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The year in Utah's visual arts: Dead Sea Scrolls, urban aesthetics

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An image from Provo filmmaker Stephen Groo's "She-Hulk" (2009), which was screened at the first Utah Biennial in May at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Stephen Groo | courtesy UMOCA

The biggest museum exhibit in Utah this year was thousands of years in the making.

The Leonardo in November unveiled “The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times,” an impressive exhibit that looks at the earliest known parchments that contain the Old Testament of the Bible.

Overseen by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the exhibit features 10 scrolls or fragments of parchment, which will be swapped out for 10 more scrolls midway through the exhibit’s run (which ends in April). The exhibit also features a wealth of artifacts from the history of the Holy Land, including a 2-ton piece of Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies was a major sponsor of the exhibit, and the Utah Legislature ponied up $100,000 of state money.

Other big stories in Utah’s visual-arts world in 2013:

Turnaround at UMOCA • Aaron Moulton had a great idea: Establish a biennial of Utah art, a sampling of all that’s artistic and odd in the Beehive State, modeled after every-other-year events in Venice and New York’s Whitney Museum. Moulton, senior curator at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, opened the first Utah Biennial in May, and it ran at UMOCA through mid-December. Moulton didn’t last so long, though, leaving the museum in July to pursue other interests after a year and a half in Utah.

Urban art in a mall setting • The Utah Arts Alliance decided in February to take the art to the people, opening the Urban Arts Gallery in The Gateway shopping center in downtown Salt Lake City. Taking the space of an abandoned clothing store, the UAG gives local artists who are a little cutting-edge a place to display their works. The gallery also serves as base camp for the annual Urban Arts Festival on The Gateway’s Rio Grande Street in July and gives The Gateway, which has lost retailers and foot traffic to the shiny City Creek Center four blocks east, a claim on being a hip, cool destination for locals.

Sculptures go back home • “Cleopatra” and “The Blind Girl,” two 19th-century Italian marble sculptures, moved back into the McCune Mansion, blocks from the Utah State Capitol, in August. The marbles were purchased by tycoon Alfred McCune around 1898, but had spent the past 40 years in the care of Brigham Young University. The McCarthey family, who have run the mansion since 1999, paid to restore the sculptures, which are on a long-term loan from BYU’s Museum of Art.

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