Under the Influence

Beauty at Cordell Taylor, ties at RMCAD, trouble at Mizel and an insult hurled at the DAM.

Speaking of RMCAD, did you hear the one about new president Steve Sumner asking the male faculty and staff to wear ties? Gee, I wasn't sure he was the right guy for the job, but I didn't realize that he was completely unfamiliar with the realities of the contemporary art world.

"cant," by Karen McClanahan, acrylic on canvas.
"cant," by Karen McClanahan, acrylic on canvas.
The beleaguered Mizel Center.
The beleaguered Mizel Center.


Through October 11
Cordell Taylor Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street

On a more serious note, here's some unsettling news: Last week, with only a few days' notice, Joanne Kauvar, founding director of the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, was "laid off" by the executive committee of the board. The committee is led by Paula Herzmark, who also serves as CEO of the Jewish Community Center, the Mizel Center's host institution. Kauvar's departure is said to be the result of budget shortfalls that have caused widespread layoffs at the JCC.

Whatever the reason, the decision to ax the gifted Kauvar strikes me as strange. One of the most puzzling things is why Herzmark would do this now, when a new board is to be assembled soon and when she'll be stepping down herself in a few months.

Even stranger than the decision itself is the fact that Kauvar does not hold Herzmark personally responsible for it, though it was obviously the JCC director who made the call. "Paula hired me in the first place," Kauvar says, "and she was always supportive of the arts program at the Mizel Center. Without it, we couldn't have made it this far. It's been a good ride for nine years."

Kauvar has been in the art business for a lot longer than that, beginning three decades ago at what was then called the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities. She was the original administrator for both the Art in Public Places program created by the Colorado Legislature in 1974 and for the Colorado Artist Registry in Boulder. In 1986, Kauvar joined the staff of the Mizel Museum of Judaica, where she worked until she joined the Mizel Center in 1994.

As she looks back, Kauvar observes that she was most proud of the programming at the Mizel Center during her tenure. "The most interesting thing we did was the interdisciplinary programs that became a signature for us," she says. "We were in a position to take advantage of our wonderful facilities to present interdisciplinary events, having a theater and a fine-art gallery. Together, they gave us a lot of latitude."

The sudden departure of Kauvar is not the only controversy surrounding the Mizel name. In the spring, the Mizel Museum, at the time the Mizel Center's twin-sister institution, made newspaper headlines by giving Governor Bill Owens an award for his contributions to the arts in Colorado! This was an outrageous gesture, considering that Owens had all but zeroed out the state's arts budget. Then the Mizel Museum did something else outrageous: It split with the Mizel Center and took its multimillion-dollar endowment with it.

Because of the split, plans for a new museum to house the combined facilities went up in smoke even though they were in an advanced state of design, with models having already been done by David Owen Tryba.

When I wrote about the divorce of the Mizel Museum from the Mizel Center, I hinted in my column that things were going to get tough at the Mizel Center, but in my wildest dreams, I did not imagine that Kauvar's job was in danger. Her last day was Friday, September 19.

A show that originated at the Denver Art Museum earned a review in the New York Times and was then the subject of a correction, which was followed by an "Editor's Note" -- sort of a mega-correction. Shades of Jayson Blair!

Here's what happened: In a pretentiously moronic August 8 review of the groundbreaking USDesign 1975-2000, showing at New York City's Museum of Arts & Design, writer Ken Johnson impugned the integrity of organizer R. Craig Miller, a curator at the Denver Art Museum. Johnson suggested that Miller was in the bag for Target, a show sponsor, and therefore included numerous Michael Graves pieces, since his designs are sold at Target stores. Johnson ponderously intoned that "the harmonic convergence of Mr. Graves and Target is not so felicitous, because it undermines the intellectual credibility of the whole show."

There were several problems with Johnson's observation -- most notably that it wasn't true. Target wasn't an original sponsor of the Denver show; the retailer came on board only when USDesign traveled to New York. The Times ran a limp correction on August 22 that sidestepped the fact that Johnson had made up the story, then offered a more explicit explanation on September 5 in the form of the aforementioned editor's note.

I bring this up because it's so unfair to Miller, a real connoisseur of the old school. It makes me angry that he was so unjustly smacked in a bogus story in the New York Times.

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