Sunday in the Park
March 16, 2012
The talk the other night at the Kimball Art Center, by Dr. Chris Johnson from the University of Utah, was fascinating, showing us the beautiful intersection of art and science. Randomness in theory and strings. Explaining in drawings and colors what our mind cannot always explain it has witnessed.
Great ideas, I am convinced, deserve great space.
The Kimball itself is at the intersection of art and architecture right now. An ambitious project. A needed transformation, on a corner both beloved and let’s be honest rather blighted-looking.
I sat in the executive director’s office recently. It was one of the few snowy, cold days of the winter. I swear I could feel the snow right on my face. It was that cold. I actually touched my face to see if it was wet. And it was. The snow was coming in through a broken window. We found a hunk of glass on the floor. Many of the windows are cracked and the plaster is peeling. The gallery space with polished hardwood floors is lovely but without any temperature control. Which prohibits bringing in the level of exhibits this art-loving community wants to experience. The downstairs space, where adults and children take classes from lively teachers in colorful spaces, is drafty, too.
In an inner city, the sense of urban funk might be considered chic. But here, when art galleries on Main Street abound with international artists displaying high-end bronzes, oils and glass works, the Kimball is bit of a tired dowager. A good-spirited old broad, to be certain, but well past any turned out days.
The anchor building in lower Old Town, on a very visible corner, no matter which direction you arrive at it, it is a bit of a collective embarrassment. But it needs not be so. I think of architecture as art and I appreciate the boldness of the design proposed by the architect who won the contest.
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No, it is not a replica of the Coalition building. It was never meant to be. It was meant to be evocative of that utilitarian structure, which became a beloved icon of a bygone era only after the silver mines closed down. But back in its day, it was just a building.
And when folks were putting up Victorian-era homes/shacks, throwing some curlicue trim around the edges, painting them in garish colors no self-respecting East Coast brownstone would be caught dead wearing, it was the Wild West in desert sunset colors.
No one said this would one day be a charming part of The Lore, that people would spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars debating how to preserve The Look. At the time they were just building common, rather substandard contemporary homes. No one expected the shacks to become icons. No one expected the annoying snow to become more mined and refined than the silver.
When Utahn/San Franciscan Bill Kimball, on the board of the Park City Ski Area, decided the company town was actually growing into a community in the 1970s, he donated a building to become a community center. He couldn’t have envisioned Ansel Adams photography displayed there, or Chihuly glass. He would have been pleased so many school children would come for an exhibit by New York Times financial writer/illustrator Carl Richards to make simple solution drawings of their own.
Recently, I heard Thomas Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, speak. He talked about a tapestry exhibit at the museum and a group of school children he observed. One little boy got the giggles. Thomas asked him what he was laughing at. His embarrassed teacher tried to stifle the boy, but the director insisted, "Show me." The boy went right to the part of the tapestry Thomas suspected he would. "Look" the boy said, "the dog, right in the corner, is he pooping?" And the director assured him that he was indeed. It was the artist playing with his audience, having a joke on them and with them, in this handsome, elegant hunt scene. And the director said it was important to remember, at some point, that all art was once contemporary.
And that stuck with me. The current tempest in a hand-thrown clay teapot is premature. The Kimball selected a very contemporary, brilliant architect, highly sought after in many countries. He did his homework, learned there was such a thing as a Coalition building, which held a place of great tenderness within the community.
Think of those timbers as tenderness.
We don’t know where the next version is headed, but we do know where it should be in a design that is art itself. Reflective of this time. So that, long after we have left to paint our blank canvas in the sky, there is a building that speaks to these times, in this place, with these residents, who wanted a carefully crafted work of art a building to display and create beautiful works of art. A welcoming kind of front porch in the heartbeat of Old Town. A place residents will use and guests will visit every day, even Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.