museum-wide reinstallation is part of an undeniable ambition that accompanies UMOCA’s role as a premiere venue for contemporary art.
“We start planning about eight to 12 months out for exhibitions and about three to six months out for education programming (which) of course requires a lot of planning and coordination,” said Rebecca Maksym, UMOCA’s curator of exhibitions. “Deadlines are key.”
On Aug. 28, UMOCA unveiled several new exhibitions that demonstrate the hard work, diligence and planning foundational to the museum.
While UMOCA takes advantage of various exhibition rooms within its space, the museum’s central focus is the sprawling main gallery, visible from the public entrance on the top floor and accessible by traveling down the staircase to the lower level.
UMOCA’s main gallery is now host to “Grandma’s Cupboard,” an exhibition of works by the conceptual art duo Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler. From 1985 to Ericson’s death in 1995, the two engaged in a number of ambitious collaborations. Known for art that defied traditional categories and boundaries, the two made site-specific and conceptual pieces that combined art with social and community engagement. Their work is nationally lauded and has been exhibited in venues such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Also among the new exhibitions unveiled is Amalia Ulman’s “Stock Images of War.” Situated in UMOCA’s codec gallery, the show comprises a series of wire sculptures fashioned into familiar items such as bicycles, tanks and wheelchairs. The frailty of these works may cause one to hesitate in labeling them “sculptures,” yet it’s this lithe quality, mixed with the artist’s inclusion of rock music and the scent of apple pie, that combine to form a memorable experience.
“I love the dialogue between (‘Grandma’s Cupboard’ and ‘Stock Images of War’) in terms of American identity and narratives of history,” Maksym said. “Both exhibitions speak to different generations and, therefore, ideas, which bring to light the complexity of politics, nationalism and, of course, culture.”
In addition to the aforementioned shows, four other exhibitions made their debut on Aug. 28: Lizze Maattala’s “Uphill/Both Ways,” which studies the relationship between emotion and artistic material; Aundrea Frahm’s interactive multimedia show “We Revolve Ceaseless”; an art and design collaboration entitled “Mall No. 2”; and Stefan Leseur’s “Obsurca,” a photographic series that investigates how photography alters the perception of tourist sites.
While the groundwork necessary to accomplish such an overhaul of programming is intimidating, it’s all in a day’s work for UMOCA’s committed staff.
“We strive to provide an enriching cultural and intellectual experience for everyone,” Maksym said. “Through our exhibitions and education programming, UMOCA hopes to bring fresh and alternative ideas, expressions and forms of artistic production to the communities of Utah.”
If you go ...
What: “Grandma’s Cupboard,” “Stock Images of War,” “Uphill/Both Ways,” “We Revolve Ceaseless,” “Mall No. 2” and “Obsurca”
When: Through fall/winter 2015
Where: Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, 20 S. West Temple
Scotti Hill is an art historian based in Salt Lake City. She has taught courses in art history at Westminster College and the University of Utah, and she currently works as a writer and curator.