Art New England, Mar 1985

"Kingston Gallery/Boston: Beth Galston"

by David Bonetti

Boston is particularly rich right now in a number of environmental sculptors whose installations are worth considerable detour. The works of Beth Galston, Mags Harries, Jeffrey Schiff, Nancy Selvage, and Michael Timpson share little in common beyond architectural scale, but collectively they enrich our artistic community to a far greater extent than their rare appearances should warrant.

Beth Galston's means are minimal: sheets of theatrical scrim, hung from the ceiling by wire, anchored to the floor by metal rods, lighted by three ordinary spotlights. But her results are marvelous: spaces that breathe, perspectives which open and close, solid walls which become immaterial, and light which becomes substantial. And when her magical space becomes populated by actors unconscious of their roles, a wonderful theater occurs as if in a dream.

Scrim is used traditionally in the theater to create a distancing effect or a sense of unreality. Tennessee Williams, for instance, in The Glass Menagerie stipulated the use of a scrim to underline the dream effect he sought to create in his drama through the use of language. In Overlay, essentially a loose maze of scrim curtains ambiently lighted, fellow observers appear in a strange light, fade away and reappear again and again as they move through the spaces.

The theatrical effect of Overlay is dependent on the chance interaction between the spaces created by the artist and the experience of observers who become participants in an unscripted drama. As the participants are observed interacting with the environment, they likewise observe their observers, who become for them actors in a drama dictated by their own dreams and preoccupations. Galston brilliantly provides a set for a participatory theater where the division between actor and audience is successfully erased--a goal of avant-garde theater which is seldom if ever achieved.

Beth Galston is essentially a sculptor, not a set designer, and her work succeeds on its own terms even when the audience has not turned up to perform. The drama then becomes personal, and the solitary observer is left with an ambiguous space and his perceptions to experience.

Galston's formal approach is reductivist and not dissimilar to the minimalist aesthetic which dominated the arts in the 1970's, although her architectural-scale sculpture is different from the work of that period. Works of minimalism are hard to talk about: there is no iconography to decipher, no art historical inferences. There is just the object in its purity. In this formal sense Galston's sculpture is as subtle and as basic as a painting by Agnes Martin or Robert Ryman, and as such it is a medium for the private and often difficult act of seeing.

Boston Globe, Jan 17, 1985

"Beth Galston soothes and stimulates"

by Christine Temin

Beth Galston makes "participatory environments," which means that you, dear viewer, are required to do more than sit back and look at them. It could be argued that all good art is "participatory," in the sense that it demands mental and emotional effort to appreciate. But the sort of environment Galston makes goes one step further: Not only does it engage the mind; it also requires physical involvement. The artist becomes a choreographer for the spectator. The concept is hardly new: The builders of Gothic cathedrals were also making "participatory environments," which dictated a certain attitude and style of movement and which directed people along a straight, narrow, totally focused path up the central aisle toward the altar.

Like a cathedral, Galston's current piece, "Overlay," at the Kingston Gallery, 129 Kingston St., through Jan. 20, also demands a particular attitude, even a particular speed, from the viewer/participant. But Galston allows more freedom of movement than the cathedral builders did. "Overlay" is essentially a maze, made of huge curtains of sheer white gauze, anchored to the ground with metal rods. There are several possible paths to follow, some uncomfortably narrow and others widening into rectangular rooms. We do have some choices about where to go, but there are also paths that are dead ends. When I tried to leave the gallery by the most direct route, I found my way blocked by a gauze wall I was forced to circumnavigate.

"Overlay" calls for more viewer participation than most installations. It was so minimal that it requires us to fill in the blanks with our own thoughts and reactions. We have to move slowly within its confines: There are too many corners to work up any speed. The sea of white encourages us to seek visual variety, so we look at the worn boards of the floor and the exposed pipes of the ceiling. The atmosphere is quiet and contemplative, thanks in part to dim lighting. The installation is completely removed from the everyday bustle outside, yet we can still hear the traffic noises, which sound very far away. Thanks to the cloud-like, translucent gauze, we can see through the wall of one corridor into the next: I was alone in the installation on the day of my visit, but I can imagine that if there were other visitors in adjacent corridors, the same sense of freedom and privacy I enjoyed would not have been there.

Galston's installation is both soothing and stimulating: What you get out of it depends a lot on what you put in, though: on how much concentration you are willing to expend. I kept wishing there were rest stations incorporated into the piece--chairs or beds or pillows or a rug so I could sit and prolong the sense of quiet. Any sort of furnishing would, however, add unwanted clutter and discourage the sense of flowing through the space.