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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Finding a niche

By Adam Fifield

French conceptual artist Daniel Buren opened an exhibit titled “On Two Levels with Two Colors” in 1976. It was two empty rooms with bare walls except for vertically striped bands running close to the floor. Buren’s gallery space itself was the artwork, and the stripes were a red-herring. If observers focused on the stripes, they were missing the point. Buren wanted art to escape from the frame and even from the gallery itself.

However, local curators aren’t likely to strip their gallery walls and call it art. Besides, it’s been done before.

A relatively recent trend has been to redefine what’s traditionally considered to be gallery space. Because the traditional art gallery can be elitist and sometimes inaccessible, alternative venues are becoming more enticing to Salt Lake City’s young and blossoming art scene. Restaurants and cafés are now solid fixtures in the local gallery stroll, blending visual pleasure with flavor. The result is that local artists have more places to hang their work than ever before and there are plenty of hip places to hang out.

But for Caffe Niche, it’s not just a matter of taste. It’s also a matter of style.

The Caffe is an extension of the neighboring hair salon, Dexterity, which has a reputation for metro cuts and styles, as well as a love for experimentation — they offer free experimental hair styling Tuesday mornings for interested participants.

Artwork is an appropriate backdrop for a salon because the act of cutting, molding and caring for hair is a combined effort of the stylist and subject, whereas the fashion itself reflects a broader culture. The combined tastes and stipulations of society create a singular identity for the customer, whose hair becomes a walking piece of art — a text which reflects and adds to the cumulative, cultural signifiers.

It’s appropriate, then, that the owners of Caffe Niche and Dexterity have a more inclusive philosophy on what qualifies as art. Their current exhibit includes oil paintings, as well as clothing, apparel and jewelry, doubling as art and artifice: something to cover and display at the same time. Of course, the fact that they offer massages at the salon only heightens the artistic experience.

The appreciating experience is both aesthetically pleasing and utilitarian.

The exhibit features artwork depicting Mayan rituals and village life, but the most effective aspect is the combined effect of the bright colors on the ambience of the café and salon. Warm hues and eye-catching oils combine to excite the surrounding surfaces of walls, furniture, clothing and skin.

An emphasis on surface and texture is not shallow in Caffe Niche’s exhibit. Like a haircut, the dresses and paintings reflect cultural symbols and universal ideals. One painting, “A Venta Atitlan” by Antonio Coché Mendoza, depicts a woman with her back turned, dressed in a colorful Mayan dress and two long braids cascading down her back. On her head she carries a vase of flowers turned perpendicular to her body, which creates a feeling of imbalance in an otherwise perfectly balanced painting. The woman becomes a symbol of the ideal of beauty, suggesting that there is an inherent unnaturalness to artifice.

Another painting, “Mercado Atitlan” by Angelina Quic Ixtamer, plays with the viewer’s perspective. The image is an aerial bird’s-eye view of a Mayan market, but each divided section seems to have its own vantage point. A simple shift of gaze has the effect of creating a new perspective, and it again creates a feeling of imbalance.

The unspecific purpose of the building can throw you off balance at first, unsure of whether to order a latte, set an appointment or just browse the gallery. However, Caffe Niche and Dexterity so effectively blend the gallery ideal into their salon and café that it’s difficult to decide which function steps into the forefront. Instead, accepting the gallery/salon/café as it is can lead to an appreciation for the way art transcends any attempts at classification.

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