Gallery Talk

The strong suit of the Williams show is the solo portion devoted to Kennedy. Williams was an early Kennedy enthusiast and as a result had the foresight and the resources to assemble a portfolio of 25 rare, early shots. Most of these have been included in the DAM exhibit, and they clearly demonstrate Kennedy's considerable gift for the medium.

Kennedy died in 1993 at the age of 36, his art career and his life cut short by AIDS. And though he never said so, seeing these photographs all together drives home an undeniable point: From the start, Kennedy's topic was his own impending death. This is clearly seen in the 1986 black-and-white photograph "Untitled (Best Two out of Three)," which features Kennedy playing cards with a skeleton.

Helping take the viewer's mind off the morbid if beautiful Kennedy photographs is the brightly colored art glass found upstairs in To Have and Behold. The exhibit is a testament to curator Miller's genius at making the most from the least; with just three pieces of glass, he has illustrated the similarities and differences between the Italian and Scandinavian approaches to the art form. Miller puts a 1950s "Canne" vase by Venetian legend Paolo Venini next to the "Applet (Apple)" vase from 1950s Swedish master Ingeborg Lunden. Just to drive home the point, Miller sticks in the middle a 1970 untitled vase by Finland's Tapio Wirkkala, which, despite its maker's Scandinavian roots, was made in Venice and looks entirely Italian.

In addition to mid-century art glass, To Have and Behold also includes examples of product design, dinnerware and, most engagingly, silver flatware and hollowware. Falling into the last category is the splendid silver-plate-and-wicker tea set made by France's Christofle in 1957 to a famous design by Italian virtuoso Lino Sabattini.

Several pieces of furniture make up the last rotation of New Concepts, which, like To Have and Behold, was organized by Miller. On a series of low stages that wind around one of the larger Architecture, Design and Graphics galleries, Miller has placed groupings of chairs and tables that walk the viewer through most of the last 200 years. Included are several furniture classics, including Michael Thonet's "Side Chair #18," made in Vienna in the 1870s, and nearby, the classic "Pernilla" chaise lounge from Swedish designer Bruno Mathsson.

It wasn't especially radical of Miller to include an example of Shaker furniture as part of the development of modern design--in this case, the circa-1890 "No. 4 Sewing Rocker," made of maple with a woven wool seat. But he does stick his neck out with the Empire-style ash, oak, maple and beech "Elastic Side Chair," by Samuel Gragg, from the early nineteenth century. The painted peacock feathers on the back and the hooves on the chair's feet seem particularly classical. However, the elaborate steam-bending of the wood clearly links this piece to many later developments, especially the use of plywood, as is seen in the newest chair in the show, the 1989 birch-veneered "Ply-chair," by English designer Jasper Morrison.

These three shows at the DAM have an admittedly quiet appeal, and none are ever crowded with visitors. But it's worth your while to dodge the heavy equipment and construction tape in order to take them in.

A Passion for Photography: Gifts From Ginny Williams, through September 14; To Have and Behold: Twentieth Century Design Acquisitions and New Concepts: The Industrial Revolution, 1776-1996, through June 30, 1998; Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 640-4433.

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