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UMFA’s “Space Maker” features 33 faculty artists, curated by alum Nancy Rivera


Space Maker Exhibition flyer

In anticipation of the opening of Utah Museum of Fine Art's "Space Maker" on August 21st, we caught up with Department of Art & Art History alumna Nancy Rivera, curator of the exhibition which features 33 artists from the department's faculty.

As UMFA describes, "Space Maker" explores the tensions, histories, and myths that shape our experiences of the world. These works, created by a variety of artists in a dynamic range of media, question the bonds between place and identity, reflect on our relationships to the land, and explore the realities that emerge when an imaginary world is created."

Let's take a closer look at the show.

After a year of isolation, what was it like to come back together on a group show of this size?

What was really cool about curating the exhibition was that when I started looking at the work that the artists produced over the last year or so, it was apparent that everyone was impacted and influenced by some of the same issues. Even though their work is created in such different ways – the materials they use are so different – the ideas and concepts that you see throughout the work started to become a narrative that you could connect to and say, “I felt that same way during the pandemic." It was interesting to see that in some ways, even though we are isolated, those communal experiences are still very present. We all see the things that we experience in a similar manner.

It’s amazing to see that your professors, the people you are learning from and interacting with now in such a big way, are creating such elevated work. It’s something that they should feel inspired by and really proud of – that we have this type of talent within the University of Utah. I really hope students will go and see the show.

How did the "Space Maker" theme emerge and what do those words mean to you?

A lot of the work the artists created very much explored the idea of place – how we relate to it, how we engage with it, how we perceive it. We were forced to be confined in our homes, and were hyper-aware of the things that surround us – and as artists you tend to look at things through a different lens. So they created, in their own way, an interpretation of the spaces they were in, or really thinking about, or even missing and grieving throughout this pandemic. I think it's something you can apply to a lot of the work.

I also wanted to create an idea to view the show in a way that was broad enough that you could find different types of interpretations, because we have 33 artists. The work that they produce is so varied in process and concept. Looking at it through this lens of thinking about space, and their creation of it, is something that everybody can say they think about through their work. Every one of the artists is working with very specific ideas and themes their work is connected to, but in the end, I think there is an overarching idea of a sensibility towards space that connects them all.

What was the logistical process like?

Coordinating all of this is such a big team project, and I could not have done any of this without the UMFA’s amazing staff support. They have this down. All of the artists were invited to submit up to three works, and then I selected the ones I wanted to include in the exhibition. And there were discussions around “how does this fit the theme?”

Nancy Rivera, "Space Maker" curator and U alum
Nancy Rivera, "Space Maker" curator and U alum

When I first started selecting works, I wasn’t thinking about an overall theme. The theme came to me as the work was selected and I was looking through artist statements and titles, and information about each of the works. It was more about selecting the best works aesthetically – the craft and the concept. Everybody is so talented. In the end, the decision of what works were included was very intuitive, selecting work that was representative of each of those artist’s careers but that also spoke to a sensibility for the times that we are living in.

There are some great moments in the exhibition of really unexpected materials. And, also how artists took this moment of being isolated, not being able to enter certain spaces, and took that as an inspiration to create. Sometimes I think that without having had something so profound happen to us, some of those ideas would not have emerged. Much of the work was made in the past year or two, and a majority was created during the pandemic. To see the way that they were inspired to create in that period of time was amazing. These are artists whose work I am really familiar with from my time being their student and even before that. So it's been great to see how their work continues to grow.

What is it like to work with the faculty, now as an alum?

It's such a different dynamic. I still look up to a lot of them, and I am so honored to be able to work with them as a curator, in a way that I never expected. I am grateful for the way that they have embraced my role in the exhibition. It has been great to have one-on-one conversations and brainstorms with them about their work.

And why should students go to "Space Maker?"

It’s amazing to see that your professors, the people you are learning from and interacting with now in such a big way, are creating such elevated work. It’s something that they should feel inspired by and really proud of – that we have this type of talent within the University of Utah. I really hope students will go and see the show.


We can't wait to see the work from these 33 wonderful artists:

Edward Bateman
Simon Blundell
Laurel Caryn
Erika Cespedes
Lewis J. Crawford
Al Denyer
Elizabeth DeWitte
John Erickson
Haynes Goodsell
Joshua Graham
Michael Hirshon
Trishelle Jeffery
Lenka Konopasek
Beth Krensky
Naomi Marine
V. Kim Martinez
Kylie Millward
Martin Novak
Marnie Powers-Torrey
Andrew Rice
Vanessa Romo
Sylvia Ramachandran Skeen
Brian Snapp
Carol Sogard
Paul Stout
Natalie Oliver Strathman
Amy Thompson
Emily Tipps
Maureen O’Hara Ure
Adam Watkins
Moses Williams
Wendy Wischer
Jaclyn Wright

"Space Maker" runs from August 21 to December 5, 2021. For more information, please visit https://umfa.utah.edu/space-maker.