Unlike many exhibitions at the Denver Art Museum that cater to a fixed theme, The Light Show explores the many ways light is used and understood in more than 250 works, including paintings, photography, sculptures, and contemporary installations. While this collection features some unique and beautiful works of art, prepare to bust our your thinking caps in order to fully appreciate its scope.

“Since the beginning of time, light has provoked enduring questions about the nature of existence, and we hope this will challenge visitors to think more deeply about our known and unknown surroundings,” Rebecca Hart, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, said in a press release. Hart, in conjunction with Jorge Rivas Pérez, the Frederick and Jan Mayer curator of Spanish colonial art, gathered artwork from nine curatorial departments at the DAM to produce The Light Show—from the Oceanic Collection to Photography.

“The Way the Moon’s in Love with the Dark” by Fred Wilson. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

“The first thing we did was solicit nominations for artworks from each of the nine curatorial departments,” Hart says. After analyzing a plethora of pieces, the team started to see a couple of general themes emerge.

The first phase of the exhibition, which takes up the fourth floor of the Frederic C. Hamilton building, opened May 19 and focuses on spirituality and physical light. Pieces like “Death Cart” by José Inéz Herrara represent death and darkness, while monumental pieces like Fred Wilson’s “The Way the Moon’s in Love with Dark” deals with issues of race and shadows.

The second phase opens June 2 on the third floor and will focus on symbolic representations of light in art. For example, in “Rain Has No Father,” El Anatsui uses thousands of discarded liquor-bottle caps and copper wire to reflect light and draw our attention to the issue of waste.

“Rain Has No Father?” by El Anatsui (Ewe). Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

While many pieces show obvious uses of physical light—like “Corridor #2” by Lucas Samaras (pictured below), which symbolizes passing through a tunnel of light after death—others require more reflection (pun intended). Written narrative is placed throughout the exhibition to help guide visitors, but the curators hope that each piece in the exhibition evokes thought and imagination.

Walk through “Corridor #2,” an illuminated and immersive artwork by Lucas Samaras. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

Hart and Pérez strategically placed juxtaposing works side by side to emphasize contrasting uses of light and shadow. For example, Anish Kapoor’s sculpture “Untitled,” a bright, reflective sphere that changes the sound of your echo when you speak into it, is placed next to a shadowy portrait of Saint Francis from the 1600s.

While the curators wanted to show how light has inspired artists throughout history, the exhibition was also an opportunity for the museum to unearth pieces that have been in storage for many years.

“We did a very important conservation project to bring pieces back to view,” says Pérez says, who also used the exhibition as a chance to show off elaborate pieces like Wilson’s chandelier, which took over a year to get to the Untied States from Turkey.

“It’s an extravaganza of masterpieces because we really worked very hard to put together the jewels of the collection,” Pérez says.

If You Go: The exhibition runs from June 2, 2019 through May 20, 2020 on the third and fourth floor of the DAM’s Frederic C. Hamilton Building. This exhibition is included in the price of general admission.

Victoria Carodine
Victoria Carodine
Victoria Carodine is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.