Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City

Utah-84101 Salt Lake City

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press release

The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art presents Grandma’s Cupboard, a solo exhibition of recent works by Mel Ziegler, along with a range of projects from his influential collaboration with Kate Ericson beginning in the 1970s.

Between 1985 and 1995, Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler produced a profound body of conceptual art projects, ranging from socially engaged works and site-specific installations to drawings and mixed media sculptures. UMOCA’s exhibition Grandma’s Cupboard traces the social, political, and aesthetic threads of their collaboration, and explores Ziegler’s individual artistic practice that wittingly illuminates mainstream American contexts.

The exhibition takes its title from Ericson and Ziegler’s work Grandma’s Cupboard (1994–96), an antique wooden cabinet filled with jars of air that the artists collected in and around buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. Their work Where the Water Goes (1987) also traces sites in the D.C. area, but this time from the Potomac River, which runs through the nation’s capital. The nine center jars of the work contain water from each of the nine sinks in the public restrooms of the United States Supreme Court, while the two larger jars on the ends contain water from the Upper and Lower Potomac River respectively.

By framing American institutions through a critical yet humorous lens, Ericson and Ziegler’s work reveal their commitment to the public realm. Providing a platform for conceptual art and social practice outside of the mainstream art world, Ericson and Ziegler’s clever balance between playfulness and activism reimagines arcane aspects of American history, as well as topics of domesticity, monumentality, and economies of production.

After the passing of Kate Ericson in 1995, Mel Ziegler has continued an artistic practice based on the central principles and strategies of their partnership; however his technique has evolved in both form and concept, allowing for a distinct expression of humor, craft, and sensibility in his work. Hold Your Breath (2004) exemplifies Ziegler’s unique trajectory. In this work, a blue compressor filled with air from eight different sites associated with death in Texas sits among a grouping of comical balloon hats. Using air saved in the compressor, the balloons slowly leak the poignant Texas air back into the gallery space, demonstrating both the fragility and fluidity of historical narratives.

By continually working with local iconography, landscape, and culture, Ziegler’s projects persistently encourage alternative understandings of how Americana—as symbol, material, and motif—is represented and experienced throughout regions across the globe.

Mel Ziegler was born in 1956 in Pennsylvania and currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a professor and chair of the Arts Department at Vanderbilt University. Ziegler’s solo exhibitions include Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones at Galerie Perrotin, Paris (2015); An American Conversation at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Nebraska (2013); Stuffed at Secession, Vienna (2003); The National Museum of Art, Osaka (2001) and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (2000).

Kate Ericson, born 1955 in New York, died of brain cancer in 1995. In 2005, Ericson and Ziegler’s prolific collaboration was the subject of the major traveling retrospective America Starts Here, curated by Ian Berry and Bill Arning. Ericson and Ziegler’s collaborative work can be found in the collections of the Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Bronx Museum, New York and the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, among others.

This exhibition is organized in collaboration with Galerie Perrotin, New York with the generous support of George S. & Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; and Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks.