Salt Lake City’s Iowa Street is a diminutive thoroughfare, existing only between 300 South and 200 South. It’s less a street than a block-long one-way alley, tightly arrayed with middle-class houses. Wood planks, brick, peeling paint, yard plots maybe big enough to lie down in, a few gravel parking spots, the odd tree. Halfway along Iowa on the east side of the street is the brick edifice of Tim and Camille Erickson’s house, site of Art On Iowa, a gallery concept devised to make viewing art more of a personal, communal act, than a sterile and pretentious one.
I first encountered Tim and Camille in New York, where Tim and I both were in a Masters writing program. We all ended up in Salt Lake City by coincidence — them mostly because it’s their hometown and me for work. When Tim braved Facebook (for the first time) to announce Art on Iowa, I was immediately interested. Salt Lake City is a cultural dead zone compared to Manhattan, or even to my last town of residence, Boulder, Colorado. Every creative spark here offers promise of a new age of enlightenment. Also, I have a friend who ran house concerts in Denver and Boulder under the name Back Forty Presents. Those crowded, super-personal little performances were unique experiences worthy of duplication.
On the night of the event, from my stance beneath the house’s green-columned portico, I could see through the glass outer door into the clean, well-lighted interior. Looking past a little handwritten note Scotch Taped to the door (“Doorbell broken. Please knock.”) around 9 p.m., a well-dressed, hipper-than-usual crowd was visible. Thirty or so people mingled and maneuvered, clumping together in conversation or else wandering the peripheries of the rooms to examine the dozen or so framed photographs by the artist Michelle Buhler.
Tim and Camille patrolled the party conversing with the guests, some of whom they’d known since childhood, others who were complete strangers. Four or five young children (presumably belonging to the guests) played raucously around the adults’ knees. Far from being upset, Tim expressed joy at their presence. It was all part of his vision for the show. It reminded me of the open-house days at the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, where whole families would come and drink, order pizza, and look at local artists’ works in an old-school block party atmosphere.
Tim’s attire was a kind of professorial chic — a broad, patterned tie beneath a dark cardigan, thick-framed retro specs, and blond, pointed goatee. I asked him about the motivation behind Art on Iowa. “You know, we came from NYC, from that shark tank, where everyone preens and postures at these kinds of openings, everyone sizes each other up,” he said. “Part of our inspiration for this was to provide a place where serious art could be shown, but that avoids that sort of fake-o stuffiness.”
Boxes of wine and a bucket of beer on ice sat next to a collections jar in the kitchen. In the den, the artist discussed photographs (“They’re inspired by the movie Apocalypse Now”), which featured colored blooms of smoke rising up out of assorted natural landscapes. The images were brightly lit, the scenes conspicuously lacking a human element. Their starkness implied a trauma somewhere out of the picture. “I specifically am drawn to smoke signals in the context of war,” Buhler’s artist statement begins. “I am interested in the phenomenon that the occurrence of something beautiful is contingent on an opposite or less-attractive happening at or around the same time.”
“Where’s a red marker?” cried Tim after one guest expressed his desire to make a purchase. “We need to put a red dot next to the piece to show that it’s been sold!” Camille, who studied painting in college, stood nearby in a simple black dress and a brightly patterned scarf to hold back her fine blond hair, a cup of wine in hand. The proliferation of beer bottles and plastic wine cups, while not worthy of note at art openings elsewhere in America, was a bit outside the norm for Salt Lake City — a fact that seemed to make the guests appreciate their drinks all the more.
In New York, Tim co-directed a poetry series called Speakeasy. Would he be interested in bringing readings to the Art On Iowa setting? I asked. “Readings are so fraught with stuffiness, and so often sheer boredom, that they are very difficult to pull off.” He replied, adding, “if we can come up with some formula to get poets heard (in a world where we poor poets… are completely ignored unless we’re playing guitar), that would absolutely be a part of Art on Iowa’s mission.” Music, too, is on the docket, as long as the noise doesn’t reach an un-neighborly level.
The goal with Art On Iowa is eventually to have a show on the third Friday of every month, though at the moment every other month will have to suffice. Originally, the couple hoped to get several houses on the tiny street to open their walls to art, to create an Art On Iowa gallery stroll, of sorts, but Friday’s opening was the first, and Tim seemed unsure whether his neighbors would follow through. “If we don’t get anyone else,” he said, “we’re still excited to keep it going at our place.”
For those interested in showing their work at Art On Iowa, email the Ericksons at email@example.com, along with JPEGs of three representative pieces of work. And for those who want to attend future shows, send an email saying as much to the same address, and you’ll be added to the mailing list.