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“[con]text”: The art of language from stone reliefs to Plexiglas

John Cage (American, 1912–1992) and Calvin Sumsion, Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel, Plexigram VI, 1969. Screenprint on acrylic panels with wooden base. Purchased with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, Associated Students of the University of Utah, and the Charles E. Merrill Trust.

Jan. 12, 2015 – “[con]text,” a new exhibition on view at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts mines its richly varied permanent collection to explore the many ways in which visual artists have harnessed language to communicate, relate, entice, advocate and illuminate.

Highlighting more than 50 objects from virtually every artistic medium and time period, from local artists to artists of national and international renown, the exhibition leverages the UMFA’s own collection, a vast gathering of more than 20,000 objects unlike any other in the region. Visitors will see many artworks that have not been on view for some time.

“Curators often start with a specific narrative goal and borrow pieces from other museums to support that story. But with ‘[con]text,’ we ‘listened’ to the UMFA’s collection to discover the story itwas trying to tell,” said Whitney Tassie, UMFA’s curator of modern and contemporary art. “‘[con]text’ incorporates the thousands of years and hundreds of cultures represented by these objects into a multi-voiced tale of how language’s constant evolution leads to the creation, loss and re-creation of meaning.”

Three UMFA staffers co-curated the exhibition — Annie Burbidge Ream, assistant curator of education for public school programs and statewide outreach, Luke Kelly, associate curator of antiquities and Tassie.

“We want visitors to take away the idea that language is not transparent or fixed but fluid and ever-changing,” said Burbidge Ream. “Artists who use text in art are playing off of this dynamism. Words, often seen as silent, stagnant forms or symbols of truth, are actually tangible entities that, like any other medium, can be manipulated.”

Related Programming 

Third Saturday for Families: Word Art
Saturday, Feb. 21
1 – 4 p.m.
Free admission
“[con]text”explores text in art through objects from the UMFA’s permanent collection. Create your own visual and written art using old book pages as your inspiration.