Mormon Artist

Episode 17: 10th International Art Competition Retrospective

Show Notes

In this episode, Mormon Artist podcast host Katherine Morris McKell discusses the 10th International Art Competition—sponsored by the LDS Church History Museum—with Laura Allred Hurtado, Glen Nelson, and Rita Wright. Laura Allred Hurtado was the curator and jury foreman for the competition, while Rita Wright and Glen Nelson were among the jurors. The 10th International Art Competition exhibition ran September 2015–August 2016, and the digital gallery is available online.


Katherine Morris McKell: Welcome to the Mormon Artist podcast. I’m your host, Katherine Morris McKell. Today we have joining us Laura Allred Hurtado, Glen Nelson, and Rita Wright. Thank you for joining us.

Rita Wright: Thank you, Katherine.

Katherine: Laura is the global acquisitions curator for the Church History Department, Glen is the founder and director of the Mormon Artists Group, and Rita is the director of the Springville Museum of Art.

The topic of today’s podcast—the purpose is to give a retrospective of the LDS Church’s International Art Competition and exhibit, which ran from September 2015 and just ended on the 13th of August, 2016—so it just ended. I thought it would be valuable to talk about what that competition and exhibit might mean for the Mormon visual arts. We can look back on it and talk about that.

I thought it would be useful to give a brief recap—well, brief—I know it was a very long process—but kind of a recap of what the jurying process was like. Now, Laura—you were the director for the competition. Is that correct?

Laura Allred Hurtado
Courtesy Laura Allred Hurtado

Laura Allred Hurtado: I was the curator and the jury foreman—was my official title. I helped manage the exhibition, and I helped select the jury. That was a process that was in conjunction with the museum director and the exhibition staff that were working on the show. We also set the rubric, and we wrote the rubric—the jurying criteria. We worked with the jury themselves to hear their feedback as we formed and shaped the criteria in which we would judge the work.

Katherine: Okay. So, Rita and Glen were two of five of the jurors for the competition.

Laura: That’s right. The other three were Shuh Chih Murray. She’s a Taiwanese convert and one of the pioneering founders of the Chinese ward in Irvine, California. And Campbell Gray, the director of the Queensland Museum of Art at the University of Queensland in Australia. And Laura Durham. I actually can’t quite remember her exact title, but she works with the Division of Arts and Museums for the state.

Katherine: Okay. Great. So, I was hoping you could give just a little bit of a recap about what jurying the show entailed. I thought maybe Laura could do that.

Laura: Sure. It may be better for Rita and Glen to respond to this question, since they themselves were the jurors. We had a two-stage jurying process. The first one was online, and that sampling was quite large. There were 942 works. Then we narrowed it down to about 250 that came in for the second round jurying process, and that was in person. So, we flew Campbell out, and Glen, and Shu Chih and spent two days talking about art.

Rita Wright
Courtesy Rita Wright

Rita: Katherine, if I can say—it’s a bit challenging to have the digital portion of that. To get the impact you really want, you want to see them in real life. And so, when there are this many, it kind of compels us to have to do a first overview of just digital images. But I think we were all very aware at the time that you lose so much to do that. But just for facilitating the whole operation, sometimes that has to be done. There were over 900, Laura—is that right?

Laura: There were 942, and you’re right, Rita—you do lose things in looking at it through the medium it’s not made in. And yet, it’s actually pretty standard practice for juried shows of this scale to have that initial pass done online.

Rita: I think as the jurors all recognized that, we were trying to be aware of what the work and the medium would look like. It takes a little bit of effort and imagination on the juror’s part to do that so you give the piece the valued viewing that it would if it were in front of you. It’s really just something we have to deal with in the art world now, where we’re having so many more people enter shows, and there are so many great pieces to review—and that’s just physically almost impossible.

Glen Nelson
Courtesy Glen Nelson

Glen Nelson: I think in hindsight, for me, some of the works that I passed on in the first go-around, I probably would have given a second look at in person. You know, when you look at an image on a computer screen, everything is flattened, and the colors are twisted around a tiny bit, depending on how your computer resolution works. And there’s also this trouble with the scale of it. Sometimes when we saw the works in real life, it was almost disappointing, because they had looked so vibrant on a computer screen. And then, of course, it works the opposite way as well.

Katherine: So, you looked at those online submissions, and they had the artist statements with them, and they were all translated into English. I believe you had submissions from 40 countries.

Laura: That’s correct. Yeah.

Katherine: And then you asked to see about 200 of those works in person?

Laura: I believe it was about 250. It may have been 200, to tell you the truth. It’s been a while.

Katherine: And then you ended up with about 97 for the exhibit.

Laura: I think it worked out to be 98.

Katherine: I know that just as you were completing the jurying, you did a panel discussion at the BYU Museum of Art that I attended and actually recorded and listened to recently. I believe that you said there were about 7 pieces that were given unanimous votes. There was a lot of diversity of opinions during the show.

Rita: I think that’s one of the exciting things about having a variety of jurors. We had five. Many salons and shows like this don’t have quite that many. But that was part of the fun—that we had such diversity within the jurying corps. And then to match that up with the kind of diversity in medium and style and subject matter really made for a dynamic, engaging opportunity for us as jurors. I think we had as much fun getting together and talking about the art as many of the people that came to view it. We just really got into both sharing our ideas and thoughts, and then encountering the work and talking about those. So, it was a very dynamic process.

Katherine: Yeah. I got that idea from listening to the panel discussion right after you guys were coming off of jurying the show. It seemed like there was some lively discussion. I actually wanted to jump into that. So, when you were jurying the show, and you saw much more work than those of us who visited the exhibit saw—looking at the final exhibit and the works that were submitted, what were some of the discussions that occurred among the jurors while viewing the work?

Glen: Well, I’ll tackle that a little bit. So, the process that we had—Laura was in the room, but it really was just the five jurors going through every single work and talking about them, both the pros and cons of them. It wasn’t a snarky conversation. There was someone, inevitably, who took the positive side of it—and then someone else who tried to make a case if the work should not be included. That was sort of the sense to kind of maintain the integrity of the exhibition itself. You want to have work that’s of a certain quality.

So, as we went through, this was a painstaking process. We talked about every work for a considerable amount of time. It wasn’t just a thumbs up or a thumbs down conversation. What I found—as people were talking about it—is some of my initial reactions were enlightened by their expertise. In a couple of cases, I really became a big fan of some works that at first I hadn’t really got, to be honest with you.

Laura: I think also what was interesting was that actually the very first day of jurying was silent. Because if we went through and talked about every piece, it would have taken a while. But, there was some consensus forming. So, every piece that got three votes or more made it into the show. What we talked about were the pieces that were in this sort of gray range of two votes. That’s where we had the discussion. The ones that only got one were clearly out, and the ones that got five or four were clearly in. I think I remember correctly it was those that had two votes that we spent time talking about. Like Glen said, there was always an advocate for the work and then a dissenter. That led to some really rich conversations about—sometimes just about technique or skill—and sometimes about messaging and methodology.

Katherine: So, it sounds like a very dynamic process. That’s interesting.

I’d like to talk about some of the larger themes, and then we can use examples of some of the pieces and focus on some of those. While you were jurying the show, and you saw all of these works from artists—and, I should mention there were requirements for submission. Each of the artists had to have a Church membership number, and they had to relate their work to the theme, which was “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” and the work had to be completed within three years prior to submitting it.

So, those are the parameters of the show, which means that there may have been some artists within the Mormon visual arts community who may not have submitted a work, because maybe they didn’t have something already prepared or were working on other things. But there were quite a few submissions, and you do have a decent number of artists represented.

What were some of your impressions about themes and what’s going on with Mormon art today? The parameters were within the theme “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” so a lot of it is going to be focused on that particular topic. There might be some limitations on how far you can make comments about Mormon art in general, but working within that theme, what were some of the thoughts and impressions you had about Mormon art and Mormon artists today?

Glen: Well, I’ll take a first stab at it, and then the smarter ladies will then correct me and fix it. I think there’s a lot of danger in looking at a show like this and extrapolating generalizations about what’s going on in Mormon art, because the exhibition itself is a very specific entity. It’s across the street from Temple Square. It’s going to be seen in the context of being a very theme-driven show. And so, I think there were a lot of artists who wanted to participate and figured out a way to make the theme work for them.

But I think there were also a number of people—who’ve talked with me after the fact—who’ve said that they would have loved to participate, but that they just weren’t working in a vein that really fit in well with the theme “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.”

My experience when I looked at all of the works—what I was seeing is that there was quite a lot of unusual discourse that I hadn’t anticipated in materials and their engagement in various themes that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of as being a Mormon—quote, unquote—theme in the sense that it’s Ensign illustration ready. So, there were some other things like that. And I applauded those artists who were taking the time to submit something, even though I knew it wasn’t necessarily the kind of thing that typically appears in a Church exhibition.

Rita: I think that’s part of the excitement of it—is that we don’t want this particular competition to just represent the works that would go well in the Ensign. When we look at how the works are used—Laura and I have talked about this as well—there are some things that you can show in a museum and that lend themselves to interpretation. There are other things that you may say work well in a temple for a more devotional, thoughtful purpose.

The exciting thing to me was that there are LDS artists working, like Glen said, across media styles. They’re looking at different concepts, different aspects of the gospel. And they’re trying to both have that relate to their own experience and to the viewers. We don’t want the viewers to come to a competition—and exhibition like this—and just see what they see in other Church media and magazines. We want them to be able to feel a bit challenged. Visual art is exciting. It’s a symbolic language, and we want them to be able to engage in ways that don’t necessarily represent Wasatch Mountain images of Jesus or that mentality—but that really start to reflect a more global aspect of internalization of different aspects of the gospel.

Glen: Thanks, Rita. You said that so much better than I could. You should be a museum director or something.

Rita: Good! Oh, I’ll try it.

Laura: I wanted to just add to what Rita and Glen were saying, that I agree that it’s difficult to take from this show and say, “This is clearly a pulse of what’s happening in Mormon art.” I think it’s a sampling, but that sampling—with all samplings and with all juried shows—is limited to those who applied and those who felt their work fit within the theme.

But I do think that there were a lot of really strong pieces that got in the show. Jason Metcalf’s work I thought was a real departure from work that we—you know—it’s not Ensign-able. That’s not a word, right? But it’s not work that will show up in the Ensign, in part because I think it falls flat in reproduced images of it. It’s something you have to experience.

Katherine: Could you describe that one briefly?

A Paved Work of Pure Gold
“A Paved Work of Pure Gold” by Jason Metcalf. Courtesy Church History Museum.

Laura: Sure. It’s a square piece of gold—pure gold—and it casts a shadow when a light is shined on it that looks like a pillar of gold—a pillar of fiery gold. Within the context of “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” he made a reference to Christ appearing in the Kirtland Temple and equated that with a shaft of gold.

I think conceptually and visually, it’s very strong, and it’s really powerful in the things that you sort of put there or communicate within that space—within that light. The way that it’s activated with the light is really meaningful. It’s a great departure from work that you would see in the Ensign. I don’t think it’s really a magazine-type piece. And it’s also a departure from work that you would see at the temple, which is largely decorative and not part of the worship ceremony—not part of the experience. It’s more in the periphery, of your vision, even.

Glen: You know, with that specific piece, I had a different experience with it. I saw that work in New York in Martos Gallery downtown. The gallery is quite small, and it’s a pretty raw space with just concrete floor and kind of a rough wall. That piece—the gold part of it—is maybe a foot square. It’s like a tile, and it’s gold.

The entire exhibition was based on artwork in Temple Square—in the visitors’ center, specifically. Here was this very Mormon work, to my mind, because it was just steeped in Salt Lake City and the Church culture. So, I found it very moving when I was in New York.

Then, when he decided to submit that to the show, it had a more refined sense—the way it was displayed in the exhibition was to put it on a little pedestal and have the light to shine directly on it, which caused that gold spray right behind it. It’s very elegant.

Actually, I disagree with Laura—I think it photographs great. When I saw the exhibition—I saw it three times, I think—every time I saw it, it just had so much power compared to the paintings around it. And I for one think that kind of work would be fantastic in a temple, because it has all of this symbolism, and that’s the place where one goes to really immerse oneself in symbolism.

Katherine: Yeah, it’s a stunning piece. But it is one that’s maybe a bit more experiential. I think it does photograph pretty well, but to get that full impact of the light. Also, it’s very tall, and so it invites you to look up in the space that you’re viewing it in. It would for sure be different—typically you see paintings in temples.

Glen: If I could add something. You had asked a couple minutes ago about what this exhibit says about Mormon art. I think a competition is its own kind of animal, which is different from a survey show. So, let’s imagine a different kind of show altogether. Let’s just say that Laura had an unlimited budget in the Church museum, and she could go all over the world and do hundreds and hundreds of studio visits and curate a show of her own choosing of works done by contemporary Mormon artists. I think that show would be dynamite. But the logistics of that are pretty tough.

This competition thing works well, because, otherwise in a global church, the logistics of getting all that artwork to one place would otherwise be really, really challenging. But you can imagine, though, from a thematic sense, if you had a single person going all over the world and finding work, that’s when you would be able to say a little more clearly of what’s going on in the Church today with the art.

Katherine: Sure. Yeah.

Laura: Glen, if you want to fund that, I’m happy to take on that investigation.

Glen: Yep.

Katherine: I was just going to say that sounded a little bit like a pitch, actually.

Laura: Well, the Sackler Center in the Brooklyn Museum did a show called Global Feminisms that was essentially that—where Maura Reilly traveled the globe attending different art festivals to respond to that call—that there are multiple versions of feminism. I think that idea that there’s multiplicity in a singular religion or a singular school of thought is not individual to Mormonism.

I think it’s tricky, because a lot of the tastemakers do come from Salt Lake City, and that narrows the visual discourse that’s out there. I think work like projects that Glen does and even Rita—the spiritual show that you do—help to widen that conversation. I think that widening that conversation adds to the richness and variety of what is truly out there.

Rita: I worked as well on the 9th International Competition. I did not completely curate that. There were other curators involved who had been there and been part of the International Competition for many years. The thing that keeps coming back to me—I don’t know what the answers are. Laura and I have spoken about it and with some of the other Church History Museum staff members.

What happens is when you get a competition like this, you invite members of the Church from around the world to send their works to this center place. So, to keep their efforts pure, and what in their mind they are contributing, is a little bit tricky. There used to be more of a feeling that there was—maybe I can call it unfairly—but it was sort of a quota; that if you had works from different places around the world, you wanted to give them the chance to show and to give them the recognition. So, your jurying rubric, or even your general ideas shifted just a bit to be more inclusive of more of the global areas of the Church.

Well, there are times that some of these members just don’t have access to art lessons, or they get caught up in this Utah tastemaking mentality, and they’re trying to create things that they think might play well here. So, it’s hard to say, “No, we want to see from your culturally embedded position the art that’s created.” And to recognize that they may not have access to some of the more sophistical trainings and opportunities. Is there a place for that work? Yes, there is. We love to see it—we love to see it sometimes just for its simplicity, its purity, its authenticity.

Laura was very careful as she created with all of us the rubric by which we were examining these works. And those are really sometimes two different things—to approach works for their technical and conceptual clarity and ability, and to acknowledge that there are people around the Church and around the world creating works of art within their own cultural context that we need to appreciate for what it is—but it may not be to a standard, even in their own country—of those kinds of technical and conceptual developments.

It’s really hard to see something from Mongolia that you think this person created with sincerity and effort and wanted to get it to Salt Lake, and you want to acknowledge that offering. Many times the stories come of their spiritual struggle to get this created, or it fulfills a really strong personal need. And yet the responsibility of the jurors and this team was to still stick with this as an art competition and be able to apply some kind of jurying rubric to glean those works.

It’s a very challenging thing to do—to be able to kind of serve those two masters: the one of inclusivity and the one of more technical merit. Yet, there were, as we said, several works that we all agreed on no matter where they were from, what style, what medium—that we all recognized as conveying that message and being appropriate for our audience here.

Glen: I think that this exhibition was a little light on international artists compared to the last couple of exhibitions. I don’t think it was really a reflection on the jurying process. I think we simply received fewer submissions internationally this time.

Katherine: Maybe it was both.

Laura: I think we received—about 15% of our submissions were international. So, already it’s just going to be biased toward the United States if you only have 15% submissions coming internationally. What ended up in the show was about 10%—equaled international. So, is it fair to truly call it an international exhibition? I’m not sure.

Rita: I think that’s a really good opportunity for you and the staff at Church History as you move forward to say, “Yeah, where do we want to go forward with this? Is it international? Do we need to get that word out there more? Or is there another shape, direction, something innovative to do with this that would address some of those issues?”

Laura: Well, I think sometimes—this speaks to a point that was brought up earlier—we’re a church, right? First and foremost. So, on the one hand, we have these great goals—to just—how do we put together this killer, amazing show—and really do all these studio visits that should be done and that should be truly archived and collected? And then you’re weighing that against the budgets of, well, do we try to build a new temple—and what are the goals of the temple versus what are the goals of this? It becomes a sort of push-and-pull issue.

I think in some regards it becomes a little tricky because there’s a lot of sincerity in the submissions. People are putting their faith in these submissions and yet the work is not good. How do you balance that—when you’re getting a letter from the Church saying, thank you; no thank you? The implication of it being the competition itself—in some regards, I think, the institution complicates it.

Glen: Yeah. I think quality issues aside, if that’s possible—the thing that struck me the most about the entire process of finding works is I would look at these things and imagine the person making them. They came from such a place of devotion and such a place of love and wanting to be a part of this community. So, even if I didn’t respond to the works well in an artistic sense, I found them all very touching to see.

Rita: Agreed.

Laura: I agree. You could feel the devotion from them, I think.

Rita: Right. This is one thing I would say, Katherine. As jurors we did talk about that, which doesn’t happen. Since we juried the show, I’ve juried five other shows.

Glen: On purpose?

Rita: It was just a lot of being asked kind of thing.

I think that’s what is unique about this show—is that we were able to make those kinds of conversations part of the larger conversation—and an opportunity to acknowledge individual devotion and desire of these artists even being willing to put their work forward. To say, I would love to have my work represented in this competition. So, that was really nice, but I think almost all of the jurors were of one mind in that—that we did want to acknowledge these members who had been willing to contribute and get their work there, and get it framed, and get it ready for hanging—all of those things that we did receive in itself as an act of willingness and devotion. You don’t always get to. When you’re jurying shows, that’s not even part of the conversation.

I appreciated that opportunity, and in this particular show to be able to acknowledge those individuals, like Laura said, and Glen—that there were individuals behind these works with varying levels of testimony and strength and desire to share their personal experience with others. It was just nice to be in a position to be able to acknowledge that as we went forward with the different levels of the competition viewing.

Katherine: Well, thank you so much, I really appreciate that perspective. We talked a lot about the parameters. I think it’s interesting that you have certain parameters and tensions within those—deciding how you’re going to look at those works. I appreciate knowing that and understanding that process.

I’d like to actually start getting into some of the works. What I’d like to do is kind of get your perspective looking at those works. If we could talk about some specific works—just kind of touch on both of those aspects that we talked about. That appreciation of the devotion and faith that went into it, and also what you’re experiencing looking at it from your background as an art critic/curator/scholar. Why don’t we start with Rita.

Kingdom of Heaven
“Kingdom of Heaven” by Lisa Aerin Collett. Courtesy Church History Museum.

Rita: As we had talked, I started going through the works again, and I’d go, “Oh, I would love to talk about this one. Oh, wait—there was something interesting about that one.” To me that is evidence of what Glen said—that we did spend time with these works. We didn’t just walk by them and address them quickly. There was one that stood out to me, and it ended up being a Merit Award winner. It just resonated with me. It was a very large piece. (And Laura, I would hope that next time on these descriptions we can maybe put a size on these.)

It was a work called “The Kingdom of Heaven,” by Lisa Aerin Collett. It’s a mother sitting down with her three little children. There are some very interesting—she’s building on some earlier precedents of some photography, some other painted images. She’s got the children kneeling on her nap as if for bedtime, and on the children’s clothing is reflected different disciples also praying. In the background, we have a pelican, an elephant, and a little bird and the lamp at night. It all culminates in this swirling, flying, floating image of Jesus ascending.

There’s a real power there that goes from our earthly devotions and our earthly—gathering our little ones around us and the animals of the earth—and that magnificence. That it is all connected, and it is all about Jesus Christ—our thoughts, our deeds, our actions. Everything is in and through him.

So, both the size of the work calls attention to it—but that tying together of heaven and earth and those simple daily things we do are very glorious in the sight of God. That was one that just right from the beginning touched me. Every time I went around, I thought, “Do I like this? Do I not like this? What about this am I connecting to?” When I pulled the images up again, it struck me that there is so much to it. What could just look like another Jesus-floating-in-heaven image really has some powerful conceptual devices included of yes, all things bear witness to him—even in the simplest of our daily actions and in the beasts of the field.

Katherine: What are some of the artistic merits of the piece, would you say?

Rita: I think one of the things I loved—it was mixed media, which always is to me a little engaging. I love the texturing, I love that experimental idea. But also that she was using other references. It was well thought out. That she knew some traditional art historical devices. It engaged me because it could have seemed like a very ho-hum traditional kind of painting. I have a painting in my museum that is the favorite, and it’s the mother with her two children—kind of the domestic angel. I love that this piece left a little bit of that particular iconic look, mixed it up a bit, challenged us with making some sense of something that wasn’t readily so familiar.

Katherine: All right. Glen, is there a piece you’d like to talk about?

Extravagant or Credo
“Extravagant or Credo” by Emily Dyer Barker. Courtesy Church History Museum.

Glen: All right. In advance, I know I’m not going to speak as well as you just heard. Okay, here’s mine. Emily Dyer Barker did a work called “Extravagant or Credo.” Most of the works in the exhibition—the vast majority of them were paintings. There were also a number of works that were prints. So, etchings and—this one was a work for letterpress print and paper.

Basically, it’s an accordion-fold book. It’s quite extraordinary. It has these twelve little windows, and they’re sort of slots. So, if you can imagine a little loose leaf binder. Inside each of these slots, there was basically a story of Jesus, and it had text on it—it was a brief thing that was either scriptural or just kind of an explanation. And then the other side of it had this sort of abstracted image that looked kind of like an organic thing—that you were looking under a microscope to see the essence of something.

Together the book—if you can imagine an accordion-fold book all stacked together—made a little book. When it was displayed, it was under a glass for obvious reason—but, we had the opportunity as jurors to go through that book and take out every one of these little sheets and read them and examine the texture of them. Letterpress is all about feel, because it’s essentially a 3D thing, when you’re pressing images and text into paper with ink.

I responded to it because I love going to this place called the Center for Book Arts in my neighborhood. It’s a place where bookbinders and paper artists display their work. I responded to the work because it reminded me of my own bad attempts at letterpress and my love of the Savior, and these twelve stories of the gospel all put together in this beautifully organized way that really captured to me what “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” was about.

Katherine: What were some of the artistic merits of the piece? When you’re looking at it, how do you know that it’s a good work of letterpress?

Glen: Sure. Just from a technical standpoint, it was spectacular. It was peerless. There were some other works submitted, and you could just side-by-side see it was like a teacher’s version and a student’s version. Emily Dyer Barker’s work was just very clean. But it was more than that. I find what Rita said in her recent comment really interesting. People like artwork for a lot of different reasons. So, if they respond to a maternal image because they imagine their connection with maternity, right? One of the reasons that art works is this idea of engagement. I felt immediately engaged here. I wanted to look at every single thing. It was impossible for me to pass by quickly. On the simplest level, that’s how I use my art meter. If I can walk by something without even looking at it, it’s just not speaking to me.

Rita: Very well put.

Katherine: Yeah. I remember both of those pieces. They both won awards. “The Kingdom of Heaven” won a Merit Award. “Extravagant or Credo” won a Purchase Award, so that’s been acquired into the Church’s permanent collection.

Glen: Laura, can you explain the difference between these awards? What does that mean, “merit” and “purchase”?

Laura: Yeah. So, artists couldn’t get both a Merit Award and a Purchase Award. The highest award—I believe—is the purchase award. In the case of the Dyer work, it was selected for both. The Merit Award value was higher than the purchase price, so we gave her the Merit Award value and gave her a Purchase Award. A Purchase Award means that we buy the work and it enters our collection. Then, a Merit Award is just an acknowledgement, and they get some money. Then, the same thing goes for the Visitors’ Choice. It’s just an acknowledgement, and they get a little bit of money.

Katherine: Okay.

Rita: If I can do a shameless plug here. We have so many artists who are trying and growing enter these shows. And, really, the awards are in a way—and they’re not generally exorbitant amounts. I think for the artists, it kind of reassures them that they are a professional and that we want to acknowledge our artists as professionals. That’s one thing. In our community—in the state of Utah. Of course, Glen lives where there’s much made of art, and it’s seen of great value. I think sometimes our artists are kind of marginalized, and we say, “Oh, they’re artists, but they have their day job.”

We’re seeing a lot of these artists who are trying to live by their art, who are trying to support their families and are pushing that game a little harder to really try to create and make and do things that not only bless lives and touch hearts but that actually they’re able to do and spend the time professionally. And what I’m seeing, and as I’ve talked with many of these artists the evening of the different events—and I’ve been back several times—people ask me questions.

I love that we are starting to see a professional group of artists who are really trying to do what it takes to make a living, to enter these kinds of competitions and juried shows around the country, around the world. It just raises that whole level of appreciation, I think, for what it is to be an artist—what it is to devote that kind of time and energy. And to have the family support to be able to do that. I applaud them. That’s a huge risk, and I just am so grateful that whatever they’re doing and wherever they’re doing, they keep trying. They get an award here, they don’t get an award there. They will call me and say, “I won an award in this show but I didn’t in another show.” I say, we have different jurors every time. We have different hopes for this particular exhibition. Everyone has their own preferences, but I applaud you for being an artist.

I think Glen just quoted—whether or not he did consciously—the National Endowment for the Arts kind of little mantra, that art works. They work as artists, and it works in our lives to be very enriching, and I love that we have shows like these that encourage them to keep doing that. That was just my little soapbox, but I feel very strongly about supporting these kinds of processes.

Glen: And I was aware of the other side of that. That was sort of the ground up version. Here’s the top down version. There are a number of artist who are in lots of museum collections, exhibit all over the world, but haven’t participated in an exhibition like this before, a competition like this before. It was a risk for them. So, I was really happy that they submitted work, and in many cases it was well received and became part of the show. One thing that I don’t know is what the reaction from the public was to some of these works that are less likely to be seen.

Laura: I can speak to that. When we first showed the works to Correlation and others, there was some pushback, and they were concerned. I think they just wanted works that they were more familiar with. Yet, the nature of a juried show is that there is a subjectivity built into it. What defines work that people engage with is different on a case-by-case basis. So, there was some pushback, there was some concern, there were some long conversations we had, there was some contextualization.

But I can tell you that by the opening, these meetings that we had that—that maybe I was a little concerned about—at the opening, there they were, the team from Correlation. I would not be using hyperbole to say they were giddy to say how beautiful they thought the show was, how excited they were, and how lovely it looked, and how impressed they were with the quality and the eloquence of the statements and the groupings of how the works communicated with one another, with how they hung. They really embraced it. I think that was a win for us and mainly for the artists that were there that could find acceptance through that process.

My boss was showing me the other day on TripAdvisor, statements that visitors had written about the show, like I’m not a Mormon, I’m not really interested in Mormons—I was in town, so I visited this museum, and there was this show upstairs that was just gorgeous and just amazing. It was so encouraging to get that kind of feedback. There was another comment that just raved about the show. And those were comments just posted in the last two weeks before we closed. So, I think that to me speaks to the success of the show.

Katherine: Yeah, that’s wonderful. I really appreciate it. I thought it was really lovely. I’ve been to some of the previous shows, and I appreciated those. And I really appreciated the works that were in this show and the direction that you took.

I’d like to hear about a piece that Laura would like to talk about.

Laura: A favorite piece from the show?

Katherine: Yeah, just a work that was engaging to you.

The Call
“The Call” by Jorge Orlando Cocco Santangelo. Courtesy Church History Museum.

Laura: One of the works that I really liked is by an artist named Jorge Cocco, and it’s called “The Call.” He’s an Argentine artist, and he’s depicting Christ on the sea of Galilee. I really responded to it. It’s both figurative and has abstraction. Herman du Toit was talking about it and called it post-Cubism.

Cocco taught, lived in Spain for six years and then lived in Mexico for ten. So, he certainly has that influence of the Spanish painters like Picasso and Braque, among others. So, he does have this sort of beautiful Cubist element to it, and yet the figures are structured enough that a lay visitor could catch the narrative quickly. When I spoke to him about the work, he said that he had always varied from his style and submitted representational work to the Church’s competition because of the visual—

Katherine: Tradition.

Laura: Yeah, the visual tradition that he had seen. He decided to take a risk and to submit this piece, and we purchased it. In addition to the purchase—and this speaks to what the competition can do—in addition to the purchase, we commissioned sixteen additional paintings all on the life of Christ. He finished them the first part of this year, and they’re amazing. It’s such a great new collection of the life of Christ told in a new visual way. They’re really beautiful, they’re interesting. There’s this emotion to them that comes both in the color and in the gesture of how he’s doing the forms that is quite lovely and smart, I think.

That ended up being—one of the works ended up being on the cover of the BYU Studies magazine. Then he was able to actually get more commissions. Jack Welch, who is the editor of BYU Studies, commissioned him to illustrate or to do paintings for a book that he’s doing on parables of Christ. It’s really just exploded this opportunity for Jorge. He said I had opened Pandora’s box for him. That’s precisely the kinds of things we want to do in terms of encouraging artists and then having their art help shape and change the visual culture and the visual offerings that we have.

Glen: What is the Church going to do with the paintings that they got?

Laura: There’s an idea for a show, maybe around the same time as the Joseph Paul Vorst exhibition. It’s hard to say. That’s an idea.

The other great thing is that they enter a program called Telescope, which means nothing to the audience. What it means is that graphic designers throughout the Church can pull images from that so that they could be in magazines, they could be manuals, they could be on the website. They can find their way into the larger cultural products that we offer—the larger offerings that we have.

Glen: Yeah. That’s good.

Rita: Well, and I think, Laura, it’s worth ending on the note an extension of what you said. There have been many artists who have been introduced to the Church, like Jorge and several—Walter Rane comes to mind—through the International Art Competition. It’s a wonderful way of seeing artists’ work and getting them into general Church usage that we might not otherwise have. So, my commendation to the Church for continuing this and to help us see some of these artists out there that we might not otherwise become acquainted with.

Mount of Transfiguration
“Mount of Transfiguration” by Rob Adamson. Courtesy Church History Museum.

Katherine: Well, and that’s one of the wonderful things about this show—is the patronage that comes out of it, I think. And then also that those images can start kind of shaping—I mean, they do. When I think about Jesus Christ and I think about—when I’m reading in the New Testament. I actually had this experience—just after I saw the show, I was reading about Jesus Christ and the Mount of Transfiguration, and I—Oh, I can’t remember who the artist is. I think it’s Rob Adamson. He did a work in the show that was of the Mount of Transfiguration, and that image came to mind when I was doing that scripture study.

I think images are powerful, and I appreciate that that’s something that that comes out of the show—that it gives you some new references in your mind when you’re in Sunday School talking about something or doing your scripture study.

Glen: I think that imagery is a vocabulary, and when you have people who are taking the known vocabulary in unknown directions, it expands what everybody uses to describe and sense and feel.

Katherine: Well, thank you so much for joining us. Were there any last thoughts? I know that you have another art competition coming up that you’re already planning. The theme, I believe, is “Mediations on Belief.”

Laura: Yeah. The next art competition—the 11th International Art Competition—will open in 2019. We’ll take submissions starting in 2018, probably the later part of 2018. The exhibition will open in time for Conference in 2019—so probably in March—and the theme is “Meditations on Belief.”

Katherine: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate that. It’s very valuable to me personally, and I just really appreciate that process that you guys went through. I know it was kind of labor intensive.

Rita: Well, thank you for having us. ❧

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