Three in a Pickle | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Three in a Pickle

The Pickle Company is a perfect setting for sculpture and mixed-media works.

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Group art-gallery shows are by nature a mixed bag, though curators often attempt to tie them together with a thematic thread. However, a new show at an old building assembles work by three seemingly dissimilar sensibilities and creates an unlikely but fascinating collaboration.

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Perhaps the chief reason the new exhibit by sculptors Nolan Baumgartner, Stephanie Leitch and mixed-media artist Todd Christensen works so well is the site itself: The Pickle Company building on 400 West is steeped in history. Rather than serve as a backdrop of sterile walls, its rough brick and warehouselike interior assert its own personality. This quality makes the works displayed feel at home there rather than just visiting, plus it provides a historical context in which to place the works rather than their floating in the all-too-common detached postmodern exhibition space.

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But then that’s partly by design. Kristina Robb, co-owner of the Pickle Company, a nonprofit umbrella organization fostering local artists through its TRASA Urban Arts Collective, notes “the large space provides an opportunity for installation work, pieces that really breathe in the space.” In its five-year history, the building has showcased some of the most adventurous performance and installation exhibits that probably wouldn’t have found a home elsewhere in this city.

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The last few months have seen exhibits under the guiding hand of Kenny Riches, the founder of the currently shuttered Kayo Gallery (but reportedly will reopen at 177 E. Broadway in time for the February 2007 Salt Lake Gallery Stroll). Until it closed last year, Kayo highlighted emerging young artists in the area. “It’s been a good match,” Robb has found. “Kenny is really dialed in to the hot, young artists around here.” And the three represented in this show couldn’t display a more strongly defined set of aesthetic personalities.

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New Mexico Highlands University visiting professor Todd Christensen was always fascinated by books. His collegiate studies took him from drawing and painting to printmaking and sculpture, but it’s all governed by the book. The far wall of the gallery space (installation detail pictured below) is covered with small artworks created from the spines of old books, supplemented with sketches, paintings and notations from him and others. A celebration of eccentricity in its fullest sense, a tendency to spin out from the center, his finely detailed work reminds us of the encyclopedic impulse, the ability of books to stimulate not just reading but further writing. This collage of archaic materials combines Dadaism with works of the 1960s and small sculptural figures.

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Stephanie Leitch, recent University of Utah graduate in sculpture, has created an installation in the center of the room that also seems to have a life of its own, recalling installation work of the ’70s and ’80s. Her work consists of over 100 chemistry funnels suspended from the ceiling, filled with honey totaling 60 pounds, capped with condoms at the end (detail pictured below left). I got to see these exhibits early in the day, and the heat had been off overnight, rendering the drips in suspended animation, still witnessing the results of some of the assemblages earlier collapsing under the weight of the pressure.

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Nolan Baumgartner, a University of Utah art instructor, has created sculptures out of Styrofoam packing material covered with acrylic paint that recalls Duane Hansen and other realists of the 1970s and beyond (detail pictured above left). Large figures with baseball bats evoke a menacing sense of possible violence, while a smaller childlike figure watches TV, a figure of neglect.

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In a trio of three dissimilar approaches, the common denominator seems to be the intensity of the visions and their sharp focus. Robb says, “I find the strength of the works in the OCD-ness of their process.” But then, the Pickle Company is no stranger to obsession. Robb and partner Brandon Garcia only open the doors for this show by appointment, although it was open the Jan. 19 Gallery Stroll. This is because they want the show to be seen in more dramatic lighting at night.