Making the invisible visible

Air is many things. From your exhaust pipe to your neighbor’s window—air is kinetic. At once globally circulated and intimately passed between our bodies—air is shared. A source of inner strength and energy to millions—air is power. But everyone’s access to air is not equal.

On view July 16–Dec. 11, 2022, “Air” makes the invisible visible, through contemporary art that explores air from environmental, social justice and cultural perspectives.

Curated by UMFA’s Whitney Tassie, “Air” features recent works by 16 artists from around the globe and the region, including a number of local artists. The exhibition also includes posters by 16 student artists, winners of the 2020 Utah High School Clean Air Marketing Contest, and contributions from community members.

The exhibition was initially inspired by the Wasatch Front’s poor air quality, a major public health concern for decades. The Salt Lake City/Provo/Orem area ranked No. 8 out of 228 metropolitan areas for the worst ozone pollution, according to the 2021 State of the Air report from the American Lung Association, effectively receiving an F grade. The same report finds that more than 40% of Americans—more than 135 million people—live in places with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

While air quality concerns were the catalyst, like air itself, “Air” has morphed and shapeshifted to encompass much more. It adds to the legacy of “Air Art,” a 1968 exhibition curated by Willoughby Sharp that examined the aesthetic possibilities of air amidst an art world challenging the prominence of objects.

Today, artists are harnessing air as a material and subject matter to unpack urgent issues like climate change, police brutality (most notably, the use of Eric Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe” used in the Black Lives Matter movement), housing rights, historical trauma and environmental racism. By using the kinetic power of air, revealing the global impacts of air pollution and valuing the significance of the breath, their artworks make air—and its interconnected systems—visible.

The exhibition is comprised of work by artists, poets, engineers and designers including the following:

  • Kim Abeles
  • Ai Weiwei
  • Naomi Bebo
  • Elisabeth Bunker
  • Virginia Catherall
  • Nicholas Galanin
  • Graviky Labs
  • Ed Kosmicki
  • Merritt Johnson
  • Julianknxx
  • Michael Rakowitz
  • Daan Roosegaarde and Studio Roosegarde
  • Cara Romero
  • Diego Romero
  • Anna Tsouhlarakis
  • Will Wilson
  • Local community members

Located in the museum’s special exhibition galleries, “Air” will guide you through innovation, ceremony, power, life, justice and more, with pieces made from smog, particulate matter, gas masks and oxygen tanks, as well as works of photography, lithography, fiber art and video.

And, like air, this exhibition is intended to enter and move through you, past gallery walls and exit signs, and into your everyday conversations, classrooms and voting booths.