Coming of Age

The projected cost is set at nearly $65 million, with an additional $15 million for a new parking structure to accommodate 1,000 cars. Final numbers will be announced when the city council discusses the bond initiative next month. But as of now, it looks like expanded facilities may be imminently ahead for the DAM.

It's as though CU Galleries director Susan Krane was conspiring with the DAM when she recently gave it a helping hand in making its case for expansion. The current show, Post-War, Pre-Millennium: Selections From the Collection of the Denver Art Museum, is completely made up of pieces from the DAM's packed-to-the-rafters offsite storage rooms. Though some of the pieces will be familiar, most have not been exhibited in public for many years.

The CU Galleries, located in the time-worn Sibell-Wolle Fine Arts Building, is entertaining its own expansion with the construction of a university museum (now a part of campus plans).

Despite appearances, Krane did not organize Post-War, Pre-Millennium in collusion with the DAM's political goals. Rather, she's been thinking about such an exhibit since taking over the CU Galleries in 1996, when she began to study slides of the DAM's permanent collection of contemporary art with the idea of presenting a series of exhibits in Boulder. Post-War, Pre-Millennium is the first of these exhibits.

Before coming to Colorado, Krane worked as a curator in the large contemporary department at the High Museum in Atlanta. She has also done stints with the Albright-Knox in Buffalo and the Walker Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis. Over the years, she has become familiar with the DAM's curator of modern and contemporary art, Dianne Vanderlip, whom Krane saw at art events around the country.

"I had known Dianne for years before I came here. I had an instinctual attraction to her. Our thinking was often parallel," recalls Krane. "I thought she made interesting purchases and took risks in building the collection. But in talking to people around here, I realized that Dianne's accomplishments are underappreciated locally--yet nationally she's very respected. Many people don't realize how well-known Dianne is outside of Colorado: She's made a reputation and helped the museum define itself as a stellar collecting institution." Krane points out that most museums in cities the size of Denver don't actively collect the way the DAM does and instead focus on educational programs.

The show "underscores how the [DAM's] collection is a valuable resource for the community," says Krane, who uses it for her own purposes, choosing fewer than two dozen pieces from the thousands available. In this way she's able to put her own spin on the DAM's contemporary holdings.

Those who are hoping to find an exploration of modern art history since 1945, exemplified by artifacts from the DAM--as clearly suggested by the show's title--will be sadly disappointed. So will those who expect to see a show highlighting the DAM's masterpieces. Instead, Krane has mostly made selections from the very recent past, with only a few of the included pieces over fifteen years old. She has chosen to eschew mainstream modernism, surely the biggest story of the last century, and filled the show with post-modernism. (Perhaps she should have called it Post-Modern, Pre-Millennium.) Even those few older modernist pieces that Krane has included have a mannered, second-generation character about them. But they're still the stand-outs in this show.

While studying the DAM collection, Krane began to identify currents that ran through it. Post-War, Pre-Millennium focuses on a handful of these.

In the first and smallest of the series of rooms that make up the modest CU Galleries is a section called "Techno Visionaries." In this part of the show is Nam June Paik's "Electronic Fish" of 1986, a popular sculpture of an old television cabinet fitted out with video, audio and mixed media. Korean-born Paik's sculpture looks like a space-age aquarium.

Also in "Techno Visionaries" is "Recognition," a 1990 piece by William Jude Rumley. The piece features a found chair on a platform surrounded by red lights and facing a pair of black speakers. The lights and sounds, including applause and grandiose introductions, are only activated when someone is sitting in the chair. Rumley, who works for the CU Galleries, is one of only three local artists selected by Krane for the show (the other two are deceased).

Continuing into the center space, which has been divided into two discrete rooms, Krane presents "Toward Transcendence," where abstract paintings--or at least abstract ideas--are explored. In this section are some of the biggest names. But even here, Krane preferred to fill the show with recognized artists, as opposed to famous ones.

One of the best-known names in the show is Larry Poons, whose loosely patterned "Reuben," a 1965 acrylic on canvas, is one of the finest things in Post-War, Pre-Millennium. Poons was commenting on formalism, the dominant abstract painting theory of the mid-century, when he laid a spare arrangement of ovals and other circular forms on top of a vibrant pink color field.

Next to the Poons is another old-fashioned modern painting, Vance Kirkland's "Explosions of Energy Near the Sun Fifty Billion Years B.C.," an oil-on-linen from 1978. It's interesting to see how well the deceased Denver artist's effort looks next to the blue chip Poons.

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