The current installation of the UMFA’s modern and contemporary collection investigates broad themes including, but not limited to, abstraction and Conceptual art as well as racial and gender inequities in Utah and the United States. The exhibition aims to reflect the diversity of artistic practice over the last seventy-five years without imposing master narratives. The variety of art on view offers several perspectives, and viewers are encouraged to draw connections between artworks created at different times, in different places, and out of different materials. Highlights include work by Faith Ringgold, Jacob Lawrence, Chakaia Booker, Willie Cole, Edgar Arceneaux, Ernesto Pujol, Susannah Kirby, Anna Campbell Bliss, Helen Frankenthaler, Signe Stewart, and Joan Mitchell, to name a few.
Also of note in the exhibition is a special recent acquisition and uniquely installed work—an early wall drawing by conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. Many Conceptual artists used linguistic systems or mathematical formulas to dictate the production of their work. LeWitt used language in the form of instructions to detail how his wall drawings should be made by others. The UMFA’s Wall Drawing #33 (1970) is an early example of LeWitt courting a large degree of interpretation on the part of the drafters. The UMFA’s drawing was executed in February 2019 by Roland Lusk, a chief drafter authorized by the estate of Sol LeWitt, and six students from the University of Utah: Lucy Allen, Kristen Bennet, Tiana Birrell, James Hadley, Christina Jones, and Laurie Larson.
The modern and contemporary collection is broad, encompassing art from around the world in a range of media, including painting, sculpture, video, mixed media, interdisciplinary work, and works on paper including prints, drawings, and photographs. The collection focuses on art production post-World War II to the present and can support the study of canonical art history, but because art and its histories do not unfold in straightforward ways, collection exhibitions also acknowledge contradictory and marginalized art practices to better understand the complexities of modern and contemporary thought and expression.
The significance of the modern and contemporary collection is largely due to the forward-thinking patron Phyllis Cannon Wattis, whose vision and commitment has supported acquisitions since 1968. Born in Salt Lake City in 1905, the great-granddaughter of Utah pioneer Brigham Young eventually moved to San Francisco, where she helped to shape the Bay area’s thriving art community. Throughout her life, Wattis maintained ties with Utah, and her relationship with the UMFA blossomed under the stewardship of the dynamic Frank Sanguinetti, UMFA director 1967–2002. Working closely with Sanguinetti, Wattis guided the Museum onto new ground and ensured that innovative, contemporary work would always be a strength of the collection.