Listening to Walead Beshty, it’s clear the internationally acclaimed artist knows his stuff. Clever wit, creativity and brilliance countered with a sense of humility are all exhibited in the way he presents himself and his art.
Beshty, who received his Bachelor of Arts from Bard and his Master of Fine Arts from Yale, has had solo exhibitions at LAXArt, The Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, just to name a few. He recently spoke on BYU’s campus at the Museum of Art.
Daniel Everett, who graduated from and now teaches at BYU as the newest visual arts faculty member, was Beshty’s studio assistant.
Everett first met Beshty when he was a visiting professor at the Art Institute of Chicago where Everett was going to graduate school. Everett was assigned Beshty as an adviser, and he attended his lectures, despite not officially being in the classes.
“He really disrupted my perceptions and expectations of art and made me feel uncomfortable,” Everett said. “I fought with him a lot, but it helped me work through it. He really became a mentor to me. He changed the way I thought of art, of making art and of teaching art.”
Beshty’s work could be called minimalist or abstract, but he prefers not to explain too much about what it means, or what he is trying to say. He said he doesn’t think artists necessarily need to be making a statement, or explain what their intended statement is.
“Statements are boring,” Beshty said. “You don’t have to make a thing to make a statement. It’s a job like any other job. It’s a discourse about aesthetics through aesthetics. Most things aren’t meant to talk about themselves.”
But an arching theme does exist in many of Beshty’s pieces, which is the idea of how the art interacts with its surrounding, including everything from light to people.
“The aesthetics of a place modifies the way that one behaves and one changes in terms of a subject,” he said in the symposium. “The way one speaks or addresses others or expects to be addressed or handle their own body, whatever it might be, their behavior is modified by aesthetics.”
This idea is reflected in many of his pieces, which are made from either reflective or transparent glass or shiny copper. A well-known approach of Beshty’s is his creating objects the same dimensions of FedEx boxes, which are then sent to galleries and displayed with the cracks acquired in the process. Jeff Lambson, curator of contemporary art at the MOA, said how he feels art like this can interact with viewers and places.
“It’s not just about the art itself, it’s about everywhere it’s been shown,” Lambson said. “So instead of being sort of a selfish object about itself, it becomes a biographical object about the people who see it, the places where it is.”
Lambson used to work at the Smithsonian, where he was first introduced to Beshty’s work. Lambson also provided some insight on Beshty’s popular photography prints, which include the image created when film is exposed to airport X-rays from baggage check.
“He treats photography sort of like abstract painters, where they would just paint crazy shapes and colors and forms,” Lambson said. ”He does something similar with photography and he manipulates the film and the medium of photography, which goes against its normal uses. … He’s not looking at what the film is capturing, he’s looking at the film itself, treating it like paint.”
Lambson said the museum hopes to provide students with more learning opportunities through events like this.
“We’re really excited to have [Beshty] here,” he said. “It’s exciting for the museum to host important living artists of our time and to have them come out here and share their work with us and expose our students to what’s happening around the world, that broader conversation.”