Oh So Material | Visual Art | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Visual Art

Oh So Material

Visual Art Institute showcases raw materials that create art.



Artworks, by their very nature, are physical objects, constructed out of materials, whether natural or manmade. A new exhibit at an out-of-the-way exhibition space not only examines the use of material but extends the term into the space of the gallery itself.

GARFO’s Oh So Material at the Visual Art Institute offers five artists’ takes on a variety of media—installation, sculpture, found object, textile and painting—taking a long look at the way these materials function in a space that has already exhibited some of the most intriguing shows of the year.

The show came together organically. Cara Despain, VAI faculty member and co-curator of exhibits along with Kenny Riches—as well as a City Weekly contributor—recalls “talking about artists we’d been wanting to show for a while, [and] as it came together, [it] became about materiality.” Stephanie Leitch has already been known for her largescale installation works involving suspensions. Her “Untitled,” with its lines of rope and fabric along with sticks of charred wood emanating from the floor, evokes the boiler room directly below it in the building’s basement, as well as the chimney above.

Leitch’s piece relates inadvertently to the installation “Systemic Failure Resulting From Material Inconsistencies” in an adjacent room by Shawn Porter. Porter’s creative brainchild came to fruition by the most arduous route, altered several times after it was already in place. His handcrafted wooden rods, cradling cast cement balls in a shape resembling a catapult, create a material tension—in both the literal and figurative senses—that is riveting, and riveted to the floor. Both Porter’s and Leitch’s pieces cast shadows that reiterate their compositional lines.

Jared Lindsay Clark’s untitled installations of soap, marble and found objects form meticulous arrangements of everyday items to create abstract forms. He was also in the room working the day of the opening, wrestling with innumerable decisions. “It was like watching some weird excavation,“ recalls Despain. A work composed of marble trophy bases refers to pop culture by the labels left on some of them, and an accumulation of school chairs, desks and knife blocks comments on the order of the school environment with some of its own fixtures.

John Andrews is from Salt Lake’s Copper Palate Press collective, but his printmaking aesthetic has carried into quilts in this show. “The collusion of the two informed each other,” Despain explains. Brenda Wattleworth’s paintings are the most conventional works in the exhibit, but they are also different from her customary works, using opaque gold gouache in contrast to her usual somewhat-transparent washes in earth tones, that add a more decorative aesthetic to her narrative.

A collaboration in the outside courtyard between two of Riches’ students recalls a tornado-like shape in tree branches bound together at the top, capped by a chair, as though it represents the manufactured form the tree was aspiring to. The manufactured nature of the art environment is examined from various perspectives, but this one is perhaps the starkest, illuminated at night by a sole light from the corner of the building casting ghostly shadows.

Visual Art Institute, the only tenant in the old Garfield School building, is a nonprofit focusing on after-school arts education for grade-school children. At 31 years old, the institute’s mission has been enhanced by the three exhibits this year. Executive Director Bruce Robertson notes, “We’re really happy with the shows; they’ve given the kids great exposure to different styles of art.”

Viewers are also able to learn a lot about the birth of a work of art by the end results of these specimens. “A lot of times viewers come in to see an exhibit and think, ‘It’s magic,’ without seeing the process,” Despain says. “Kenny (Riches) and I got to see the struggles the artists went through.”

Oh So Material
GARFO Art Center at Visual Art Institute
1838 S. 1500 East
Through Jan. 15