Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
Dancing the In-Between Space
The Art of Beth Krensky
Beth Krensky has been creating art ever since she could walk. Her work as a child was performative – creating footprint circles in the mud, or walking the line between the waves of the ocean and the sand. Little did she know that she would always be at home in this in-between space. Her work defies traditional categorization. Is she an artist, educator, scholar, activist or ethnographer? “No one knows where to put me, so I get to sort of dance in that in-between space. . . . It’s so comfortable for me to be in that indefinable space,” she says.
As a child, Krensky would “paint for hours and hours.” Although she displayed great skill as a painter, she continued to create three-dimensional work. She remembers her time as a four year old, finding beauty where no one else did. She would combine items discarded by others to create small sculptures. She would also collect objects from the natural world, finding ways to organize these collections into larger compositions. Krensky benefitted from public reinforcement of her efforts. “A friend of ours took all of my art and made their entire basement a gallery of my work. So, as a little girl, I got to look at my artwork up on the walls. I still hold that person very dear because of that. They really validated my art.”
Community Projects: Salt Lake
Greater than the sum of its parts
If Gestalt theory and art collided at an intersection, the result would surely be community art. Undeniably larger than the sum of its parts, community art emerges from its members and consciously seeks to increase the social, economic and political power of that community.
Community art’s significance is that it starts with individual contributions, but finishes as something far more cohesive and important than a collection of singular efforts. It is a conscious and cooperative effort by people in a community to work together to create art that enhances their history and improves their shared living experience.
V. Kim Martinez, associate professor of art at the University of Utah, has been spearheading community art projects since 2003 through the mural class she offers each fall. Martinez says her goal is to give communities a sense of ownership and pride, and to give her students experience in the bid process used for public art.
Martinez learned her mural craft from Los Angeles-based community arts pioneer Judy Baca. According to Baca’s website, the painter uses public space “to create public voice and consciousness about the presence of people who are often the majority of the population but who may not be represented in any visual way.” She also says her murals are just as much about the process of how they’re made as about end results. Baca emphasizes that a mural must be based on “the awareness that the land has memory that must be expressed” and that “art is shaped by an interactive relationship among history, people and place, marking the dignity of hidden historical precedents, restoring connections and stimulating new relationships into the future.”
Exhibition Spotlights: Salt Lake & Provo
A Willingness to Explore
Accessing Contemporary Art in Utah
In a contemporary art gallery it’s not uncommon to overhear people utter phrases like, “I don’t get it,” or “Huh. That’s just weird.” Some of these people ultimately throw up their arms in frustration and stomp out of the gallery muttering under their breath that contemporary work doesn’t deserve to be called art. This raises questions of how accessible contemporary art should be to the general public and why it is or is not deserving of the extra work it might take to understand.
Even people whose chosen profession is related to contemporary art will admit that they have been befuddled by certain pieces. Jeff Lambson, Curator of Contemporary Art at Brigham Young University (BYU) Museum of Art shares: “When I first saw Damien Hirst’s ‘Asthmatic Escaped,’ I didn’t appreciate it because I didn’t understand it. Once I knew more about Hirst’s work and discovered this piece was actually about Francis Bacon, who had asthma, it took on new meaning and I thought it was a wonderful piece.”
Like Hirst’s work, a lot of contemporary art does not convey a message that is immediately obvious. It requires a little digging, or sometimes a lot. And perhaps the first step in approaching confusing work is letting go of the expectation that it can be understood at first glance. Jill Dawsey, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, says, “It's hard for me to think about contemporary art in prescriptive terms. I'm not sure if art should be easily understood. Should science be easily understood? Should poetry? It seems to me that some of the most rewarding things in life are not obvious or immediate. In our culture, so much is spoon-fed to us, and it's ultimately not very satisfying. I suppose I should speak for myself. I don't find it satisfying. I find it mind- and soul-numbing. There is so much that we as humans don't understand. When something seems easy, I don't usually trust it. If something is very easily understood, there's nothing to learn.”
Dawsey concedes that understanding contemporary art is a challenge, but she offers, “I think that people expect art in general to be transparent, self-evident. To some degree, this is a reasonable expectation. Art anticipates a viewer; it wants to communicate. But that doesn't mean that it will communicate slowly and loudly, with precise enunciation. It's not the job of an art object to make itself understood. I'm not saying it should be self-obfuscating, either. Art is like any other discipline – and it is a discipline, with its own vocabulary, conventions, discourses, institutions, etc. – in which people are looking at one another's ideas and achievements and building on them. Art is the product of many, many conversations between artists - and their publics – across time and space.”