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Sean P. Means: At U.'s business school, art and commerce co-exist

Published October 17, 2013 7:40 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It is the eternal conundrum for painters, writers, musicians and anyone who can be considered creative: art vs. commerce.

Do you stay true to your particular muse? Or do you adapt your work, bend it to satisfy the needs of people who will pay you for it?

On one end of the spectrum, you are labeled a sell-out. On the other, you starve.

But art and commerce are not always at war. Sometimes they can co-exist.

That's happening at the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building, the new home of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. The ultramodern new building, which opened last year, features several gallery spaces for art that celebrates the world of business, finance and industry.

"We're giving people a break from the stress and eyestrain of looking at electronic screens all day," said Anne Palmer Peterson, who curates art for the business school. "They can come in here and breathe, and appreciate the color, and get away from the intensity of their studies."

The business school worked with their neighbors down the street, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, to locate art on a business theme. Some of the art belonged to the business school, some is on loan from businesspeople, and some is from UMFA's permanent collection.

"We knew that we were going to be close neighbors," Palmer Peterson said of the business school's proximity to UMFA. "We knew that we had great walls that needed something wonderful on them. And we had an opportunity to expose students while they were studying business to think about their future lives as, we hope, people who will appreciate fine art."

The range of art is fascinating.

Coming into the lobby, the glass wall of the student center reveals a quartet of serigraphs by Raymond Morales, a professor of fine art at the U. Along the mezzanine overlooking the lobby is another Morales work: a 1991 silkscreen triptych, "OJ I, II, III," which re-creates extreme close-up images from a frozen orange juice label — borrowing from the pop-art traditions of Andy Warhol, who understood the ties art has to industry and marketing.

One gallery, down the hall from the lobby, is showing its first exhibit: "Imagining Utah: Terra Incognita to Commercial Crossroads," a series of historic maps that date from the 1500s to 1896, showing how mapmakers — and the people seeking to profit from their knowledge — viewed the New World. The maps are on loan from Stephen Boulay, a Salt Lake City businessman who earned his MBA at the Eccles school.

A gallery and lounge area on the fifth floor currently is showing nearly four dozen of Gibbs Smith's "bookstore paintings." Smith, who founded the Utah-based publishing house that bears his name, has painted colorful and sometimes whimsical depictions of famous bookstores around the world — from the old Sam Weller's in Salt Lake City to Paris' beloved Shakespeare and Company.

In the main hallway on the seventh floor are paintings by Waldo Midgley, a Utah painter who left for New York in 1907 and became a member of the Ashcan School.

Midgley's Ashcan influences can be seen, said Donna Poulton, a curator at UMFA, in his modern, dynamic city paintings. The goal, Poulton said, was to capture "whatever the emotion was to bring out the dynamism of the city."

Such paintings of New York are important to business students, said Palmer Peterson. "We know they're going to go to New York, to go have an experience interviewing there, and some will work there," she said. "It reminds them that we in Utah are connected to the rest of points of commerce around the world."

Another impressive painting hangs in the entrance to the dean's office. It's a 10-foot-high canvas by Utah painter Gary Ernest Smith depicting the old Geneva Steel mill near Lehi.

The painting originally hung in the offices of a bank in Pleasant Grove, said Carolyn Buma, the Eccles school's director of principal gifts. It was given to the business school by Wells Fargo, which had acquired the smaller bank some years back.

The painting "pulls together the feeling of Geneva," Poulton said. "You can see a lot of warm, hot colors in it — yellow, orange, red — to get the feeling of power that was emitting from Geneva at the time."

In the Western world, art depicting working people has a long history, Poulton said — ever since artists stopped depicting gods and royalty and started seeking realism.

One of the best known early examples, Poulton said, is Jean-François Millet's 1857 painting "The Gleaners," which depicts women picking stray seeds from a field. In the early 20th century, she said, a series of paintings by the Norwegian-born Jonas Lie that showed the construction of the Panama Canal drew 2,000 viewers a day.

For the Eccles school, exposing students to art will benefit artists in the long run.

"The arts, struggle as they do, where would they be without corporate support?" asked Buma. "It's those leaders of corporations — and the students that we are developing into the future leaders — that are going to be the ones who keep that art alive."

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.