If, like me, you've driven to Wendover more times than you can count, you're probably familiar with that odd concrete "Tree of Utah" sculpture about 25 miles east. I remember when it was first built in 1986 and the conversations I had about it with my environmentalist friend Terry Tempest Williams. She was completely appalled that some non-resident felt that our fabulously unique and beautiful Salt Flats were so ugly that they needed a piece of art to beautify the land. I had to agree with her. Our desert of salt out there is desolate, deceptive, divine and stunning, and every time I drive by, I just want to spit on that scultpure. I'm an artist and an art patron myself, but I've never agreed that scarring our natural vista with one man's idea of improvement is worthy to our rare and unusual landscapes. Yet, I'm conflicted because the Spiral Jetty and the Sun Tunnels are of the same ilk and I love both of those additions.
Karl Momen, the artist of the tree, donated the sculpture to Utah when he was finished and has wanted for the last several years to build a museum and "interpretive center" around the area of the art. To do this, a freeway off-ramp would have to be built along with the public building. Cost estimates are up to $6 million at this point, and the money is to be raised by a newly formed Tree of Utah nonprofit organization. You can't really park along I-80 because it's illegal to park on a freeway (although countless motorists have risked a ticket pulling over to photograph the thing over the years). Momen wants to design the new addition to tell the story of the sculpture and serve as a site for arts festivals and different exhibits.
Momen is an acclaimed international artist originally born in Iran but lives in Sweden and carries dual citizenship with that country and the United States. In his early years, he became famous for painting portraits of Stalin and the Shah of Iran but then went and studied with the surrealist painter Max Ernst and studied architecture in Germany. His 10-painting suite on the operas of Richard Wagner will soon become a permanent feature of a new wing at the Seattle Nordic Heritage Museum. He says he was moved to build the tree by the "vastness and relative emptiness" of the Bonneville Salt Flats, and that the tree "brings space, nature, myth and technology together."