The name of one of Salt Lake’s newest art galleries says it all. The creators of the works embellishing the walls at the Unknown Gallery aren’t members of the glitterati, such as it is, of our town’s comparatively modest art scene. If its proprietors have their way, it won’t stay that way for long. But more than that, the Unknown Gallery wants to change the role of the local gallery from the passive role of just being a blank wall from which to hang.
Since opening last October, the space across the breezeway from Cup of Joe on west 200 South has made a name for itself with unconventional theme exhibits and bringing previously unexamined artistic visions to light (as well as winning “Best Funky Art Gallery” honors in the 2005 City Weekly Best of Utah issue). Roommates Jeremy Herridge, Amity Waldecker and Justin Zimonja wanted to start a gallery that, as Herridge states, “doesn’t fit the mold,” influenced by smaller galleries in Seattle and New York. They lucked into the building, as vintage store Nativo wanted to get out of their lease, and Unknown took it over.
Hot on the heels of their “Heavy Metal” show that featured every kind of interpretation of the theme from a KISS collage to enameled bottle caps, they are refinishing the floor for their upcoming “Space” exhibit'and it seems fitting, making a new landscape of the hall. Herridge explains, “We wanted to throw an ambiguous concept out there, and see how they’d interpret it.” Some portrayed outer space aliens and others depicted the sensation of physical space. Bryan Kubarycz’ expressionistic oils confront the viewer with violent, dreamlike psychological scenes. Weber State professor Steve Stones plays with pop culture images in collages of his first show “down south” in Salt Lake City. Aleah Klay’s figurines speculate upon the physiology of alien visitors, and sci-fi author Aleksander Taymer created “organic extraterrestrials” on canvas. After all, space is the ultimate unknown.
The Unknowns are exploring the frontiers of art. Pieces came in from as far away as Laguna Beach, Oregon and Iowa. Over 100 submissions arrived in response to their call for entries, and almost two dozen artists will be shown. Unlike most other galleries, they turn down almost no one who submits work. “We really try to promote artists and provide a stepping stone,” explains Waldecker. Luke McCabe was 15 years old at the time of his first show of stenciled art on album covers. They helped introduce Max Grundy’s political work to a new audience. David Nuzman’s solo show featured subject matter that might be too morbid to feature anywhere else, but was so well received that Waldecker says he almost sold more than he was willing to part with.
They all work second jobs to make ends meet and keep UNK afloat. Waldecker works at a salon and the other two have shot videos for Paul Mitchell and other companies. “We’ll do anything we can to survive, and keep art the focus,” states Waldecker.
For their efforts, they note that the space has become a must-see on Gallery Stroll night. averaging 1,000 visitors. Lincoln Lysager and David Ruhlman have shown their surrealist works at the Salt Lake Art Center, but found the Unknown more personalized, and said they answered more questions in one night there than the entire stay at the Art Center.
The trio doesn’t stop at introducing new artists to the City of Salt. They are trading works with exhibitors on the West Coast, and also market works on unkgallery.com, selling a number of pieces to collectors back east. “Next month will see hot new SoCal artists showing,” Herridge enthuses, “to try to bring that influx into the scene.” It’s all about cross-pollination; fostering everyone’s artistic impulse. At openings, Waldecker brings “fantasy models” from the salon, and Zimonja shows video installations.
An artist himself, Herridge has only shown his work there once. Waldecker adds, “That’s one more thing we’d like to change.”