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Professor Christopher Lynn Curates Project Highlighting BYU Alum in LA Art Show

The project featured the works of husband-and-wife artists Amanda Smith and Casey Jex Smith, a BYU alum

This February, BYU art professor Christopher Lynn spent spring break in Los Angeles — that is, he curated a project for SPRING/BREAK, an annual art show for independent curators.

After Lynn and BYU art alum Casey Jex Smith got talking at a benefit auction, they decided to submit a proposal to SPRING/BREAK for a two-artist exhibition featuring works by Smith and his wife, Amanda. This year’s theme for the show — “In Excess” — fit perfectly with the Smiths’ art style, which Lynn describes as “fantastical and detail-oriented, to the point of obsessive.”

SPRING/BREAK began in New York City in 2012 and expanded to Los Angeles last year. At first, Lynn wasn’t sure whether they could find a platform in the art show, which almost exclusively features artists based in those cities.

“We thought it may be a long shot to have a Utah curator and Utah artists get accepted,” said Lynn. “But Casey and Amanda are peerless artists and I wanted more people to see their work.” Their proposal was accepted, and the team found themselves with only two weeks before the fair in Los Angeles to prepare the exhibition. When Lynn visited the Smith home to select works for the exhibition, an unexpected art project caught his eye.

“I noticed a well-worn cardboard box in the corner, teeming with craft foam that had been drawn on and cut out into the shapes of imaginative characters,” said Lynn. “For years Amanda and Casey would take drawing requests from their children. They usually wanted odd hybrids of their favorite TV show characters — the head of Ms. Frizzle from ‘The Magic School Bus’ on a Pokémon body, Spider-Man with his spider wife and spider children, and other variations. As their children grew older, they started making their own foam characters. It became a collaborative family artwork.”

Lynn ended up taking the entire box of foam figures with him to Los Angeles to install as part of the exhibition. “It became a whole family affair,” he said. The art show was a first for Lynn, whose experience as a curator and director has mostly been in the nonprofit art sector. The exhibition was a success, and Lynn had the opportunity to show the Los Angeles art world a taste of what Utah artists have to offer.

“I met so many excited and earnest curators, organizers, collectors and artists who were a bit surprised to find out that we had such talent in Utah,” he said. “One well-known collector who owns a private museum in West Palm Beach, Florida gladly snatched up one of Casey’s large drawings to add to her collection.”

And the Smith family’s cast of hybrid characters — known as “Foam Babies” — was a huge hit among the art show’s youngest visitors.

“We let toddlers play with the ‘Foam Babies’ and they loved it,” said Lynn. “One kid even spent a half hour finding all the Spider-Man variations and lining them up on the floor.”

Lynn looks forward to sharing what he learned from the art fair experience with students in the art program. “Many of our students are operating at or beyond the level of art I saw in the fair, but lack insight into how to apply to or work within an art fair structure,” he said. “I hope to return next year — COVID-19 restrictions allowing — and bring students with me so they can participate firsthand.”