Contemporary Reactions: Sometimes, Once Is Never Enough

IMG_5771While in Salt Lake for a work trip, Ami Fatherree—who currently resides in Tacoma, Washington and is originally from Houston, Texas—made her way to UMOCA on a day off after realizing that the museum was right around the corner from her hotel. Good timing, too, because Ami was able to see Grandma’s Cupboard right when it opened and explore the vibrant and thought-provoking works from Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler’s 1989-1995 collaboration, as well as from Ziegler’s solo career.


As Ami first entered the Main Gallery, the pieces that immediately caught her attention were the visually striking jars on either side of the space—the antique glass jars filled with collected air in the eponymous “Grandma’s Cupboard,” and the 173 jars filled with paint to map out D.C.’s many buildings in “Dark On That Whiteness.” Ami continued through to inspect the large-scale, Americana-focused installations, marveling at the thickly drawn, cray pas lines of Ziegler’s National Park Drawings—which were especially impressive to her, as someone who loves to photograph landscapes—before turning the corner to find colorful balloon hats, a heavy-looking blue air compressor tank, and on the wall, large text reading: “HOLD YOUR BREATH.”


“I felt an immediate connection to this piece, since I’m from Texas,” explained Ami. The air tank is imprinted with the names of various locations in Texas (Ziegler’s home state) that are associated with death, such as Alamo and Cherokee County. “When I saw that Huntsville was one of the locations listed on the air tank, I immediately made the association: We have a particularly high rate of death penalties in Texas, and it’s something that I’ve spoken about and fought against.”



From Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler’s Dianna Drawings (1995).


Ami continued to work her way through the collection before stopping at the Dianna Drawings, which comprises Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler’s doodles and notes on 24 napkins, each tiny piece of soft paper touting plans for future projects and works of art. By 1995, Ericson was too sick to begin any major public projects, so as part of their daily routine, the artists would go to their local diner in Tyler Hill, Pennsylvania—Dianna’s Place—to sketch and plan new endeavors.


“Even talking about the piece, I feel emotional. It just felt so personal,” said Ami. “I have a very close relationship with loss and suffering, and when I approached the piece, I felt overwhelmed with the emotion of Mel’s grief. Reading that [Kate Ericson] had passed on, and realizing that these were probably sketches and ideas of work that they never actually got to accomplish—I’m not even sure if that’s accurate, but that’s what I felt—there’s something so raw and personal there that truly spoke to me.”


Ziegler discusses "To Carry a Big Stick." Photo by Ami Fatherree.

Mel Ziegler discusses “To Carry a Big Stick.” Photo by Ami Fatherree.


After having such a remarkable and poignant experience with the works in Grandma’s Cupboard, Ami made sure to come back the next evening for the official opening reception and was able to catch Ziegler as he led a widely attended walkthrough of Grandma’s Cupboard. “When [Ziegler] was talking about ‘Hold Your Breath,’ he caught me smirking at a comment about Huntsville that no one else would understand, because why would someone in Utah understand a joke about Texas?” grinned Ami. After meeting the artist, and then surveying and experiencing each of the works for the second time—because sometimes, once is never enough—Ami left the museum feeling lighter than air.


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