Beyond gallery walls
December 14, 2007
Between clothing racks and above computers in Internet cafes, in fields abutting the Rail Trail, and on the water-pump building above Daly Avenue, artists are thinking outside of the gallery in Park City.
Installing art in unusual contexts adds an element of surprise and also the possibility of anonymity. Artists report having conversations with people about their art who have no idea who they are talking to — and sometimes with people who outright dislike their work. Some say it gives them a welcome perspective about their work one they don’t get at openings, where the general response is strictly positive. Others say they have made bizarre connections with unexpected audiences.
Park City glass artist and sculptor Peter Roberts says his piece on Prospect Avenue posted in his neighbor’s yard — found its way to a newsletter for mystics based on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
He says Edwin Courtenay, an English spiritualist, e-mailed him to ask whether he could feature the sculpture in his publication. Courtenay explained Roberts’ work was in the shape of a "Merkabah," an ancient Hebrew shape written about in the Kabbalah that translates to "the chariot of God," said to help people have religious experiences.
Roberts, who toys with inventing new geometric shapes in his art, remembers being shocked. He says he had planned the concrete sculpture for seven years, but had not known the shape possessed any spiritual significance and to this day has no idea who might have contacted Courtenay about it.
"I was calling it a hyperbolic paraboloid, so when I found that out, it kind of blew me away," he says. "I’m not a religious person, but it was fascinating to me."
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Roberts also has a guerilla piece he posted in Poison Creek by the shoe tree: a cast-metal trout on a rod. He says it’s a nod to William Kranstover, a fellow artist who has installed more than 30 metal sculptures throughout the Park City area.
Kranstover’s welded industrial pieces can be viewed on the Rail Trail, by the China Bridge parking garage, and on Marsac Avenue places he calls "underemphasized nooks that need art."
"I don’t put my art in beautiful, landscaped city-owned property. I put it in Swede Alley and places that aren’t that defined by the beauty," he explains. "I try to accent and punctuate the beauty by having art pieces there."
Kranstover says he began putting up the work at night in the early 1990s, bypassing the "exhausting" process of filing applications for public art through the city and county. "I always kind of wanted to do it on the fly," he says.
Then he found himself in an unusual situation: speaking with an audience that did not know he was behind the random works of art.
"It was a wonderful way for me to know what people thought," he reflects. "When you have it in galleries, people say, ‘Oh it’s so great; oh, it’s beautiful.’ You don’t get the negative. You don’t get the real feelings. I really enjoyed it because the criticism of the art was much more genuine."
He remains unconcerned about getting into a gallery, he says, preferring the rough, uncharted canvas outdoors, and will likely post another five or six sculptures next spring.
While Kranstover’s and Roberts’ work has been largely embraced by the community, graffiti work, like the image of frowning, anthropomorphized mountains spray painted on a water pump building in the mouth of Empire Canyon, invites a negative response. The artist of the work includes the words "Real Art and "Viva America.," but Park City Police consider it "criminal mischief," a charge that ranges from a class B misdemeanor to a second-degree felony. Punishment can include a six-month sentence and a $1,000 fine or 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Artist Letitia Lussier goes the traditional, safer route, painting commissioned murals in places such as Deer Valley Resort.
"If a painting is in a gallery, people will buy it because they like it and bring it home," she says. "But in a public place, art can reach a broader audience."
However, sometimes, when people aren’t looking for art, they’re less likely to buy it. Lori Harris, owner of Mary Jane’s Shoe Store and Chester’s Blacksmith Shop balances street-style clothing with street-wise art at her store, bringing in new work from new artists every six weeks.
This month’s artist is Jaleh Afshor, a University of Utah graphic design major. Her work combines whimsical collages with neon duct tape on plywood for what Harris calls a "fun, punky outsider art."
Harris says the fact that Afshor’s pieces are small and are priced at less than $100 was part of the appeal. Unless it’s the Sundance Film Festival when Harris teams with a San Francisco gallery to show work shoppers typically do not enter her store looking to purchase artwork at high prices.
"Clothing and art is a good combination and we get a positive reaction, but the constant challenge we run into is that people come into the shop and think it’s ambiance and that it’s not for sale," she says. "It causes confusion for a lot of folks, because they’re not sitting at a salon or restaurant — they don’t spend enough time here to notice the card with the price on it."
But despite the challenge, Harris plans to keep the artistic side.
"I think it gives customers a nice surprise," she says. "Not everyone is comfortable walking into a gallery and it’s always good to provide artists with another arena to show their work."