What started as “HOLY MOLY!” finished as “reli ? QUERIES.” Perhaps the earlier exhibition concept—playful, hokey, and humorous—will find a venue as a product of warmer revelry than one of the longest, gray-cast winter seasons I’ve encountered that just passed—less conducive to conjuring works of “sprightly dance” (Daffodils, William Wordsworth, 1804 http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Poetry/WordsworthDaffodils.htm
|rel·i·quar·ies||■||containers in which sacred objects are kept.|
|quer·ies||■||inquiries about obscure or challenging issues.|
|rel·i·quer·ies||■||containers for obscure or challenging inquiries.|
Discarded religious objects become “stand-ins” for social values in my work. These juxtapositions and configurations exploit the imagery of world religions as commentary on contemporary issues, often with subtle humor. Although my assemblages and other works are personal explorations of societal issues and spirituality, they nonetheless challenge a viewer’s own beliefs and assumptions. In the process, they, too, become participants in creative practice.
“reli ▪ QUERIES,” my exhibition at Nox Contemporary in Salt Lake City, opening June 15th through August 6th, is a collection of recent works based on the idea of reliquaries as containers in which sacred, as well as secular, objects are kept.
This cross-cultural notion of providing a dedicated space for placing the most venerated items of a people has been one of my long-term fascinations. I find the making of reliquaries, a term I’m using in a general sense, an interesting aspect of human behavior and catalyst for spiritual imagination.
Our impulse to preserve—even revere—something precious, antique, or rare by capturing and containing it crosses many cultures, although the term is derived from mid-1600s Medieval Latin, reliquiarium. It is not the sole domain of religion, either. Consider China cabinets in many western homes in which owners place family heirlooms and some of the family’s most precious objects, trophy cases that line high school hallways filled with gleaming awards collected over decades, government buildings that house statues and memorabilia of founders of nations, and museums that collect and display natural history specimens or the creative products of cultures’ most agile minds through the centuries.
reli ▪ QUERIES explores the questions behind that impulse to hold something so sacred or venerable that people try to capture and contain its power, whether in a glass box or glass building. That’s the ‘query’ part of this body of work, the political, the moral, the numinous.
15 Bytes, Utah’s premier arts e-zine, released their June 2011 issue in the early hours of June 3rd. In it was an exhibition preview of “reli ▪ QUERIES” by Geoff Wichert. It can be found here: http://artistsofutah.org/15bytes/11june/page3.html and below. 15 Bytes also published a few images of works in the exhibition.
Exhibition Preview: Salt Lake
Frank McEntire at Nox Contemporary
by Geoff Wichert
Frank McEntire is the rare courageous artist for whose aesthetic mill everything is grist. He overlooks nothing, even the clouds of language, abstract words, that trail his artwork until they eventually burn off under the heat of gallery lights. Left behind are exquisite objects originally encountered as discards. McEntire transforms this raw material, its former meaning dissipated like vapor, into talismans: reinvigorated vessels filled by, and with, his faith. And his faith is uncompromising, encompassing the recognition that we humans spend too much time living by symbols, arguing over symbols, fighting on what we think is behalf of symbols, and not nearly enough time in touch with the transcendental facts these symbols set out to represent.
reliQueries, the title of his upcoming show at Nox Contemporary, is an example of Frank McEntire’s hunger to refashion whatever he finds, not just lending it a new purpose, but refurbishing it, using his skill to bring out the craftsmanship that went into its original construction. Reliquaries are sturdy, albeit precious vessels that derive a transient value from the rich materials and skill employed in their making, but acquire their lasting value from their originally mundane, carnal contents: a fragment of skeleton, a scrap of textile, something left behind. In his assemblages, McEntire seeks to find and set forth the limit of exchange between sacred value and secular price. In an overwhelmingly materialistic age, when the street corner preacher is as likely as a broker to advocate material goals, when investment and accumulation are considered equivalent to prayer, Frank McEntire challenges us to distinguish price from value.
To do this requires courage because no object, least of all one of veneration, ever entirely loses its power over holder and beholder alike. In an age of insecurity, no one is allowed to disrespect anything that someone, somewhere, once respected. We decline to throw out the bath for fear of accidentally discarding the baby, and so our world of discourse has gradually filled up with bathwater. Abraham Lincoln said, “As our situation is new, so we must think anew and act anew, and then we shall save our nation.” But it often seems we cannot do anything anew, so crowded is our public space with mental furniture we cannot use, but lack the clear judgment and decisiveness to move aside and stride past.
The service that McEntire performs is to burn away the excesses of piousness, especially where they cross the line into material expression that lend themselves to misunderstanding, that tend to stick around beyond their useful life, in order to let the real experience emerge. His works function on two levels simultaneously, at once representing objects on which reverence can be focused, and at the same time calling the attention of the reverent to the transfer. “Be aware that this memento is not the experience it memorializes, any more than a photograph of a loved one is what one loves.” At their best, the mechanism by which Frank McEntire’s art accomplishes this double duty, connects this double awareness, is laughter.
reli*QUERIES, an exhibition of new work by Frank McEntire opens at Nox Contemporary in Salt Lake on June 17. A reception for a second installation of the exhibit will happen Friday, July 15. Through August 6.
15 Bytes also published an article I wrote about Ursula Brodhauf, who died in May 2011. The e-zione’s chief editor, Shawn Rossiter, once told me that I’ve become somewhat of a eulogist, since many of the artists I’ve written about in the past are now passing on. Those older pieces get dusted off, updated a bit, and find their way into 15 Bytes on occasion. Read this piece at, http://artistsofutah.org/15bytes/11june/page5.html