Featured Artists from The Smithson Effect Give Free Talks at UMFA

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) is pleased to present short talks and a panel discussion with leading contemporary artists Matthew Coolidge, San Durant, and Melanie Smith, on Saturday, April 2, 2011 • 2-4 pm.

Work by all three artists is featured in the UMFA’s current exhibition, The Smithson Effect. Coolidge, Durant, and Smith will give presentations describing their interest in artist Robert Smithson (1938-1973) and then participate in a conversation mediated by UMFA Acting Chief Curator Jill Dawsey. This program is free and open to the public.

The most ambitious contemporary art exhibition ever organized by the UMFA, The Smithson Effect brings together a broad spectrum of work by twenty-three international artists who have been influenced by Robert Smithson’s art and ideas. Organized by UMFA Acting Chief Curator Jill Dawsey, the exhibition features sculpture, video, photography, installation, and sound art, and occupies over 4,000 square feet in the museum’s first-floor galleries. The Smithson Effect will be on view in the Marcia and John Price Museum Building at the University of Utah through July 3, 2011.

Perhaps the most influential artist of the postwar period, Smithson is best known for his pioneering earthworks created during the 1960s and 70s, such as the famous Spiral Jetty (1970) in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Smithson’s legacy, however, extends far beyond his revolutionary use of land as an artistic medium. Since the mid-to-late 1990s, significant numbers of artists have turned to Smithson’s work as a source of inspiration, exploring his radical ideas on the subjects of entropy, site and ‘nonsite’, land use, anti-monuments, natural history, and language. Three such artists are Matthew Coolidge, Sam Durant, and Melanie Smith.

About Matthew Coolidge
Artist Matthew Coolidge is the founder and director of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles. CLUI employs a multimedia and multidisciplinary approach to disseminate knowledge about how the world’s lands are apportioned, used, and perceived. It produces exhibitions in collaboration with museums and galleries. Coolidge is the author of Back to the Bay: An Examination of the Shoreline of the San Francisco Bay Area Region (2001) and The Nevada Test Site: A Guide to America’s Nuclear Proving Ground (1996).

The Smithson Effect features a new work by CLUI entitled Salt Lake City International Airport, Northern Approach (2006-2010), which takes the form of a digital slide show of unaltered photographs taken from a commercial airliner as it descends into Salt Lake City. The work takes as inspiration Smithson’s (unrealized) idea for earthworks to be built at the Dallas Fort Worth airport, which would be viewed from airplanes at a low altitude. “These pools, paths, and swaths exist in a scale-less, gossamer fringescape,” explains CLUI, “the evolving outcome of the inextricable interaction between manmade constructions and non-human forces, that needs little more to make it art, than to be seen as such.”

About Sam Durant
Another Los Angeles-based artist featured in The Smithson Effect is Sam Durant, whose multimedia work engages the relationship between culture and politics, often addressing such diverse subjects as protest movements of the 1960s, Southern rock music, and modernism. He has had solo museum exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Dusseldorf, S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium, and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Zealand. His work has been included in the Panamá, Sydney, Venice, and Whitney Biennales, and he was a finalist for the 2008 Hugo Boss Prize. Durant teaches at the California Institute of the Arts.

Three drawings and a sculpture from Durant’s Partially Buried/Altamont series are featured in The Smithson Effect. A key point of reference for Durant is Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed (1970), an “anti-monument” created by dumping twenty loads of dirt onto the roof of an abandoned shed until it collapsed.

Durant’s work repeatedly references Smithson’s earthwork, often in combination with allusions to popular music from the same era, as in the sculpture Partially Buried 1960s/70s Dystopia Revealed (Mick Jagger at Altamont) & Utopia Reflected (Wavy Gravy at Woodstock) (1998), composed of mounds of dirt that sit atop rectangular mirrors on the floor. Inside the mounds are speakers, one emitting the voice of folk hero Wavy Gravy at Woodstock in 1969, the other playing audio of Mick Jagger as he tries to calm the crowd at the Altamont Free Concert, the ill-fated event that seemed to symbolize the end of the 1960s. Durant’s sculpture asks us to see the historical complexity of the late 1960s, and his portrait of Smithson, entitled Altamont 1969 (1998) associates Smithson—who died tragically in 1973—with the unfulfilled promises of the artistic and countercultural movements of the 60s.

About Melanie Smith
British artist Melanie Smith (b. 1965) frequently references Smithson’s ideas in her work, which often explores the urban environs of Mexico City, where she has lived and worked since 1989. Through a diverse range of media and multiple perspectives, Smith’s art explores the economic and social patterns of the city and how they translate into artistic forms. Smith’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; OMR Gallery, Mexico City; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Tate Gallery, London; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

In 2002 Smith collaborated with artist Rafael Ortega to make the video Spiral City, shot from a helicopter circling over Mexico City’s crowded maze of buildings, streets, and parking lots. Spiral City makes allusions to Smithson’s 1970 film Spiral Jetty, which was made in conjunction with his earthwork. Parts of Smithson’s film were also shot from a helicopter, and he recorded the noise of the helicopter blades, which supplied parts of the film’s soundtrack. Like Smithson, Smith also incorporates the sound of the helicopter into the video’s soundtrack, accompanying the spiraling view of Mexico City’s seemingly endless industrial grid.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is located on the University of Utah campus in the Marcia and John Price Museum Building at 410 Campus Center Drive. The UMFA’s mission is to engage visitors in discovering meaningful connections with the artistic expressions of the world’s cultures. General admission is $7 adults, $5 youth and seniors, FREE for U of U students/staff/faculty, UMFA members, higher education students in Utah, and children under six years old. Free admission offered the first Wednesday and third Saturday of each month thanks to the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks Fund. Museum hours are Tuesday – Friday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Wednesdays 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Weekends, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; closed Mondays and holidays.

For more information call (801) 581-7332 or visit www.umfa.utah.edu

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