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Utah Museum of Contemporary Art tackles politics, immigration in new exhibits

SALT LAKE CITY — In an election year, art’s propensity to challenge and foster intellectual discussion is as important as ever, and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art reflects this. On Friday, the museum unveiled a new roster of exhibitions that address such relevant and timely issues as immigration, terrorism and economic inequality.

“As a curator, I have always been interested in and motivated by sociopolitical issues,” said Rebecca Maksym, curator of exhibitions for UMOCA.

Maksym has amassed a reputation for engineering shows that examine the imperative social and political questions of the 21st century; last year’s “Panopticon: Visibility, Data and the Monitoring Gaze” highlighted the psychological nuances of America’s post-9/11 existence.

Twice a year, the museum closes for two weeks as workers install new exhibitions in each of its galleries. The reveal of the exhibits serves as the culmination of months of hard work and introduces members of the public to new artists and topics they are unlikely to encounter anywhere else in Utah.

Visitors will encounter plenty of intriguing and complex artworks in the museum’s newest exhibitions.

Among them are Andrew Moncrief’s “A Strange Feeling,” a small showcase of six figurative paintings, and Paul Crow’s photographic installation “Here,” a show in conjunction with UMOCA’s artist-in-residence program.

David Brothers’ “Rolithica” presents an intriguing collection of carefully polished photographs. The images display scenes of figures immersed in dilapidated environments. Each disguised by masks, shadows and clutter, these figures possess troubling reminders of urban decay and abandonment marked by Brothers’ blatant juxtaposition of haunting grey landscapes with brightly colored vintage signs and advertisements. Perhaps the most interesting part of this exhibition is a multidimensional cave installation, which is strewn with melancholic tokens of human presence and activity.

Premiering in the museum’s Codec Gallery is an exhibition co-curated by Maksym and Elena Shtromberg, associate professor of art history at the University of Utah. Yoshua Okon’s “Oracle” is a fascinating video installation aimed at “(encouraging) viewers to relate historical events with current debates on immigration,” according to a news release. “Oracle” is named after the small Arizona town in which a 2014 protest by former military and police members sought to halt illegal immigration. Okon’s imagery re-creates the protest and compares it with footage of singing Central American children apprehended in a detention center for unaccompanied foreign minors.

UMOCA’s main gallery serves as the sprawling location suited for its most ambitious exhibitions. Thanks to a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation, the main gallery is home to “Ideologue,” a group show exploring the role of art in both the political and cultural realms.

“These artists are connected to so many of the political dialogues happening in this country, issues as broad as terrorism, global chaos and the effects of mass media,” Maksym said.

It’s fitting that a grant in honor of art giant Andy Warhol serves as the catalyst for the exhibition because the show’s combination of visual pizzaz and satirist humor owes much of its fluency to pop art.

Kathryn Andrews’ series of brightly colored “American Hobo” images are reminiscent of pop art’s fascination with popular culture and consumerism, yet they contain a decidedly darker connotation. Whereas Warhol’s silkscreens relished in the artificial beauty of celebrities, Andrews’ hobos contain uncomfortable implications of the poverty and inequity of today. The bright, synthetic colors overlaying images of clowns and homeless people capture a cynical iteration of the American dream. Visitors can detect similar critiques and inquiries regarding contemporary American politics in the work of other artists in the exhibition.

With the Utah Museum of Fine Arts closed for renovations until 2017, UMOCA has an opportunity to expand its audience and spread enthusiasm for contemporary art to individuals throughout the state.

For those who are unsure about nontraditional museums such as UMOCA, the new roster of exhibitions presents a perfect opportunity to dive headfirst into the eccentric, intelligent and continually enthralling world of contemporary art.

If you go ...

What: New exhibits at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art

When: “A Strange Feeling,” through March 19; “Here,” “Oracle,” and “Rolithica,” through April 30; and “Ideologue,” through July 23

Where: Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, 20 S. West Temple

How much: $5 suggested donation

Phone: 801-328-4201


Scotti Hill is an art historian based in Salt Lake City. She has taught courses in art history at Westminster College and the University of Utah, and she currently works as a writer and curator.