Deep in the basement of Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, past the theater featuring posters of a Brigham Young movie you’ve never seen, one finds the lair of the quirky, secret little* lair known as L. Tom Perry Special Collections. This collection is like an iceberg, where the 10% above water is the smallish public room that has a few chairs, some display cases, and a desk, guarding the portal to ancient manuscripts deep within the collection’s stacks that form the majority of the area.
An Eye for Curating the Quirky
It’s basically the hipster-est of all the entities and institutions on campus, and true to hipster form, it’s been quietly cool long before anyone else decided to be. Put another way, if The Creamery on 9th is mainstream B.Y.Zoo, Then HBLSC is definitely the bearded, plaid-clad can of PBR at BYU—Sorry Nelka Theater, it was a close call. They even have their own faux movie trailer, so meta! Check it out:
Hipster Cred that Defies Cosmo
While housed at the home of the Cougars, this underground lair is too cool for mainstream cats, and has a mascot of a different kind. It’s officially called the L. Tom Perry Special Collections’ Grigor the Griffin. And from the collection’s very active Facebook page, it has this to say about it: “According to mythology, griffins are known for guarding rare treasures and priceless possessions. Come see our Griffin in person in the Special Collections on the 1st floor of The Harold B. Lee Library.”
So, I guess you can actually see a griffin in person. I told you it was hipster.
All of which is to say that this revered collections organization, (secret combination?) also keeps a keen eye for creative statements of interest to the Mormon experience that might be preserved, or at the very least, displayed for a period of time. Yes, I’m talking about exhibits. It’s very au courant.
A Pioneer of Mormon Pop Art
Last year, the Special Collections featured a unique and unusual exhibit even for the Griffin, which was a collection of artist Matt Page’s playful pop art that often enmeshes material culture of that niche bracket between Gen X and Millennial childhoods with religious iconography and other Mormon references, cultural and historical.
From religious icons of Mormon history receiving their own “prayer candles” like Catholic saints to resurrecting nostalgic material culture phenomenon from the 80s and 90s like Garbage Pail Kids, the works are as eclectic as they are surprising. The Garbage Pail Kids cards even recreate inside jokes of Mormon culture to give birth to a whole new generation of characters and likewise appeal to a whole new generation of collectors. Or maybe it’s just those of us who remember Garbage Pail Kids in the first place. Tres Niche.
Page, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a devotee to all things one may find at a ComicCon, has an impressive collection of art that might catch viewers off guard at first, but that ultimately displays a playfully irreverent affection for the modern Mormon experience.
It’s more than that, too. Page’s art is transformative and witty. It takes cultural maxims and mores and turns them on their head in a way that challenges the viewer with their own preconceived notions of what’s sacred, what’s revered, and what beholding either really means.
It’s no wonder why the HBLL would be interested in showcasing Page’s work. If not the only one artistically playing in these themes, he is undoubtedly a stand out.
‘The Factory,’ but for Revivalist Zombies
At risk of being too presumptive, it may be said that Matt Page is a sort of Andy Warhol of Mormonism, channeling the Campbell Soup riffs and pop art portraiture Warhol made famous and translating that approach, for all its silliness and unsuspecting depth in a distinctly Mormon expression. A Joseph Smith zombie, for instance.
Of course, not everyone appreciates Page’s approach. When his exhibit was on display at the HBLL the detractors came out of the woodwork and found their way to social media, criticizing not only the art of the exhibition, but the artist as well. Leading Page to post himself on his Facebook:
“Cool that the BYU library posted about the show today. Not so cool that the only comment is someone saying they don’t approve of the decision to show anti-Mormon or church critical art. But crazy because I honestly don’t understand how it could be seen as that.”
Good Art Never Pleases Everyone
Not a stranger to detractors and critics all seemingly devoted to the service of protecting the church from the evils of…*checks notes…a Lord of the Rings CTR ring (the horror!!), Page sees a silver lining. “Oh well” his post continued. “I guess people still getting pissy about my art adds a level of credibility to it.”
Page’s art runs the gamut both in style and in subject matter. Much of his work isn’t religious in nature, and it’s not always centered around church culture. Nor is all of it tongue-in-cheek, silly or satirical. That is to say, a casual perusal on the artist’s website is a journey of unexpected surprises, curious delights and moments where you may find yourself unexpectedly but genuinely moved.
But if what you’re looking for is more of the Star Wars references you grew up loving, blended with biblical stories you grew up hearing, then you’re on the right path. May the Force be with you, and the Holy Spirit be your guide as you explore Page’s art, and as you venture into the depths of one of BYU’s greatest hidden treasures.