Holiday Treats

Two Denver institutions put on another kind of parade of lights around the Civic Center.

In past years, the Denver Art Museum has usually seen the holiday season as an appropriate time to close some of its galleries and partially shut down -- strange, but true. In a dramatic change this year, however, all of the major galleries at the DAM are open, and the place is overflowing with glitzy attractions. I know it's cliche to say it, but there really is something for everyone somewhere in the museum -- and that, too, is unusual.

Let's say you're interested in classical antiquity. How about checking out that 4,000-pound Roman sarcophagus on the sixth floor? Made of marble, the piece depicts a group of figures from Greek mythology reclining on an elaborate divan. The sarcophagus, which debuted a few weeks ago, dates from the second century. Or maybe Oriental art is more to your liking. If so, then there are a couple of shows on the fifth floor, Sunken Treasures: Ming Dynasty Ceramics From a Chinese Shipwreck and China Meets the American Southwest, in which American Indian art is paired with Chinese.

More American Indian art can be seen on the seventh floor in The Harmsen Collection: A Colorado Legacy, which mostly features significant Western paintings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The work was collected by Jolly Rancher Candy Company founders Bill and Dorothy Harmsen, who gave it all to the museum earlier this year. Also on the seventh floor is Motion Pictures, which pairs the still photos of figures in motion by early-twentieth-century practitioner Eadweard Muybridge with similar pieces by mid- to late-twentieth-century photographer Harold Edgerton.

"Snowbound," by John Twachtman, oil on canvas.
"Snowbound," by John Twachtman, oil on canvas.


The Cos Cob Art Colony
Through January 20
Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway

Denver Park and Parkway System: A Legacy of Design
Through December 31
Denver Public Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway

Of course, the DAM is showcasing some of its most important exhibits on the first floor, along with some choice individual pieces, including John DeAndrea's "Linda." This locally famous hyperrealist reclining nude from 1983 is back out for its annual appearance. And just debuting is Joan Mitchell's "Dune," the newly acquired 1970 abstract masterpiece given to the DAM by Charles Hamlin. Modern art fills the Stanton galleries in Alice Neel, a large survey of the career of the late but significant New York artist. Next door in the Vance Kirkland Close Range Gallery, postmodern art rules the roost in Bruce Nauman, a brief look at the work of the New Mexico conceptualist. Both of these shows close on December 30, so if you haven't seen them yet, you should make the effort.

There's a little more time -- but not much -- to catch the third show on the DAM's first floor, The Cos Cob Art Colony, in the Hamilton galleries. Set to close at the end of January, the exhibit began its tour at the National Academy of Design in New York; Denver is its last stop. Susan Larkin organized Cos Cob and wrote the catalogue for it.

Now, if you're like me, you've probably been asking this question: What in heaven's name is the Cos Cob Art Colony? It turns out it was an art colony in Greenwich, Connecticut, that attracted a number of prominent New York artists between 1880 and 1920. Stylistically, the Cos Cob artists were involved in impressionism and post-impressionism, as could be expected given the time period. But their work was distinct from that of their European counterparts.

The colony was partly founded by painter John Twachtman, who taught at the Art Students League in New York in the 1870s and moved permanently to Greenwich in 1878. Twachtman had been introduced to the area by friend and fellow New York painter J. Alden Weir. In the 1870s, Weir began spending his holidays and summers there while maintaining his New York studio. Twachtman, in turn, told his colleagues and former students about the place. Other artists who went to Cos Cob include Theodore Robinson and Childe Hassam, probably the most important post-impressionist painter in the United States. Hassam became one of the colony's most influential figures.

"The artists were looking for a place to go outside of New York City," says Ann Daley, the DAM curator who supervised the installation of the show here. "Someplace outside of the dirty industrial city...someplace that was picturesque, like Cos Cob."

The activities of the colony centered on a place called the Holley House. The habitués of this boardinghouse, which still stands, were bohemians and progressives embracing vanguard ideas about art, politics and even sexuality, Daley says. "Cos Cob was more than an art colony. It attracted not only artists, but writers like Willa Cather and muckraker Lincoln Steffens. The writers were attracted to the colony because there was a lot of freedom of thought in Cos Cob. It was quite avant-garde." But surely the real attraction was the artists. Twachtman and Weir taught summer art classes both in their studios and outside. "Twachtman sold very little during his lifetime," Daley says. "He was much more interested in teaching than in selling his work."

In the first gallery at the DAM are two major Twachtmans that demonstrate why demand for his work is greater now than it was then. In "Snowbound" and "Connecticut Hills in Winter," both oils on canvas from the 1890s, Twachtman records snowstorms. In his handling of the snowy ground and cloudy sky, he predicted -- in retrospect, anyway -- the future of American art, New York School abstract expressionism.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help