Art Professional Spotlight | Visual Arts

The Writing on the Wall: The Salt Lake Art Center’s Jay Heuman

Jay Heuman

If you’ve been to see the Robert Motherwell: Te Quiero exhibit at the Salt Lake Art Center, you’ll have noticed the ubiquitous writing on the wall – quotes from the artist, historical perspectives and cultural commentary. The man responsible for the writing is Jay Heuman |0|, who just celebrated his first year as the Center’s Curator of Education. Heuman was born and raised in Toronto, where he also attended University, graduating with a BA in Visual Arts (Art History) and MA in Art History from York University. His graduate research focused on postwar American Modernist abstraction and the subsequent splintering of art trends into the “postmodern” and thus he comes well prepared for his involvement in the Motherwell exhibition.

Heuman’s particular interest during his studies was in the work of Barnett Newman, one of Motherwell’s contemporaries in the New York School. Heuman’s interest in Newmman began when one of his professors mentioned, rather off-handedly, Newman’s allusion to the Hebrew Bible and mystical tradition of the Kabbalah. “ This bewildered me,” says Heuman, “as I’d previously taken Newman’s artwork as a con-man attempt to market art babble. This was misinformed dismissal, influenced by Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word (1975) which is a rant by a disgruntled cynic, long-ago transformed into a caricature of itself. This triggered five years of intense research during which I found Newman’s intentions had been misinterpreted and his references mistranslated. With my characteristic stubbornness, twelve years of Hebrew school, and methodical collection and reading of every word in print by or about Newman, I discovered a few missing links.”

Heuman has brought his enthusiastic scholarly interests, his detailed methodology and his desire to dispel misconceptions with him to Utah. He came west to the Beehive State via Nebraska, where he worked for three years as the Visitor & Volunteer Services Coordinator at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. In August 2003, he took a job as the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art’s Assistant Curator of Programs & Exhibitions and remained in the position until accepting the position at the Art Center in January of last year.

He says that initially the relocation to Utah seemed a “gargantuan sacrifice.” “But my partner and I discovered Utah’s positive qualities, belying most outsiders’ perceptions: the diversity in Salt Lake City and Ogden; the stunning geography, both north and south; and world-class culture, often emerging from the fringe.”

At the Art Center, Heuman is in charge of educational programming – which includes guided discussions for diverse community groups, youth art-making programs (KidsmART and ArtWORKS), the Center’s newsletter (three annually), Art Talks (lecture series), and exhibition related educational resources (or, in other words, the writing on the wall). As you’ll see in the accompanying essay, Heuman also sees his role as providing an opportunity for the community to discuss various aesthetic issues, network with each other and spur creative activity.

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