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Utah art is changing. Just look at Springville's Spring Salon

SPRINGVILLE — As Rita Wright, director of the Springville Museum of Art, looked at the 849 submissions for this year's Spring Salon show, she had a realization.

"We only have one Jesus," she told the jurors.

No, Wright wasn't proselytizing. As juror Beth Krensky recalled, of all this year's submissions, there was only one overt depiction of Jesus Christ.

For a show dedicated to Utah artists and those with Utah ties, this was unexpected.

Provided by the Springville Museum of Art

"Goliath" by Vincent Mattina.

"I think the religious reference was in a lot of the work that did get in, that I found a little more interesting than the very obvious," Krensky said.

Now in its 94th consecutive year, the museum's Spring Salon has maintained a purposely loose curriculum for its entries: Basically, artists need only live in Utah or have some connection to the state. There aren't restrictions on the type of visual media, and the museum has space to showcase about 200 different pieces. As such, the exhibit becomes an interesting cross section of what's happening among Utah's arts community in a given year.

"I think it's probably the hardest exhibition in Utah to get into, after jurying it," Krensky added. "I've juried other shows, and I've never juried something that was as difficult as this."

Emily Larsen, an assistant curator and collections manager at the museum, is heavily involved with each year's exhibit and said this year's Spring Salon, showcases an increasing boldness among Utah's artists: new approaches, new statements and new insights about themselves and the community.

"Sometimes people say great art speaks to a certain time and place," Larsen said. "And it's really exciting to have a whole show that speaks to this time and place that we're in very specifically."

Each year, museum organizers pick two jurors from different disciplines to select the pieces. In addition to being an accomplished contemporary artist, Krensky is a professor of art education and the area head of art teaching at the University of Utah. This year's other juror, Elliott Wise, is an assistant professor of art history and curatorial studies at Brigham Young University, with a background in religious art.

As Krensky and Wise exist on different ends of the artistic spectrum, their selection process for the salon requires lots of dialogue. Wise described it as "wrenching" — not because he and Krensky didn't get along, but because so many deserving pieces don't make it into the show.

"As much as it was a really overwhelming and difficult process, it was also a really invigorating, kind of inspiring process," Wise said.

"The amount of work that goes into it was very eye-opening to me. But also … just the sheer volume of it. I don't think I had nearly as good of a sense as I do now of the wide range and spectrum of artists in this state. I have a greater sense of awe for what this show means to the artists, and what it signifies for our state."

As Wright described it, the jurying process becomes its own kind of artistic creation. The selected works inevitably make some kind of statement collectively.

"Generally, I don't think we've had a more harmonious jurying experience," Wright recalled. "It was one of those jackpot moments."

Provided by the Springville Museum of Art

"Grandfather" by John Darley.

According to Wright, the museum doesn't bind jurors with an extensive rubric. She's been part of juries like that before and prefers a looser approach. After all, there isn't a formula for good art. Beyond a piece's technical prowess and conceptual strength, there's another key element that's harder to describe, but is ultimately undeniable.

"I feel that when these juries are so rubric-driven, you miss a lot of the skill level of those who are jurying, you miss this kind of ineffable thing — the presence," she said.

The kind of feelings a piece can evoke, she added, can only be fully felt in person — it's an inherently emotional experience. For this reason, the museum requires all Salon entries be brought to the museum itself.

Of course, that means all the rejected pieces — which this year tallied 638 — must be picked up in person, too. Emotions can run high.

"Part of the reason I know (the Spring Salon is) well-respected is because I've gotten a barrage of emails, many quite angry that their work didn't get in," Krensky admitted.

Of the 638 not selected, Krensky estimates there were 100 pieces she wanted to include. She hopes the museum figures out a way to accommodate the growing number of deserving entries.

"If we really are interested in seeing the work of the artists across the state," she added, "we have to have additional exhibitions or additional venues."

If you go …

What: 94th Annual Spring Salon

Where: Springville Museum of Art, 126 E. 400 South, Springville

When: Through July 8

How much: Free; donations accepted

Phone: 801-489-2727

Web: smofa.org