The last time around, in the fall of 2000, the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver's Colorado Biennial was in different hands, while current MCA curator Cydney Payton was wrapping up her tenure at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Payton was never shy at BMoCA (she had her own ideas of what a showcase of Colorado art should be), and now the MCA exhibit is all hers. The 2003 Colorado Biennial: 10 + 10 opens with a reception Friday, June 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. The show offers an overview that segues from choices driven by Payton's own cutting-edge sensibilities (represented by the first ten artists, a diverse group working in across-the-board media) to more stolid choices made by the artists themselves (the second ten), in what Payton says amounts to a form of homage.
Not unlike a more formal version of the museum's SLIDEjam series -- another program introduced by Payton, in which one local artist chooses several others to present and discuss their work -- the biennial represents a form of presentation that blurs the lines between artist and curator. "My original concept for the biennial was to address my own subjective curatorial voice and to make that public," Payton notes. "But I also hoped to stimulate artists to think more literally about what's involved in curation."
In a way, the final spread of representation in the exhibit made things easier for Payton, who was faced with the prospect of choosing from works submitted by an incredible 460 applicants, half of which she deemed well worth looking at. If anything, Payton's contribution to the biennial concept was to make it more experimental. (The last one, curated by Mark Masuoka, stuck to more traditional media.) She made the cut in a single, interminable day, going with a bold mixture that includes video and sound installations, digital media and other in-the-moment art forms, by Wilma Fiori, Quintin Gonzalez, Michelle Gonzalez, Ilk, Daniel Raffin, Kwabena Slaughter, Jeff Starr, Patricia Tinajero-Baker, David Brady and Chris Lavery -- names not everyone is all that familiar with.
"I made some very clear decisions and chose really fresh faces," Payton says. "I went with an element of surprise; I wanted to spread out my curatorial wings. Even the one artist I chose who already has a reputation is doing all brand-new work. But as it turned out, the artists Ipicked were the ones choosing more established artists. And some of the artists I actually ended up deciding against are now going to be on view in the second group." The second crop includes more recognizable names from the local art world -- Emilio Lobato, John Hull, Martha Russo, the (n), Monica Escalante, Blair Brown, Colin Livingston, Bob Koons, Phil Bender and Justin Cooper.
In addition, she adds, the audience will add a third component to the show's analytical spirit: "I'd like to let the choices be points of controversy and dialogue. Hopefully, the viewers will function as their own curators."
It's a fitting concept for a show that will be discussed again and again in local art circles during the two-year gap until the next biennial comes along. Outside of her plan to observe the response to the current one, Payton's not looking that far ahead just yet. "I think people will have a lot of fun with this show," she says. "Because of the diversity of media, it's generous, bountiful -- definitely not predictable. I don't see how you can't enjoy that."