The UMFA Adapts: Current Transitions and New Features


Robert Smithton’s Spiral Jetty turns 50 years old this month. (Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art | © Holt/Smithson Foundation and Dia Art Foundation)


It has been an unsteady several weeks for the arts with Salt Lake County experiencing a stay-at-home order, the closing of non-essential businesses and one of the largest earthquakes we’ve seen in many years. However, the Utah Museum for Fine Arts has recognized the importance of providing their patrons ways to access the arts, even when they can’t open their doors. Instead of canceling many anticipated installations and events outright, they have implemented new technologies, moved many popular exhibitions online and provided opportunities for families to meet with museum resources at home so we all can continue to acknowledge tradition and practice creativity. 


Smithson and ‘Spiral Jetty’: Outside of the Museum

With the closure of the museum comes the cancellation of the fiftieth-anniversary celebration for artist Robert Smithson’s breathtaking earthwork “Spiral Jetty.” Created in 1970, this 15-foot wide spiraling mass of black basalt off of Rozel Point of the Great Salt Lake is famous for the strides it made in drawing attention to ecologic preservation and historical importance. “Spiral Jetty” is Smithson’s lasting impact on the Salt Lake Valley, pushing our community to examine its relationship with erosion, entropy and the environment. Though visitors can’t gather at the museum to engage with Smithson’s work, there are still opportunities to learn and explore

Recently, the Holt/Smithson Foundation has started a “Friday at the Movies” series devoted to the work of Robert Smithson and partner Nancy Holt, who left her own powerful mark on the Utah landscape with her piece “Sun Tunnels.” To further investigate the way the two artists explored our planet, the Foundation is streaming moving images and films on each of their works, starting with Holt’s “Utah Sequences.” This 10-minute silent film explores the environment and artwork from five decades ago in ways never seen before. It was on view for the first time at the UMFA through Aug. 2 in conjunction with events for “Spiral Jetty.” Now patrons can stream it and the next pictures in the series on Fridays between 3-11 p.m.

The Friday films aren’t the only way that the museum is encouraging patrons to engage critically with the work of Holt and Smithson. A community meet-up at the “Spiral Jetty” site is still planned for Oct. 3. Until then, visitors are encouraged to send in their own experiences at the piece in any format —  video, images, poetry etc — and take time to experience the wonder for themselves. There are self-guides and other educational resources available. 


Transitioning To Meet Patrons in Their Homes

A new online portal “UMFA at Home” launched last week on the museum website as a way for patrons to dive deeper than an in-person visit could have provided. This page, as well as the website’s blog, features interviews with museum curators, communication from other members of the staff in education and engagement and, most excitingly, activities to complete at home with the entire family, like coloring pages based on pieces from the museum’s permanent collection. 

One of these activities correlates to the recent Japanese exhibitions: “Seven Masters: 20th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints” and “Beyond the Divide: Merchant, Artist, Samurai in Edo Japan.” They were the subject of the popular Third Saturday for Families event, online for the first time.  Families were encouraged to design their own mini byōbu, or screen, and share them on social media with the hashtag #umfaThirdSaturday. Inspired by those household masterpieces in “Beyond the Divide that depicts stories from daily life and popular books or nature, the online feature gives specific instructions and tools to create your own design.

The early closure of the museum disappointed patrons who had yet to catch these two Japanese exhibitions before their closure, but there is a new way to explore the unseen work of these prolific artists. Pieces from both exhibitions are now featured in an online gallery. Uploaded, high-quality images of the artwork itself and wall text descriptions are on display as they were in the gallery — just as engaging, but much more accessible. 

The UMFA is continuing to promote arts engagement and wellness with an upcoming launch of weekly mindfulness sessions with Charlotte Bell and updates to their online galleries and hands-on activities. For students and teachers, there are virtual tours of the museum and online classroom learning to make isolation more interesting. 

If you are interested in staying up-to-date with the UMFA and its transitions, you can follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or sign up to receive their weekly newsletter. 


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