Behind the Scenes with YBCA: Q&A With Betti-Sue Hertz

The ArtPoint Board of Directors is pleased to partner with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for tonight’s event, Behind the Scenes with YBCA. Our group will tour the exhibition Without Reality There Is No Utopia with Gallery Guide Sarah Kimmerle, and enjoy an opportunity to learn more about the vision and philosophies behind YBCA from Namrata Gupta, Director of Major Gifts. In preparation for the event, we spoke with Betti-Sue Hertz, YBCA's Director of Visual Arts.

ArtPoint: Please tell us a little about your background.

Betti-Sue Hertz: I am from New York City. I originally trained as an artist before falling in love with curating. I worked in the South Bronx organizing shows in alternative spaces, public sites, and the Bronx Museum for about 17 years. I've lived in California for 12 years, first in San Diego, where I was curator of contemporary art at the San Diego Museum of Art. I've been at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for four and a half years.

AP: Tonight ArtPoint members are invited to a tour of the exhibition Without Reality There Is No Utopia. What was the inspiration for this show?

BSH: This is a show that comes from the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in Seville. It is in part a response to the economic collapse in 2008, the austerity measures within Spain, the falling values in the European Union economy, and the Arab Spring. It looks at two issues: the deceptions of the media and how the media's filters on truth distort our notions of reality; and the failures of modern economic systems and some of the efforts to bring those failures to light. Mainly, we may be at the end of the era during which we could hold up a mirror to the ideal of utopia and be able to create systems that fulfill that vision.

AP: How did the exhibition come to YBCA?

BSH: I saw information about this exhibition on e-flux, which is a service that sends out press-release information about interesting contemporary art exhibitions and activities that are happening around the world.

AP: Tell us about your next project.

BSH: I am currently working on Migrating Identities, which will be on view in the Downstairs Galleries at YBCA from June 28 through September 29. In this exhibition, eight artists —Ala Ebtekar, Michelle Dizon, Naeem Mohaiemen, Meleko Mokgosi, Wangechi Mutu, Yamini Nayar, Ishmael Randall-Weeks, and Saya Woolfalk—actively negotiate their relationships with two or more different cultures and the influences of these cultures on their individual lives. Collectively, they have connections to such diverse countries as Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Peru, and the Philippines. Though all are currently based in the United States, they represent a variety of emigrant experiences—those who emigrated to the US as children, and those who emigrated as adults; those who are first-generation citizens, and those who live and work both in the US and elsewhere. The work of these artists, all of whom are in their late 30s or early 40s, forms a sampling of a generation’s response to the role of cultural diversity in the US.

Inherent in their shared condition of straddling multiple identities is the artists’ abilities to translate culture as it relates to time and space, as well as to illustrate the ever-present influence of history. Crafting entirely new identities from the confluence of mobility, cultural retention, and investigations into their pasts, they adapt their internal and social resources to the uniqueness of their individual journeys, and use their fluidity of movement from one culture to another as the basis for their art making. Their art expresses their personal identities by embracing cultural transition, material relocation, or the transmigration of things.

AP: What do you see as the most exciting trends in San Francisco’s visual arts community right now?

BSH: I am interested in the way that art, science, and technology are converging in San Francisco. It's exciting to see the interests across these fields evolve toward one another. It may take a bit more time for this trend to solidify, but it's definitely brewing.