SPRINGVILLE — The art in the "20th Annual Spiritual and Religious Art of Utah" show in the Springville Museum of Art through December, is, as the proverbial saying goes, mostly "paved with good intentions."
Unfortunately, good intentions aren't enough to always generate competent art; and while there are many very good works in the show, there are also many less than adequate pieces.
However, this is how Vern Swanson, director of the museum, believes it should be for this particular exhibition. "I think that the show, as I always say, is more about religion, spirituality and individual belief than it is about art."
Of the 246 works entered, Swanson and other members of the museum staff juried 162 pieces into the exhibit. "The show is more about artists using their art to express their innermost spiritual feelings. And that's what I like about it. It's one of my favorite shows."
This year's Director's Award went to J. Kirk Richards for his large and luminous oil on panel, "Keepers of the City." The piece is a tour de force of symmetry and symbolism, color and line. Pay particular attention to how the artist framed the work.
Franz M. Johansen received first-place award for his exquisite bronze, "Veil Series: Figure Study." The upward, supple movement of this sculpture is admirable.
Second-place award went to Kent P. Goodliffe for his poignant, flawlessly rendered pencil piece, "Death Study #8: He gave His only Begotten son." David Alan Storey received third-place award for his very fine "Escape From Gethsemane."
This year's exhibit, which fills nearly all the main-floor galleries, was also embroiled in controversy. According to Swanson, "The whole purpose of the exhibit is to bring disparate and diverse religious and spiritual communities together. We want to build bridges. We do not want to create contention between one group or the other. That is not what this show is about."
So when the museum received Adam Bradshaw's entry "Improper Use Will Lead to Death" — an assemblage sculpture that included a Quran whose text had been gutted and the workings of a bomb inserted, and a Bible, also gutted, with bullets spilling out — Swanson became concerned.
"I thought it was one of the best pieces in the show," Swanson said, "and I loved the message." He also felt certain Bradshaw had no intention of offending anyone, but seen in today's political climate, Swanson decided to call the museum's board of trustees to see what they thought of the piece.
"We have a rule at the museum," he said, "it's our community standards and values document." It states that if a work seems particularly offensive or controversial it's to be handled at the board level. Ten of the 13 board members met, viewed Bradshaw's assemblage, and seven voted it out of the show.
"An important point is the show had not been fully juried," Swanson said. "It's not like we juried the piece in and then took it out. We were still in the jurying process."
Interestingly enough, another work by Bradshaw's was juried in and received a Merit Award.
If there is anything truly lacking in the "20th Annual Spiritual and Religious Art of Utah," it is dominant works by religions other than Christian. A broader spectrum of what is spiritual and religious would make the show stronger and infinitely more interesting.
That said, there are still enough fine works to make a trip to Springville worthwhile and even enjoyable.
If you go
What: 20th Annual Religious and Spiritual Art of Utah
Where: Springville Museum of Art, 126 E. 400 South, Springville
When: Through Dec. 28
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.;
Wednesday, 10 a.m.- 9 p.m.;
Sunday, 3-6 p.m.
Closed Mondays and holidays
How much: Free