Metamorphic

A tale of two art venues.

Some interesting news has just come out of Boulder. Susan Krane, director of the CU Art Galleries at the University of Colorado, is leaving for the greener pastures -- or would that be the sunnier skies? -- of Arizona. This fall, she'll take over as director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, a relatively new institution with a relatively large budget.

The first time I met Krane, early in 1997, some months after she arrived, I knew she'd be leaving sooner or later, because even at that early date, I got the feeling she was already looking for a different job.

The problem for Krane -- who had left the modern and contemporary department of Atlanta's High Museum to take the CU position -- was Colorado. In her view, the state is a pitiful cultural backwater with little or nothing of interest. She'd hardly had time to check things out around here -- a single season hadn't even passed -- when she informed me during an interview that she deemed the art world of the Front Range to be both behind the times and irrelevant.

"Persimmon/Lapis," by Sonja Blomdahl, blown-glass vessel.
"Persimmon/Lapis," by Sonja Blomdahl, blown-glass vessel.
"Formalhaut," by David Ruth, cast-glass sculpture.
"Formalhaut," by David Ruth, cast-glass sculpture.

But isn't the proof in the pudding? What Krane does consider to be up to date and relevant is best revealed by the upcoming William Wegman show at the CU Art Galleries. Wegman, a one-hit wonder from the 1970s and '80s, is best known for his humorous photos of dogs dressed up in costumes. To mark the show's opening, visitors are invited to dress up their own dogs and bring them along. So you see, it's actually Krane's program for the CU Art Galleries, and not the local art scene, that is behind the times and irrelevant. I don't know about you, but I love a good irony.

I had no advance warning that Krane would be leaving CU, but I should have known something was up. In the past few months, I'd heard from several local art movers and shakers, including Mark Sink, Cydney Payton and Simon Zalkind, not because they were promoting their own shows at Gallery Sink, Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, or the Singer Gallery, respectively, but to ask me to review something -- anything -- at the CU Art Galleries. All of them said the same thing: Krane had complained to them that I had been ignoring her accomplishments. It's apparent now that there was a method to Krane's complaints. She was, right then, being vetted by the powers that be at the SMCA, and I guess she wanted as much press as possible to help her get the job.

One thing Krane's departure jeopardizes is the launching of the capital campaign meant to fund the construction of a new facility for the CU Art Galleries. She's been a guiding force behind the plan, which has evolved over the last few years. It seems to me that the expansion, to be designed by New Mexico architect Antoine Predock, is now seriously off-track.

Also unclear is the eventual outcome of the war of words that the expansion plan has generated -- to the point of getting lawyers involved. Here's what's up: The CU Art Galleries wants to change the institution's name and is toying with the moniker Center for the Visual Arts. When Sally Perisho, longtime director of the Metropolitan State College of Denver's Center for the Visual Arts heard about that, she told Krane that there was already an institution called the Center for the Visual Arts and that it might be nice if CU thought up a different name.

CU offered to change the proposed name to the Visual Arts Center, but Perisho didn't like that, either, since that's what people call the CVA half the time already. The issue hasn't been resolved, but I've got an idea: Why not have CU snuggle up to wealthy individuals who might donate large sums of money, then name the place after them? That approach doesn't seem to be doing the University of Denver any harm. And that way, CVA director Perisho could get a good night's sleep for a change.

Speaking of Perisho, it's informative to contrast her approach to Krane's. Instead of using her position as simply another line on her resumé, Perisho has established the CVA as one of the state's most important fine-art institutions. And she did it in less than ten years.

Far from turning up her nose at the art of our region, Perisho has included it in many of the exhibitions she's presented at the CVA. She has also brought in shows featuring artists from around the world. As a result, she has made -- and continues to make -- a solid contribution to the area's cultural life. The same can't be said for Krane.

Perisho has also carved out a special niche for what could be called craft shows, and art glass is the subject of the current exhibit at the CVA. Hot and Cool Contemporary Glass is a traveling show made up of pieces created by American studio artists from across the country. It was organized by the Media Gallery in Garnett, Kansas, and it's being toured by ExhibitsUSA. The traveling version doesn't include artists from Colorado, which is hardly shocking considering how few glassmakers work here; in fact, I can name only two: Kit Karbler and Michael David, the collaborators behind Denver's Blake Street Glass. Perisho added three of this team's pieces to the exhibit, which starts with their works.

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