Denver is having a fine arts “moment.” Nearly two years ago, the acclaimed Clyfford Still Museum sprouted in the Golden Triangle. Last winter, the Denver Art Museum’s Becoming Van Gogh sold out 57 of 83 days (followed next spring by Picasso to Pollock, a collection of 40 iconic artists—Van Gogh, Dali, and Warhol among them). This summer, Denver collector Henry Roath pledged to give the DAM 50 pieces from his celebrated Western art collection, which includes works by Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. And last summer’s “Virga: The Sound Performance”—composer Morton Waller’s sonic interpretation of the sculpture on the Delgany pedestrian bridge over Cherry Creek—recently picked up an award as one of the top 50 public art projects in the country.
What’s behind Denver’s rapidly maturing arts community? You know, besides decades of thoughtful city planning—like “one percent for art” and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District tax, which contributes roughly $40 million a year to Denver arts and cultural events and organizations—and the chutzpah of galleries like Pirate and RedLine. We talked to museum directors, curators, gallerists, artists, city officials, collectors, and art consultants to find out. Their answers introduced us to some of Denver’s artsiest movers and shakers, illuminated the art of art collecting, revealed how to find (and frame and hang) original works without going broke, and helped us discover this fall’s must-see exhibits. With their assistance, we’re revealing Denver’s blossoming creative side so you can get out and experience it. Trust us, you don’t want to let this moment pass you by.
Twelve pieces you need to see right now.
Walking into a museum or gallery can be overwhelming—so much to see and so little direction about what deserves your attention. What if you miss something amazing? Relax. We asked those in the know at the Mile High City’s citadels of fine art to point to one piece every visitor should see this season. Some are gems you might not find on your own; others might only be on display for a few days. If this tapestry of Denver’s fine art finds doesn’t cure your fear-of-missing-out angst, we’re not sure what will.
1 The Clyfford Still museum
The Drawing/Painting/Process exhibition explores the relationship between Still’s drawings and paintings, as with this 1936 ink on paper (PD-43) and 1934 oil on window shade (PH-653). October 4 to February 9, 2014
2 Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
“Crematorium and Cooling Plant in Mauthausen,” part of the MCA’s Heimrad Bäcker exhibition which, features works from the Austrian-born photographer, who captured the ruins—like the drain and rack here—left at Nazi concentration camps. Through January 5, 2014
3 Denver Art Museum
Drawn from a private collection, the DAM’s Passport to Paris exhibit offers a rare look at works from master artists such as Monet, Degas, and Boudin, whose “Trouville, Beach Scene,” is pictured. October 27 to February 9, 2014
4 Plus Gallery
Six porcelain sculptures (each with a different Chinese character on its lower back) make up Allie Pohl’s thought-provoking “Ideal Woman: Tramp Stamp,” part of the Plus Gallery’s Peacocking exhibit. Through October 19
5 Colorado Photographic art Center
Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, a series of images taken by James Balog as cameras followed him for the documentary Chasing Ice, stand out in the CPAC’s new LoHi digs. October 31 to December 14
6 Boulder Museum Of Contemporary Art
BMoCA’s four-day MediaLive event brings together artists who explore live audiovisual performance. Don’t miss Los Angeles–based artist Miwa Matreyek’s “Myth and Infrastructure” during its short stint. November 7 to 10
7 Mizel Museum
The “Noah’s Ark” installation by Scott Lyon is on permanent display at the Mizel Museum’s 4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks.
8 Robischon Gallery
“Eternal Love 7” is part of a solo show at Robischon by Iraqi photographer Halim Al Karim, who spent three years living in the desert alone to avoid military service under Saddam Hussein. Through November 2
9 Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
In “Domestic Conglomerations,” part of Earth Moves, Dylan Beck arranges porcelain shapes based on flight patterns and air-traffic densities—then projects an animation based on previous viewers’ eye movements. Through November 10
10 Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
Take a gander at this impressive hand-lacquered French Art Deco wood screen crafted circa
1925 by Jean Dunand. Through December 31
See Debra Baxter’s elegant and street-tough “Crystal Brass Knuckles (I am going to realign your chakras motherf*****),” on display in RedLine’s The Ironic Object show. October 4 to October 27
12 Denver Botanic Gardens
Deep in the Denver Botanic Gardens, Pard Morrison’s Schneewittchen, a fired-pigment-on-aluminum column, emerges from the glassy waters of the tucked-away Gates Montane Garden. Through January 12, 2014
Meet the people shaping Denver’s fine arts scene.
Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
While Denver Art Museum director Christoph Heinrich’s elevation of Denver exhibitions is undeniable, Adam Lerner’s impact on public engagement with art is equally—some might argue, more—impressive. Since the 47-year-old took the helm of the MCA Denver in 2009, the museum has flourished. The success might seem natural for a guy with a doctorate from Johns Hopkins, a master’s from Cambridge, and a bachelor’s from Cornell, but Lerner’s pedigree belies a playfulness atypical of those hallowed halls (and galleries). The man who founded the Lab at Belmar, speaks at TEDx seminars, and has been profiled in the New York Times is the kind of guy who names his dog Kristofferson (after Fantastic Mr. Fox), prefers Mexican beers to super-serious craft ales, and initiates a lecture series pairing two unrelated topics—like Andy Warhol and gin martinis—then turns it into a weekly sellout event that’s been replicated in Boston, Minneapolis, and Mexico City. “Sometimes ‘Art’ with a capital A forgets that we need to provide new meaning,” Lerner says. “Imposing some arbitrary principle forces us to think in different ways.” Not that Lerner can’t do “Art” with a capital A. He’s exposed Denver audiences to emerging stars, such as Isaac Julien and Brazilian artist Tatiana Blass, and in the past year, he has seen donations to the MCA double. Lerner’s real talent, though, remains birthing innovative programming that makes art accessible to us all.
The idea for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver was born in Mark Sink’s backyard. The small committee that would eventually found (and later, with the help of Sue Cannon, fund) the MCA Denver held some of its first meetings at Sink’s Highland home in 1995, five years after he had returned to Colorado following a decade of hanging out with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York City. Since then, the photographer—whose works hang in Denver’s Rule Gallery, the Hyatt Regency hotel downtown, and in galleries in New York City, Philly, and California—has left his mark on the Mile High City’s art scene. In 2005, he established the biennial Month of Photography Denver (MoP), a coordinated statewide effort to showcase photographic art. “There’s community and power in numbers,” Sink explains. “I’ve always worked to gather people, really talented people.” Mission accomplished: More than 180 galleries and museums throughout Colorado took part in this year’s MoP. It helps that Sink is a talent magnet, a power that has also been on display at his Denver Salon collective, a group of the city’s top photographers that has exhibited everywhere from New York to Japan. For nearly a decade, he also ran the well-received Gallery Sink, and he now curates shows for contemporary art standouts like RedLine. Says fellow art ace Adam Lerner, “Mark accomplishes so much.” We can’t wait to see what he does next.
Ginger White Brunetti
Deputy director, Denver Arts & Venues
If you’ve listened to a bass line reverberate off stone at Red Rocks or watched Swan Lake’s difficult series of fouettés at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, you’ve been touched by Ginger White Brunetti. As the deputy director of Denver Arts & Venues, a city-run agency, White Brunetti’s fingerprints are all over nearly every concert, performance, and cultural event that’s come through town over the past year and a half. But her biggest mark may still be in the works. Launched in March 2013 and headed up by White Brunetti, Imagine 2020 is a kind of artistic think tank with a mission to develop a vision for Denver’s creative future. Currently, Imagine 2020 is in the process of gathering input from Denver residents and arts leaders in order to craft a cultural plan that will go before city council for approval in February 2014. It’s been nearly 25 years since the city engaged in such a major cultural undertaking, and the results of that 1989 effort included the “one percent for art” ordinance (and, consequently, more than 100 public art pieces) and the establishment of the Denver Arts & Venues bureau itself. While White Brunetti is staying mum about specific projects, she expects the plan to integrate arts into daily life via alley murals, flash mobs, and pop-up art exhibits in parks; address arts education; and spotlight assets the city already has, like the McNichols Civic Center Building. “It’s not just our sunshine, great sports teams, and walkable downtown that draw people to the city,” says White Brunetti. “Arts and culture can be part of the story that gets told about Denver as well.”
Deck the Walls
The paint-by-numbers guide to starting your own collection—without going broke.
Before You Buy: The Rules
We have a friend who once tried to throw away a picasso. Of course, she didn’t know it was a Picasso. To her, it was just a sketch she didn’t like that had been collecting dust on her boyfriend’s bookshelf for too long. Funny, yes, but the tale also underscores the first rule of art collecting: Know your taste. Don’t decide you want a Picasso just because it’s what other people like (but don’t throw one away, either). The second rule: Choose work that grows on you. “The longer you look at a painting,” says Tadashi Hayakawa, an artist represented by local gallery and art consultancy firm Artwork Network, “you should start seeing more than you did at first sight.”
Sound ambiguous? That’s OK. Spend time understanding what you’re drawn to before you buy, recommends Martha Weidmann, co-founder of Denver art consultants Nine Dot Arts. Rip out magazine pictures, hold on to gallery flyers, create a visual Rolodex of things that inspire you. But don’t put too many parameters on what you’re looking for in terms of color, size, and shape, or you’ll be less likely to find it. And the final rule? Don’t worry about matching your painting to your couch. “It’s a piece of art,” says Katherine Lees, a consultant at Nine Dot Arts. “It should stand out.”
Big Wall, Small Wallet
Finding affordable originals.
Shopping for art isn’t like shopping for shoes: You’re purchasing an original, one-of-a-kind item, not the 1,000,000th (think Nike’s LeBron James collection) or even the 100th ($775 Christian Louboutins, anyone?) copy of something. So, expect to spend some money. That said, there are ways to reduce the price:
1 Expand your vocab. “Emerging artist” is code for less expensive.
2 Shop the student shows. Metro State, University of Colorado (Boulder and Denver), Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, Colorado State University, and the University of Denver offer BFAs (and some give MFAs). Students exhibit their works in fall and spring shows (visit 5280.com/studentart for dates), where you can score great deals and help “discover” Denver’s next star(ving) artist.
3 Go bin-diving. The Art Students League of Denver’s Summer Market sale, typically in early June, has provided many Denver homes with original works—many for less than $100. Other budget-minded options: RedLine’s One Square Foot (November 2), where 12-inch-by-12-inch works are just $100, and the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities’ Holiday Art Market (December 12 to 22).
4 Become a paper-phile. Most galleries have unframed paper works—sketches, watercolors, pastels, or charcoal drawings—that are more affordable than oil on canvas. The William Havu Gallery, for example, has a huge collection of works on paper. Just ask to see them.
5 Shop in unexpected places. See something you like on the walls of your favorite restaurant or coffeeshop? Ask if it’s for sale. Crema, Common Grounds, MegaFauna, Fancy Tiger, the Shoppe, the Boulder Library, and even the Buffalo Exchange on 13th Street display rotating for-sale works, often created by local artists.
6 Split the cost. Early this year, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art launched a CSA (that’s community supported art) program of sorts: Each year, BMoCA gives 100 people the opportunity to buy an art “share” for $400. Your share means you get (to keep) nine pieces created by local contemporary artists like printmaker Viviane Le Courtois (but you don’t get to choose what the art looks like). You also will meet the makers at the distribution party.
By Caitlin Donnelly
While Ikea art might be fine for a dorm room, it’s hardly going to cut it in a chic Denver restaurant. But filling a few thousand square feet of empty wall space can prove expensive. Artwork Network, a local art consultancy firm, eases the pain with its art rotation program. For $150 to $800 per month, Artwork Network rotates a selection of original pieces—many by local artists—every 90 days, providing businesses with affordable decor and artists with exposure (all of the works are for sale). Currently, 114 pieces are in circulation. We traced one work’s path around the city before it found a permanent home in Cherry Creek.
The House That Art Built
An exclusive look at one of the city’s most lively private collections.
Despite owning dozens of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and video installations, Ellen Bruss and Mark Falcone don’t consider themselves art collectors.
Instead, they collect friends…friends who happen to be artists or artists who become friends. They’ve built relationships with internationally renowned video installation artist Isaac Julien, Denver painter Stephen Batura, and many others whose works have been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which sits right next door to the couple’s three-floor home.
“Everyone collects art differently,” says Bruss, who runs EBD, a marketing and design firm in RiNo. Bruss and Falcone seek out smart pieces that provide an interesting message or a new perspective—pieces they find a connection to, sometimes created by artists with whom they’ve developed strong relationships.
Living 25 feet from the MCA—a situation created when Falcone donated the land upon which the museum was built in 2007—helps with the latter part. The couple, who met in 2000 and married in 2003, regularly host visiting MCA artists in their David Adjaye–designed home. The 6,000-square-foot house is filled with vibrant creations—many acquired early in the couple’s courtship. “When we started dating, I began buying Mark art as gifts,” says Bruss, who grew up in Milwaukee watching her mother collect local artists’ works. When Bruss moved to Denver in the ’80s, she continued the family tradition, buying pieces from the boundary-pushing Pirate gallery. There she met artists like Batura and William Stockman, with whom she developed long-term friendships.
Today, those same artists feature prominently in the couple’s home, alongside works by 16th-century Italian artists and others. “We like to weave in local artists’ work with national artists’ work and show it holds up,” Bruss says. And, we’d argue, in some cases even outshines it.
1 “True North” by Isaac Julien
In 2006, Bruss and Falcone made one of their first purchases together, an Isaac Julien video installation called “True North.” Stills from “True North,” inspired by black American
explorer Matthew Henson—one of the first men to reach the North Pole—hang in the couple’s living room; the roof holds the installation itself. The couple met Julien that year at the Lab at Belmar, where the English artist was showing. (Julien has also exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.) They’ve since bought two more of his works, “Fantome Afrique” and “Western Union:
Small Boats.” “They’re all super layered pieces,” Bruss says. “Whether for beauty, story line, or technical expertise—any way you look at them, they’re amazing.”
2 “The Secret of Bee Hives” and “Lepidotera” by David Zimmer
Bruss met Denverite David Zimmer—who crafts funky sculptures, built from castoff material, that play video and emit sound—in LoDo through friends in the 1980s. Today, he’s gained national exposure thanks to art fairs like Miami Beach’s Art Basel, where his unique work was recently displayed. Such shows are helping combat the idea that work created outside of major art centers is somehow second-class. “New York and L.A. just have the cachet and credibility, but art fairs are changing that,” Bruss says. “They’re really helping to get local artists exposure.”
3 “Misconception” by Stephen Batura
Bruss and Batura became acquainted 25 years ago at Denver’s Pirate gallery. “It was a hot spot,” she says. “A lot of the well-known galleries’ artists started there—like Robischon. DAM curators would even come over to look at shows.” Since then, she’s watched her friend’s star rise: Batura has had shows at the MCA and has seen his work go from selling for a couple hundred dollars to upward of $5,000. Bruss has been a part of the process, too, making frequent stops by Batura’s studio to view in-progress work. “I like seeing how artists take the vision for something and craft a piece,” she says.
4 “Firmament” by William Stockman
Bruss purchased this piece in 2006 after visiting the studio of her old
acquaintance from Pirate, Stockman, to get some framing done. While there, she discovered he’d returned to acrylic paintings, beyond his charcoal sketches. “I thought they were amazing,” says Bruss, gesturing to “Firmament” which hangs in the living room. “I think Bill’s work is sad and happy and true. ‘Firmament’ seems like a dream state of who is in your thoughts.” Bruss and others pushed Stockman to show his new work. Two years later, Stockman snagged a show at the Mizel Museum, and in 2010, he landed one at the MCA.
Shows To Know
Our picks for the gallery shows you shouldn’t miss this fall.
• British artist Daniel Eatock’s experiential An Empty Room: The Sequel at the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, through Oct. 10
• Coalesce and Fault, a mother-son show at Ice Cube Gallery, through Oct. 12
• John Ferguson’s imposing steel sculptures at Ironton Studios and Gallery, through Oct. 19
• Heart, Wax & Stone by acclaimed sculptors Jill Shwaiko and Mark Yale Harris, at Mirada Fine Art Gallery, through Oct. 20
• Con-Form-ation I: Farmland, the first of a three-part photography series about eastern Colorado, at Evan Anderman Gallery, through Oct. 26
• Matthew Harris and Tobias Fike’s interactive video installation at Vertigo Art Space, through Oct. 26
• True Grit, a new take on Western art, at Mai Wyn Fine Art, through Nov. 9
• Contemporary art from the Addison collection in Paper/Product, at the University of Colorado Boulder Art Museum, through June 21, 2014
• Byers-Evans House Gallery’s three-artist exhibition featuring winners from the 2012 Denver Plein Air Arts Festival, Oct. 4–26
• JFK photos and vintage vacuum cleaner rocket sculptures by Jimmy Descant at Leon Gallery, Oct. 4–28
• Painter Robert McCauley’s solo show at Visions West Gallery, Oct. 4–31
• Lovely and Amazing, 3-D collages by Abecedarian Gallery owner Alicia Bailey, at Niza Knoll Gallery, Oct. 4–Nov. 8
• Aspen painter and sculptor Tania Dibbs at the Carmen Wiedenhoeft Gallery, Oct. 4–Nov. 16
• Varied works by University of Denver alumni at the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, Oct. 4–Nov. 17
• Ceramics artist Dave Crane’s Edges at Plinth Gallery, Oct. 4–Nov. 30
• Colorado Bike Culture at Denver Photo Art Gallery, Oct. 10–Nov. 30
• Excess and As It Was and Never Will Be, featuring new paintings by Jennifer Hope and Rachel Prago, at Edge Gallery, Oct. 11–Nov. 3
• Write, I See: Ekphrastic Response, in partnership with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, at Art Students League of Denver’s Carson Gallery, Oct. 11–Nov. 22
• A Revised History, Denver painter CT Nelson’s solo show, at Knew Conscious Gallery, Oct. 12–Nov. 1
• Colorado native and mixed media artist William Lee Ashley’s Memory at Anthology Fine Art, Oct. 18—Nov. 30
• Jon Koenigsberg’s dark, angular mobiles at CORE New Art Space, Oct. 24–Nov. 10
• Found art collages and iPhone photography at Spark Gallery, Oct. 24–Nov. 17
• Don Stinson’s new paintings at the David B. Smith Gallery, Oct. 25–Nov. 23
• University of Colorado Denver Faculty Biennial at Emmanuel Gallery, Oct. 31–Nov. 14
• Denver Arts Week, multiple locations, see denver.org/denverartsweek for details, Nov. 1–9
• Modest X 4, a four-artist exhibit at Abecedarian Gallery, Nov. 1–Dec. 14
• Pop artist Louis Recchia at Pirate gallery, Nov. 8–24
• Genetic Time Bomb, Thomas Robertson’s perspective on Alzheimer’s disease, at GroundSwell Gallery, Nov. 9–Dec. 10
• Paintings by Drop City founder Clark Richert at the Gildar Gallery, Nov. 15–Jan. 4