Experiential. That’s the new buzzword in art galleries and exhibition spaces. It has various degrees of interpretation—from Meow Wolf in Santa Fe to the pumpkin environment of Yayoi Kasuma, but the basic idea is the same: Instead of approaching art as something to look at, art is conceived as something to interact with. Actually, to be in.
Book it, Diane : A Taschen Library
Besides Modern West’s gallery, the space will also feature a Taschen Library, one of only a handful in the United States. The high-quality art, design, architecture and photography books from this publisher are nearly works of art in themselves. Stewart has plans to bring in Taschen authors and feature discussion groups about various topics.
The traditional white-walled gallery will probably never go away, but as usual in Salt Lake City, the art dealer and connoisseur Diane Stewart is the first one to breach the veil.
“Our lease was up. It was time to move,” she says. Impressively, in a town that only dips its toe in visual arts, her downtown Modern West Gallery needed to expand. Currently, it occupies 4,000 square feet; the new space has 10,000 square feet.
As of April 6, Modern West will be housed in an old brick engineering building on 700 West. It’s on the historic register and when I visited, the industrial windows and brick walls were not quite a work in progress that I could recognize. But Stewart has it all in her head. She is not just moving her gallery; she’s reconceiving it. “Expanded boundaries means expanded imagination,” she says, and she has traveled to Art Basel, Seattle Art Show, Palm Springs Art Fair and Meow Wolf to feed her vision.
“These are the moveable walls,” she says, indicating a pile of rectangles on the floor. She will be able to essentially rebuild the gallery according to the exhibit. The new space will have a courtyard for events and placing sculpture, and has room for showing the work of more installation artists and video artists. “We’re expanding the ways we’re showing art,” says Stewart. “We want our shows to be more thematically oriented. And we want to expand our mission to be more inclusive of patrons, collectors and artists. A lot of our collectors don’t live in the state.”
Stewart sees Modern West as embracing and representing a larger idea of the American West—Western in the broadest, cultural, historical sense. And she has the further ambition for a gallery that will not just show artwork, but nurture artists. “I want it to be a gathering space for artists and collectors. I want to create a community,” she says. “Economic development follows creative, not the other way around.”
Modern WestFine Art, 412 S. 700 West, SLC, 801-355-3383
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