Brad Ford wears his heart on his sleeve. Or on the front of his T-shirt, at least. Before he said one word, his black tee telegraphed the mission of New Visions Gallery, of which he is Communications Director: “Art In the Heart of the City.” The gallery’s upcoming exhibit, Dangerous Art, is one of the most daring to be found in Salt Lake City this year.
New Visions evolved from the old Left Bank Gallery, an artist’s collective that for years was an integral part of the local art scene. Earlier this year, Mary Tull, a member of the collective, allowed her nonprofit educational organization Visions For Learning to become an umbrella and, Ford says “provide a lot more services,” including art critiques and classes. After the gallery’s lease on its 300 West location expired, New Visions moved to its new location on 400 South.
Dangerous Art is the gallery’s fifth show, but this show pushes the artistic envelope in ways that perhaps no other local art show has done before. Ford—a graphic designer from Erie, Pa.—got the idea after he’d moved here several years ago and started looking at local art. “I saw a lot of good work, but didn’t see much that really engaged the viewer, and made people question.” The definition of “dangerous” was left open in the call for entries, but he says it can be “anything that makes you question who you are. It could be a flower, or a painting of Christ.” Artists from as far away as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Bangkok, Thailand answered the call.
The pieces that came in response actually opened his eyes, convincing Ford “that there is an untapped vein of fabulous artists here that don’t get shown.” Local found-art sculptor Joe Stetich’s three submissions included “The Good Shoe,” a roller skate with a bunch of forks attached, inventing a new style of vehicular footwear. Fellow Salt Laker Delano James’ “American Justice” overturns a stereotype by depicting white people being lynched. Steven Muller, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, lampoons pop culture and religion with “What Would Mel Gibson Do?” Ford’s own submission, “Afro Jesus,” may startle local viewers with what he believes is a historically accurate representation of Christ with black skin. “Hey, he lived in the desert, near the equator,” Ford quips.
As Ford organized the exhibit, he found that there were actually some hazards in planning a show of dangerous art. He assembled a jury of people as varied as local street artist Rez, Salt Lake Gallery Association President Kent Rigby and University of Utah photography instructor Dorothy Greenland to help select the works, “so it wouldn’t be just my view dictating what is dangerous.”
The consensus was still subjective. “All the works are dangerous in their own way. The art itself is not dangerous. It doesn’t come after you or steal your car. The danger is in how you respond to it. A blank canvas could be threatening; it’s like the tree falling in the forest.”
Still, a few submissions were rejected, Ford says, because although they were subversive, they were also mean or trite. A picture of an angel in pig feces, he says “wasn’t worked very hard” and thus lost any validity it might have had. Another one depicting Muslims as monkey-like, was refused because “it doesn’t build any bridges; it just knocks one down.”
Ford sees the gallery’s mission as much more than just giving a charge to the arts, but also part of the revitalization of the city. Opening night will be held in tandem with next-door Cabana Club hosting live music, spoken word and projection art. He hopes to see other local businesses tie-in with Gallery Stroll activities. “I’m trying to educate, not give you the middle finger. This town tends to be fascistically overconservative. I see a stranglehold on the creative community. I’m not trying to be negative, or thumb my nose at the community. If it offends you, leave. If it inspires you, paint.”
DANGEROUS ART , New Visions Gallery, 47 E. 400 South, Reception:July 16 6-9 p.m, 539-0343, newvisionsgalleryslc.org