Two takes on how art and audience connect — a minimalist appreciation of the Great Salt Lake and a playful interactive exhibit — will help welcome folks back to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts next weekend.
After being closed for 19 months for a massive building upgrade and a rethinking of how best to display parts of its 20,000-piece collection, the museum reopens Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 26-27, with a two-day celebration — crammed with events such as a dance party, live performances, film screenings, yoga, gallery tours and a piñata bash.
As part of the reopening, museum curators have booked two new site-specific works. One, in the museum’s Great Hall, is a look at Great Salt Lake by artist Spencer Finch. The other, in the new ACME Lab, is “HERE, HERE,” a hands-on interactive happening by Las Hermanas Iglesias, a collaboration of two artist sisters.
UMFA information<br>Address • 410 Campus Center Drive, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City<br>Museum hours • Starting Aug. 29: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; open until 9 p.m. Wednesdays; closed Mondays<br>Admission• $12.95 for adults; $9.95 for seniors (65 and older) and youth (6 to18); free for children (up to age 5), UMFA members, University of Utah students, staff and faculty, students at public Utah universities, Utah Horizon/EBT cardholders and active-duty military families (prices may vary for special ticketed exhibitions)<br>Free days • Free admission on the first Wednesday and third Saturday of the month (free access may vary for special ticketed exhibitions)
Flying over Great Salt Lake for the first time, Spencer Finch didn’t expect what he saw.
“I was amazed by the colors of the lake,” Finch said this week. “I had always assumed it was monochromatic.”
The Brooklyn-based Finch aims to capture those colors in his installation piece in UMFA’s Great Hall.
The hall is a massive room, and finding artists willing to tackle it isn’t easy, said Whitney Tassie, senior curator at UMFA.
“Responding to architecture and working with the restrictions that this space and way we do it demands, it’s not something for every artist,” Tassie said. “There are few artists who do this very well.”
“With this space, it has to be supermaximal, or minimalist,” Finch said. He chose the minimalist approach. “It’s like holding the space with the smallest amount of visual information.”
Finch’s process is to traverse a place — in this case, spending four days in June going along the perimeter of Great Salt Lake by car, boat and airboat — with a packet of Pantone color samples. He matches sample colors to the things he sees on his journey.
The Pantone samples are a “systematic objective” compilation of colors, applied “to what is very subjective, which is landscape painting,” he said.
Back at the Great Hall, he and his assistants place small rectangles of Pantone color samples in a line, uniformly spaced about an inch apart, just below eye level. Finch then writes brief captions for those colors, noting what the color represents — water, sagebrush, a deer or whatever.
The colors and text represent, he said, “my repeated attempts to understand the landscape and the waterscape.”
Tassie said the work “resonates with a lot of the stuff we’re already talking about here in Utah. The light out here is different, and he’s always engaged with light.”
Finch has done similar color travelogues before, with installation works capturing the urban landscapes of Berlin and Brooklyn. His best-known work, “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning,” is a major artwork in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, and features 2,983 paper squares — one for each person killed in the 9/11 attacks — hand-painted varying shades of blue.
Because of the Great Hall’s architecture, particularly the giant staircase that takes up part of the eastern wall, Finch’s Great Salt Lake journey starts on the building’s south wall — just as his original trip started at the lake’s south shore, off Interstate 15. Coming around the north wall, one sees the reds and pinks of the lake’s saltier northern end and of Robert Smithson’s land-art masterwork “Spiral Jetty.”
The effect of the 1,100-some Pantone tiles, Finch said, is a sort of “reverse Impressionism.” Where the Impressionists would use abstract color that formed an image when seen from afar, his installation provides the detail at close range, but “you step away and it’s all about the color.”
Las Hermanas Iglesias
Within the space of UMFA’s new ACME Lab, artist sisters Lisa and Janelle Iglesias want museumgoers to feel like they can do anything.
“Meet someone on a first date at the ACME Lab,” said the sisters, who work and speak collectively as Las Hermanas Iglesias, in an interview via email. “Gather with your activist circle to organize. Go with your kids or siblings and invent and play a game. Hold your reading group or knitting circle in the space. Read palms. Play music or shoot a music video. Do yoga. Rebuild the installation. Write your senators. Send folks thank-you letters. Bring your laptop and host a study group.”
Those are the possibilities that abound in the sisters’ exhibit, “HERE, HERE,” which will happen in the ACME Lab from Saturday to Jan. 28.
The ACME Lab — the name is an acronym, standing for “art, community, museum, experience” — is, according to Gretchen Dietrich, UMFA’s executive director, “sort of a different way of bringing the community into the museum and asking them to think about how they can interact with art.”
“HERE, HERE,” Dietrich said, “is very much about play, and interactivity, in a way we don’t encourage in the other galleries.”
The exhibit “is a constantly changing installation,” Las Hermanas Iglesias say. “We’ve designed all the 2- and 3-D elements in the space to function and overlap as costumes, backdrops, pedestals, stages or props in addition to their states as sculptures and paintings.”
The objects in the exhibit include wall drawings, furniture-like pieces, works on fabric, and papier-mâché objects — all in a simple black-and-white color scheme. And it can be as different as the people who experience it.
“Depending on who has been in the space before you, the space may feel quite minimal and serene or completely chaotic and full of energy,” the sisters said.
The museum and the Iglesias sisters expect there to be plenty of people coming through the space. in what the museum and the Iglesias sisters are referring to as a “Call to Action,” UMFA is inviting community groups and individuals to reserve the ACME Lab for events and gatherings, and to document their experiences via social media. Las Hermanas Iglesias have created a “User’s Guide,” an open-source framework to share ideas about “what is possible in the space.”
In a way, a project like “HERE, HERE” is similar to a video game. “Both interactive projects and video games rely on being activated by the players — that is, the projects exist without the participants and aren’t necessarily fully realized until participation is fulfilled,” Las Hermanas Iglesias said.
Las Hermanas Iglesias have worked a real game into their exhibit. Dietrich said the sisters have designed a ping-pong table that will sit outside the museum, in the Sculpture Terrace, and museumgoers can check out paddles and a ball and play a game.
The sisters work separately as artists — with Lisa teaching at the University of Florida and spending summers in New York, while Janelle is recently relocated to Southern California — but frequently collaborate with each other and with other artists. (For the past two years, one of those collaborators is their mother, Bodhild Iglesias.)
There’s a particular freedom in working collaboratively. “We tease out some of our ego and self-consciousness and enjoy the surprise of what happens when we work together and with others,” the sisters said.
UMFA’s big reopening<br>The Utah Museum of Fine Arts will reopen, after being closed for 19 months, with a two-day public celebration Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 26 and 27.<br>The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.<br>Here is a schedule of events for the weekend.<br>—<br>Saturday’s events<br>10 a.m. • Behind-the-scenes collections tour (ages 12 and up; limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>10 a.m.-noon • “Let’s Take Shape Together!” activity with Las Hermanas Iglesias; ACME Lab in the Emma Eccles Jones Education Center<br>Noon • Curator Pick gallery tours — American and regional, modern and contemporary, or south Asian (limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>1 p.m. • Behind-the-scenes collections tour (ages 12 and up; limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>1 p.m. • “HERE, HERE” opening bash piñata activity with Las Hermanas Iglesias; outside museum<br>2 p.m. • The Bboy Federation performs “73 ’Til Infinity”; Great Hall<br>4 p.m. • Curator Pick gallery tours — European, Ilse Bing (photography) or Chinese (limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>4 p.m. • Behind-the-scenes collections tour (ages 12 and up; limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>5 and 7 p.m. • Film screening: “The Legacy of Frida Kahlo,” co-presented with Utah Film Center; Dumke Auditorium<br>8 p.m.-midnight • Dance party, powered by ArtsPass<br>—<br>Sunday’s events<br>10 a.m. • Yoga, with Jendar Marie Morales; Great Hall<br>10 a.m.-noon • “Let’s Take Shape Together!” activity with Las Hermanas Iglesias; ACME Lab in the Emma Eccles Jones Education Center<br>Noon • Behind-the-scenes collections tour (ages 12 and up; limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>Noon • Curator Pick gallery tours — American and regional, modern and contemporary, or ancient Mesoamerican (limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>2 p.m. • “SENSEational: Accessing Art Through the Senses”; modern and contemporary gallery<br>3 p.m. • Film screening: “Boy and the World,” co-presented with Utah Film Center; Dunke Auditorium<br>3 p.m. • Katie Porter, clarinetist, performs; modern and contemporary gallery<br>4 p.m. • Behind-the-scenes collections tour (ages 12 and up; limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>4 p.m. • Curator Pick gallery tours — European, Ilse Bing (photography) or ancient Mediterranean (limit 20 visitors per tour; sign up at welcome desk starting an hour before tour)<br>—<br>Ongoing events<br>Family Art Making • 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., both days, Emma Eccles Jones Education Classroom<br>Family Backpacks • Check one out in the lobby, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., both days<br>Pop-up Docent Talks • Throughout the weekend<br>The Museum Store • Open 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday<br>The Museum Café • Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days