Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Art in Utah County

I just got back from a vacation in Utah, and would like to share a couple things pertaining to art and culture that I encountered in Utah County. First, I was quite impressed with the BYU Museum of Art. The temporary Mediterranean Exhibit on the lower level was excellent and the collection of oil paintings on the main floor is surprisingly rich. But I would like to call attention to their main-floor exhibit, Metaphorically Speaking. I found several intriguing pieces there that explored religious concepts through symbolism.

By far my favorite and most touching experience came from exploring and pondering Galen Bell's sculpture, Embrace. Many people will walk right by this without realizing what a powerful exploration of LDS Temple themes stands before them. One can walk into this sculpture. There is a 10-foot-wide ring of gravel in a brick circle with a wood beam rising in the center from a pile of stones, and above this altar-like centerpiece hangs a large iron nail suspended a few inches above the beam. Around the periphery of the circle at about eye level also hang dozens of white pieces of fabric and paper, many having openings and some having written verses from the scriptures, many dealing with the concept of veils. The ring of hanging fragments is interrupted by an opening in the circle at the entrance where one can walk in. Lights above shine toward the veil of hanging fragments, spreading light outside the ring and casting shadows of the fragments on the floor. The museum's web site has some poor photographs of the piece here and on a page of images, where two photos can be viewed by clicking on the fourth, ninth, and fourteenth thumbnails from the top in the left column of thumbnails. Number 14 might be the best view, but none do it justice.

There is more than meets the eye in this exhibit (and much more than met a BYU camera). As I explored the symbolism, my mind recalled Nibley's writings about the significance of the ritual embrace as part of ancient religious concepts pertaining to entry into the presence of God, and also contemplated the rich symbolism of nails, beams, altars, circles, openings in veils, light, so forth. Some dictionary-like definitions and scriptures outside the exhibit also added food for thought. The longer I pondered, the more I like it. But it would be easy to miss.

Rusty Clifton on the Nine Moons blog has an insightful post about the apparent declining use of symbolism in LDS art and architecture. I hope Galen Bell and other inspired artists will help stop that decline.

A second artistic highlight of my trip was an unplanned stop at Thanksgiving Point along I-15 near Lehi. The Museum of Ancient Life is surprisingly good for those interested in fossils and especially dinosaurs (I have seen it before and skipped it this time). What thrilled me this time was the small but amazing exhibit, "Poetic Kinetics," featuring the moving Rube Goldberg-like creations of a father and son team of local artists, local artists, Dennis and Andrew Smith. They specialize in assembling pieces of mechanical junk - gears, chains, wheels, wires, saws, etc. - into kinetic art. The level of complexity and mechanical beauty was almost numbing in some cases. Several of the pieces involve balls that are randomly dispersed among numerous different pathways. My family could not tear themselves away from some of the pieces, wanting to explore the intricate workings and watch for unusual events. One of my favorites, though, was a device that was able to shoot out rings of smoke that traveled in a straight line for 10 to 30 feet, exploiting a recently commercialized aerodynamic effect. Dennis Smith has a Website, SmithSculpture.com, but there is not enough of his "junk" on the site (I did find one kinetic example). Fortunately, several of the pieces I saw can be seen at Andrew Smith's Website, AndrewSmithart.com (which currently redirects you to www.shawnrossiter.com/andrewsmith/andrewsmith.html). I applaud these fine artists for the delightful experience they created for me! And yes, I think much of it was cleverly symbolic, though sometimes too clever for me.

My final artistic/cultural surprise came when we dropped in to the Asuka Japanese restaurant in Provo, 2244 North University Parkway by Olive Garden and Cafe Rio. The sushi at Asuka was breathtaking! I've had sushi in several places around the country and a few times during a trip to Japan, but this was actually the best I can remember having. With six of us present (my four kids, my oldest son's wife, and me - my wife was at another event), we ordered the family boat of sushi (normally for 4 people), plus appetizers of edamame (soy beans in the pod), seaweed salad, miso soup, and an extra sushi plate. We were astounded. Each dish was surprisingly good, and for the first time I could understand why the art of making good sushi rice is a treasured skill. The fish was the most delicious I can remember tasting. All of my kids said that it was among the best meals of their lives - I'm not kidding. Now maybe this was a fluke and maybe we were unusually hungry, but I was surprised to fine such wonderful sushi out in the dessert of Utah. With tax and tip, it came to $149, but we could have bought less and still been happy. We left full and enchanted by the cultural experience.

Whether its temple symbolism, whimsical kinetic art, or tasty chunks of raw fish, I was pleased to see that art is alive, well, and very fresh in Utah County.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sushi is the ultimate in art. But I thought Mormons weren't allowed to eat it.

Mormanity said...

Eating it is OK - only smoking it is forbidden.

Anonymous said...

Dude. Like really. I mean really. Do me a favour as a fellow human being breathing the same air: Think very hard if the whole Joseph Smith business makes sense. And before you play the faith card just remember that its a weak play even in the arguement for God's existence, so a nineteenth century man's revelation about Jesus' 2nd coming in America.... Dude. Really.

Anonymous said...

Millions of us know he's a prophet. I'm sorry for your lack of hope and understanding in this life.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is hard to think that the whole business with Joseph Smith is anymore outrageous than believing in some of the tales of the Bible. Now don't get me wrong, its tradition for Christians to believe it... but I'm not going to lie, some of the stuff it talks about it just as crazy as Josephs story, it just so happens that his story hits closer to home for most of us...
... that is my thoughts...