Of the Siren and the Sky:
and all that which is at the edges of whatever might be
At the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA), Salt Lake City
(December 7, 2012 through February 23, 2013)
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From the Introductory Wall Text:
This is the tale of a changing man. His name is Siren Bliss. In the past he called himself Sky Jones and Michael Whipple. He also goes by Joseph Banker, Richard S. Dickens, Art Carter, and Mr. Zero.
This is the story of a restless spirit who has worked in Utah, California, Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Thailand, and Mexico. He has lived in mansions. He has lived in his car. He is itinerant. Iterative. Evasive.
This is the legend of a manifestor. He has made more than eighty thousand artworks, which he has traded by the trailor-load. He has written a dozen art books. For thirty years, he has run his own museum.
This is the parable of a dreamer, an aesthete, a fugitive, an ascetic, an inventor, and a mystic. By his own account, his life is a performance art statement. By ours, he is an unknowable, shimmering mirage to be approached with caution (as a siren) and wonder (as the sky).
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From UMOCA's press release:
UMOCA Presents Of the Siren and the Sky: Dec. 7, 2012-January 26, 2013 Salt Lake City—Of the Siren and the Sky is the first proper museum exhibition on the career of Siren Bliss, a Salt Lake City native who, by his own account, has made more than 80,000 artworks. Curated by Triple Candie, the presentation includes recreations of the artist’s drawings and sculptures, posters containing statements by him, and photographs and objects related to his life story.
An enigma to anyone but his closest associates, Siren Bliss has eschewed all involvement with the mainstream contemporary art world. In fact, his career choices could be viewed as a satirization of the art system and its star-making machinery. Following a brief collaboration with the artist Paul McCarthy in the late 1960s and a decade in Los Angeles, Bliss became a nomadic mystic who has operated under multiple identities, traded his art on the barter system, and operated his own itinerant museum. By 1997, his work was in more corporate collections than any other artist. The Security and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) estimated the value of this work in excess of $250 million.
“In a world where expertise and talent can be a poker-faced mystery, to check out can lead to something greater, such as a parallel universe,” said Aaron Moulton, senior curator at UMOCA. “Bliss brings us to a level of personal mythology that is an arcane Wagnerian epic cloaked in a familiar language. This cross-section of an otherwise unknown figure helps champion the quest for a new obscurity.”
This exhibition provides a glimpse of an epic career, focusing primarily on work made by the artist during stints in Salt Lake City by addressing a series of 750 sculptures he made, under the nom de guerre Sky Jones, with the homeless in 1992-93 as part of a recycling project. Also included is a visit to the Bankers Art Museum, which he founded for his work in 1988 and operated under the pseudonyms Joseph Banker, Richard S. Dickens, and Art Carter; as well as thousands of drawings Bliss made in 2003 while operating the BAM Drawing Club. And it collects, for aesthetic delight, some of his more prophetic statements, culled from a 2001 S.E.C. deposition:
“You see by your own scholarly work in this case that that is what I do. I make up the paintings, the names of the paintings, the values, the institution that carries them, the guy that, you know, painted them, the guy he used to be, as well as the three assistants who help out.” – Sky Jones (aka Siren Bliss), S.E.C. deposition, 2001
The opening of Of the Siren and the Sky will occur during UMOCA’s monthly First Friday series on Dec. 7, 8-10 p.m., with a DJ, food, and a cash bar. There will be a Q & A with the curators beginning at 7 p.m.
About Siren Bliss
Siren Bliss was born Michael Whipple in Salt Lake City in 1947. He attended the University of Utah, where he was a key participant in Paul McCarthy’s Upriver Skool—a 1969-70 festival described by one participant as a “a multi-media freak-out that filled the Union Ballroom with music, light, oversized art toys, and dancing craziness. Upon graduation, he, like McCarthy, migrated to Los Angeles, where he furthered his studies in art, became a disciple of Scientology, and later supported himself designing movie posters for Hollywood and painting commissions for celebrities like Mohammed Ali. Whipple went underground in 1984. He changed his name to Sky Jones and lived in seclusion—mostly in Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah—without a permanent address, bank accounts, or credit cards. He survived by bartering, trading tens of thousands of art works for rent, supplies, gemstones, luxury automobiles, and other items. Today, he lives under the name Siren Bliss somewhere in the United States.