A conceptual-art exhibit can make the face of your average viewer whom we'll call Joe pinch into a pantomime of pain; it can produce a deep eye roll and a withering sigh, or even compel Joe to turn around and make a run for it.
Why? Perhaps Joe doesn't understand what he's looking at. Conceptual art isn't immediately self-explanatory or obvious. He might not realize that working to figure out the artist's motive or what the artist is saying is the best part of the conceptual-art puzzle.
With a little patience, concentration and imagination, Joe might find that conceptual art can even be enjoyable and enlightening.
"After the Tree Had Fallen: Recent Works and Collaborations by Alex Caldiero and Frank McEntire" on display at Art Access through Oct. 10 is a conceptual show and would be an excellent introduction for Joe; it is charged with visual wit and thought-provoking imagery.
Generated by two multi-faceted artists, the exhibition deals with the forces of creation and extinction and how the artist's creative process mimics both.
" 'After the Tree Had Fallen' is the first line of one of Alex's poems," McEntire told the Deseret Morning News. "It set the stage for the feelings in the show, exploring things that have appeared and then disappeared, becoming extinct."
It was Caldiero's poem about the extinction of the Watowba language that first sparked McEntire's interest in creating the exhibit.
"After defining the general theme," Caldiero told the Deseret Morning News, "everything else evolved as certain pieces suggested themselves." For example, Caldiero explained that some of his pieces "called out to one created by Frank" and so they (Caldiero and McEntire) put the two works together. ("AlphaTrough Sounding" and "Tzim Tzum for Burroughs" are two examples.)
The exhibit contains 18 pieces, four of which are collaborative. One of the more visually and contextually unique collaborations is "Timex Tabernacle and the Spoken Word." Here our Joe would be asked to sit in a chair and gaze through a long vertical slit in a wall to a rotating Timex watch kiosk brimming with assorted religious idols: Virgin Marys, Buddhas, crucifixes, Salt Lake Temples, menorahs, Native American Indian totems, Hindu goddesses, and many, many more. While this shrine assembled by McEntire slowly rotates, our Joe would hear recorded music and the spoken word by Caldiero. It is mysterious and evocative, and when coupled with the revolving multiple artifacts, Joe would be drawn to the empty spaces in the kiosk where no religious items rest, hopefully understanding that some religions have become extinct, and some have not yet come into existence.
One of Caldiero's individual works, "How I Made Heaven," is simply a dead bird in a painted box. While gazing at this piece, Joe would be grateful that the artist explained it with a short essay tacked to the wall behind the assemblage. The words tell how the artist's son discovered a dead sparrow in the basement, under the heater, and gave it to his father. After reading the essay, Joe would know why the fallen bird is so important to Caldiero.So, "After the Tree Had Fallen" is the perfect exhibit for Joe Viewer visually stimulating, enigmatic without being obscure, and willing to help in the process of making Conceptual art accessible to everyone.
For more on the exhibition "After the Tree Had Fallen," read Ann Poore's review in the Sept. 4 issue of City Weekly and Scott Abbott's review in the October Catalyst. A limited edition catalog of the show is available at Art Access Gallery, 339 W. Pierpont, Ken Sanders Rare Books, and through the artists.