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Then & Now: An Exhibition of Selections from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts' Permanent Collection
Phil Collins, baghdad screentests, 2002, single channel color video with audio, 48 minutes, © Phil Collins, courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT.- The Utah Museum of Fine Arts presents Then & Now: Selections from the Permanent Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, on view through September 4, 2009. This dynamic installation traces the varied paths of contemporary art since the 1960s, drawing parallels between the past and present.

Located in the Museum’s first floor galleries, the installation is structured in roughly chronological order, with each gallery focusing on key developments in late twentieth century art: from Minimalism of the 1960s to the return to realist painting in the 1970s, from Robert Smithson’s meditations on human intrusions into nature to Pop and Post-minimalist artists who grappled with the realities of a war-torn world. Then & Now explores how these artistic impulses both respond to earlier movements and shape and inform subsequent developments in contemporary art.

The exhibition opens with the UMFA’s newest acquisition, a large-scale wooden sculpture entitled Fermator by pioneering Minimalist artist Carl Andre. Constructed with unpretentious materials, the sculpture sits not on a pedestal but directly on the floor of the gallery, occupying the same space as its viewers. Fermator was purchased with funds from the UMFA’s Wattis Endowment for Twentieth Century Art, an endowment restricted solely for the purchase of artworks that was created for the Museum by the late philanthropist Phyllis Wattis (1905-2002), a Salt Lake-native and a great granddaughter of Brigham Young. The UMFA’s acquisition of Andre’s sculpture reflects the spirit and vision of Wattis, who championed the work of Minimalist and Conceptual artists of the 1960s and 70s. For much of her life, Wattis resided in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she made significant contributions to fine arts and performing arts organizations such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) and the de Young Museum.

In 1976, Wattis was instrumental in the UMFA’s acquisition of Sylvia Plimack Mangold’s 1970 painting Floor with Laundry #1. On view in Then & Now, this important piece has received renewed attention through its inclusion in the groundbreaking exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2007. Plimack Mangold’s insistently realistic painting revels in the observation of everyday life, elevating a mere pile of laundry to the level of high art.

Then & Now concludes with a special presentation of a video by the Turner Prize-nominated British artist Phil Collins. Entitled baghdad screentests, Collins’s video was filmed in Iraq’s capital in 2002 just prior to the American-led invasion. The piece references Andy Warhol’s legendary 1960s Screen Tests, the short films Warhol made of anyone the artist thought had “star” potential. Collins’s video portraits of young Iraqis, many of whom are university students, are accompanied by a soundtrack of the artist’s favorite pop love songs. The portraits serve as counterpoints to Western stereotypes about people whose faces rarely appear on the evening news. After six years, the war continues, and Collins’s video continues to resonate.

Utah Museum of Fine Arts | San Francisco Museum of Modern Art | de Young Museum | Robert Smithson | Phil Collins | Brigham Young |

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