Put away complaints over plaza rights, set aside fears concerning the sale of the Crossroads mall — there are no politics in the "Sixth International Art Competition" on display at the Museum of Church History and Art.

In fact, visitors to the exhibit, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will garner renewed appreciation — or acquire a first-time appreciation — for the quality of artwork produced by LDS Church members worldwide.

Glen M. Leonard, museum director, said the competition and resulting exhibit reflects the theme "Latter-day Saints Yesterday and Today: Beliefs, History, Life."

Last November, a three-member jury selected 171 works of art from the 712 entered in the competition. The exhibit of paintings, sculpture, textiles, woodcarvings and photographs will be on display seven days a week through Sept. 1.

While the majority of entries came from within the United States — especially Utah — the exhibition includes works from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the British Isles.

The age distribution of participating artists is likewise broad. It ranges from individuals in their early 20s to a woman who, at age 96, created a very detailed needlework of the Tree of Life. Another interesting statistic of the exhibit is that 42 percent of the art being exhibited is by women.

The International Art Competition and exhibition began 18 years ago (it's held every three years). "In the beginning," exhibit curator Robert O. Davis told the Deseret News, "we had a couple of benefactors who were interested in having people in the church express their religious convictions and develop their talent." Art work juried into the show could then be purchased for use in church publications and other church venues.

Funding the event on its own since 1993, the museum has found the exhibition to be one of its more popular events. From this show "we gave out 20 merit awards at $500 each," said Davis. The museum also presented six artists with a Purchase Award; their art becomes part of the church's growing collection. "We've also purchased some other works with our acquisitions fund, so we'll buy probably 20 pieces out of this exhibit."

The church has purchased on average 25 works of art from each of the previous exhibits, demonstrating its support of contemporary artists.

There are many good pieces in the show, but several could be considered stunners. Kirk Richards' "Son of Man," one of the Purchase Award winners, is one such work. "We like these more inward expressions of the Savior," said Davis. "This one applies to the Atonement, but it's not as didactic in his illustration, not as obvious, so there's more of a mood and personality that comes through. An ambiguous expression that people can identify with."

While not a traditionally religious narrative piece, Patrick Devonas' "Condolence" is a highly skilled rendering of collective mourning for 9/11. "This guy's a master," Davis said. "He does four or five works per year. This one, 'Condolence,' I don't know who'd buy it because of its theme, but you can see his skill."

Other works in the exhibit especially worth seeing are Bruce Smith's mixed-media "Woman Taken in Adultery," Jed Thomas' oil "Mother of All Living," Ahmed Jamal Qureshi's digital print "Mazmuur Naafi: The Arabic Psalm of Nephi,"Nnamdi Okonkwo's bronze sculpture "The Family," and Diane Aposhian-Moffat's hand-knotted fabric "Lehi's Vision of the Tree of Life."

E-MAIL: gag@desnews.com