Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A dang good art start.

I promise this is it. I’ll quit boring you with details from the Denver Art Museum. And I’ll try to keep this short. But I just had to say that the museum has a decent start on 20th and 21st century art collections. And since I gravitate towards the newer artists, this makes me happy.

Here’s why I was impressed with the contemporary collection. I always have a list of artists that I’ve never seen in person, but that I would like to see in person. I enjoy going to a museum and discovering they have works by artists on my list. Usually, it’s at the big museums that you find these works. But Denver knocked four artists off my list.

I’ll start with Kiki Smith. I already mentioned her as part of the RADAR post but DAM also has a large Kiki Smith bronze in its permanent collection. Number two on the list is Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud XXXIII a picture of which is included in my post about the DAM’s architecture. Gormley’s work was shown in a gallery with works by Robert Smithson and Sol Lewitt.

Third on my list is Richard Serra. Granted, the work by Serra (Basic Maintenance) was comparatively small weighing in at a paltry six tons. But the fact that this work was so small for the artists makes me even more interested in seeing his larger rolled steel works. Basic Maintenance is held in place simply by the angles and weight of the steel slabs. A member of the museum staff told me that the floor of the gallery had to be strengthened to accommodate the sculpture.

And just across from Richard Serra was a work by the fourth artist knocked off my list Anish Kapoor. Here again the sculpture was small compared with much of Kapoor’s art but it had plenty of his hallmarks; shiny surfaces; shapes that played with reflections; highly refined metal work.

I guess you could say I lost my art virginity four times at DAM.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dear Vicki and Ken, Can we be friends.

Recently on display at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) was RADAR, contemporary work from the collection of Vicki and Kent Logan. First of all, who are these people? And how do I get invited to a dinner party at their house? The staff at DAM are obviously buddying up to Vicki and Ken and for good reason. This stuff has gotta go somewhere when they die and it might as well be DAM. (Several works were already listed as fractional gifts and promised to museums including DAM and SFMOMA.)

Because DAM won’t let you take pictures of works on loan I’ve had to pilfer images from other sources. So they may not reflect an accurate installation view. The catalog from the show is worth the $40 and since the exhibit closed on July 15, it’s a great way to experience the art.

There was some great stuff in this show starting with the work that greets you just outside the gallery. Let’s call it a cover of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculptures. Created by Jason Middlebrook and titled The Beginning of the End, the work takes everything that makes Indiana's original great and turns it on its head, reminding us that even love is temporal.

Entering the gallery you run head on into Michael Joo’s Headless, a mash-up of Buddhist and American traditions. A small army of headless Buddhas sit below the suspended heads of western pop icons, from Wolverine to one of the Seven Dwarfs. I still don't know what it means but I sure did like it.

And the exhibit just gets better from there. A mini Damien Hirst retrospective features three works including Philip (The Twelve Disciples), a 1994 work that features a bull’s head in a metal and glass tank filled with formaldehyde. No matter how you feel about Hirst’s work, I dare you to stand in front of this piece and not react emotionally.

Three works by Khatarina Fritsch (Dealer, Monk, Doctor) were displayed together to dazzling and ominous effect. Ron Mueck’s Untitled (Man under Cardigan) featured the artist’s trademark realism in a smallish sculpture that made you want to reach out and comfort the poor little guy. Two large sculptures by Thomas Schütte cast in “seawater resistant aluminum” (whatever that is) were shiny and showy and slippery.

But wait, there’s more. This post could go on for days talking about all the interesting art in just this one gallery, from the works of Felix Gonzales-Torres to brilliant works by contemporary Asian artists like the Luo Brothers, Yue Minjun, and Zhang Huan.

Kiki Smith’s life-sized bronze, Virgin Mary was hauntingly beautiful and the first large scale work by the artist I’ve seen in person. The more of Smith’s work I see, the more I like the humanity that comes through so forcefully in her art. (And DAM has another of her large bronze works in the permanent collection.)

There’s no time to talk about every work in the exhibit but I’ll close with the art of Takashi Murakami. I’ve always liked stuff by the man behind “superflat.” And this exhibit offers four large-scale works that are just dazzling. May Satzuki, a huge pink painting with white milky splashes across it, was set as the backdrop for Hiropon, a larger-than-life anime inspired sculpture that features lactating breasts. The two works were fantastic together. Super Nova took the concept of the mushroom cloud to new heights of cuteness and terror. The mini Murakami festival rounded out with DOB in a Strange Forest, a substantial sculpture that makes one wonder, “where do Vicki and Ken put this thing when it’s not in a museum?”

There was plenty more to see at this show but I’ve gone on long enough. If you’re ever in the neighborhood let me know and I’ll let you browse through the exhibit catalog. And seriously; Ken, Vicki, call me. We’ll do lunch.

Next post, musings on DAM’s permanent collection.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I [heart] frogs.

Despite a corny name (Toadally Frogs), the current exhibit at the Utah Museum of Natural History is cool. Who doesn’t love frogs? And the selection now on display will make you love them even more.

From bright green tree frogs to big bumpy toads, the cases are filled with engaging characters. My favorites were the miniature poison dart frogs. Tiffany’s and Cartier have nothing on these gem-like creatures. And their sparkling names only add to their appeal. The Bumble-Bee Dart Frog takes its name from its startling yellow and black color scheme. The Terrible Dart Frog glimmers with a greenish gold glow. And the Blue Dart Frog is obviously blue with a name sure to make the older kids snicker.

For good measure, the curators added a tank full of Suriname Toads. With their lidless black eyes and taste buds on their fingertips, these are some of the ugliest, creepiest creatures I’ve ever seen.

The accompanying educational displays are sometimes boring and poorly produced. But that doesn’t matter when the stars of the show are so dang cool.

Monday, July 16, 2007

DAM it! Denver may be cooler than SLC.

While in the mile high city for a business convention, I took a few hours to visit the new expansion to the Denver Art Museum (DAM). After reading the reviews and seeing so many photographs, I thought I might feel a little “been there done that” upon seeing the building designed by Daniel Libeskind. But the experience was anything but ordinary.

The building was more organized than I expected. Reviews and photographs left an impression that DAM is a bit crazy. But standing in front of the angular building I was surprised by how “at home” it felt in downtown Denver. And in the spirit of Frank Gehry’s belief that architecture should be a good neighbor, the expansion embraces and mimics the surrounding structures in unexpected ways.

The building has its problems. Significant repairs are underway to solve a leaky roof. Although the building opened less than one year ago, the outside façade is currently torn apart, with cranes and workmen hovering like insects caring for their alien queen. And much of the interior space is shut down to allow for the repairs.

However, the inside of the building proved to be a better space for viewing art than reviews would suggest. While there are some tragic display choices that are a result of the architecture’s strange angles and pathways, those same characteristics also create opportunities for beautiful presentations. On the bad side is a two-monitor video work by Bill Viola hung just outside the entrance to the third floor gallery. The cramped hallway didn’t allow you to move back far enough to take in the work comfortably. And the traffic in and out of the gallery meant that no matter where you stood, you were always in the way. This might be fine for a painting. But considering the slow, contemplative nature of Viola’s work the interruptions were frustrating. On the good side was Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud XXXIII. The work was stunning in the angular gallery on the fourth floor. And the natural light from the nearby window only added to the work’s emotion.

In the end, DAM succeeds. Denver has taken a serious step forward on the trail to becoming a great American city. I wish Salt Lake City would take note. Great architecture makes great cities.

Look for future posts on the contents of the new building.