A new exhibition at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah makes the invisible visible, with contemporary art that explores air from environmental, social justice, and cultural perspectives.
Curated by UMFA’s Whitney Tassie, Air features recent works by sixteen artists, poets, engineers, and designers from around the globe and the region—Kim Abeles, Ai Weiwei, Naomi Bebo, Elisabeth Bunker, Virginia Catherall, Nicholas Galanin, Graviky Labs, Merritt Johnson, Julianknxx, Ed Kosmicki, Michael Rakowitz, Daan Roosegaarde and Studio Roosegarde, Cara Romero, Diego Romero, Anna Tsouhlarakis, and Will Wilson. Three artists—Bunker, Catherall, and Kosmicki—are Utah-based, and their works address Salt Lake City’s unique relationship with air.
The exhibition also includes posters by sixteen student artists who won the 2020 Utah High School Clean Air Marketing Contest and contributions from community members. Gallery interactives include a space for breathing meditation, a postcard station encouraging outreach to legislators, an infographic demonstrating inequities in air pollution exposure in Salt Lake County, and a digital map where visitors can check the air quality of their neighborhoods in real time.
Initially inspired by the Wasatch Front’s poor air quality, Air—like air itself—has morphed and shapeshifted to encompass much more. It adds to the legacy of 1968’s Air Art, an exhibition curated by Willoughby Sharp that examined the aesthetic possibilities of air amidst an art world challenging the prominence of objects.
Today, artists are harnessing air as a material and subject matter to unpack urgent issues like climate change, police brutality (most notably, the use of Eric Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe” embraced by the Black Lives Matter movement), housing rights, historical trauma, and environmental racism. Tassie says, “This exhibition illuminates how air connects us to each other and the planet. While the invisible resource is often taken for granted, the artists in the exhibition make visible the many, complex facets of air. With a focus on justice, their works expose how we impact air, how we rely on it, and how we share it.”
Cara Romero, a photographer from the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, has said that Evolvers (above) expresses Indigenous peoples’ inseparability from the land and, while encouraging human embrace of renewables, asks viewers to think hard about the detrimental impacts, past and future, of building energy infrastructure on and near Native lands.
The UMFA has acquired eleven works from the exhibition for the modern and contemporary collection, including Romero’s Evolvers as well as works by Abeles, Ai, Galanin, Johnson, Diego Romero, Roosegaarde, and Wilson.
As part of the exhibition planning process, the UMFA assessed its own impact on air pollution and committed to producing the exhibition in a way that would limit waste and emissions. Strategies include, but are not limited to, replacing vinyl exhibition signage with Air-Ink (made of PM 2.5 and PM 10 particulate matter), avoiding the use of paper and vinyl in marketing, reusing existing pedestals for artwork display, using LED lighting in the galleries, and minimizing shipping by air.
This exhibition’s presenting sponsors are The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the ESRR Impact Endowment. For more information about Air, visit umfa.utah.edu/air.
Public Opening + Third Saturday for Families: Clean Air Posters
Saturday, July 16 | FREE admission all day
Museum hours: 10 am–5 pm
Third Saturday for Families: Clean Air Posters drop-in art making: 1–4 pm
Presented in partnership with Utah High School Clean Air Marketing Contest’s Edwin Stafford
Will Wilson Artist Talk
Wednesday, October 5 | 6:30–8 pm | FREE
PLANNING A VISIT