Social Studies

Art and politics mix it up in the season opener at Denver's MCA.

The Ming and the Huan, as well as the pieces by Chong, Stadtblind and Art for Humanity, all derive from New York conceptualism of the '60s and '70s, as does nearly everything else in this show. There's even a representative of that period: Yoko Ono, one of the pioneers of conceptualism. This content makes the ultimate message of BLOOD not that art has become international, but rather -- and here's that unsettling specter of imperialism -- that American-style art has.

BLOOD is definitely mind-expanding, but MCA director Payton has also been looking to expand a lot more than our heads. She's added more programming this fall, and she ultimately wants to build a new museum facility.

"To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond," by Zhang 
Huan, C-print.
"To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond," by Zhang Huan, C-print.
"The Colors of Berlin," by Stadtblind, installation.
"The Colors of Berlin," by Stadtblind, installation.


Through January 4
Museum of Contemporary Art, 1275 19th Street

In the area of programs, the MCA is not only presenting BLOOD, installed in the smallish museum at Sakura Square, but is also sponsoring two exhibits mounted elsewhere.

The first off-site exhibit is The Dikeou Collection, which is installed in a 5,000-square-foot space on the fifth floor of the Colorado Building, an art-deco confection on the 16th Street Mall at California Street. This show highlights the private collection of contemporary art assembled by brother and sister Pany and Devon Dikeou.

The second off-site exhibit, middle ground: Stephen Batura, will open November 14 in a converted warehouse at 3002 Walnut Street. Batura is a prominent contemporary representational painter whose recent pieces have been based on historic photos of Denver found in the Western History/Genealogy Department of the Denver Public Library, where he used to work.

As for that new museum building, Payton says it's full speed ahead, although in truth, it's still pretty early in the process. For example, a formal capital campaign has not even been launched yet -- a fact that makes it hard to judge whether the MCA will be able to raise the money.

The idea for a new museum started with Mark Falcone, managing director of the development firm of Continuum Partners, which last spring offered the MCA a prime piece of land in the Platte Valley, at the corner of 15th and Little Raven streets. Worth about $800,000, the land would be given outright to the MCA if the institution agreed to erect a museum on the site. Then an anonymous donor gave the MCA a grant of $50,000 to study the feasibility of undertaking such an ambitious project. The results of that study have not been released, but it seems clear that the conclusion will be that this project is feasible; the MCA has already issued a formal Request for Qualifications aimed at architects, with a deadline of November 3.

More pressing than coming up with a designer for the building, though, is coming up with financial donors to pay for it. "We're offering the cheapest naming rights in the country," Payton says. "For three or four million, a donor could have the museum named after him or her." Or, presumably, after it, as would be the case if a corporation bought the naming rights.

When you think about it, that does seem like a modest amount for such a plum. After all, Frederic Hamilton put up $20 million to get his name on the Daniel Libeskind-designed building that's now going up for the Denver Art Museum. And don't forget the more than $100 million Invesco paid to have its name plastered all over Mile High Stadium.

Now, there is a cautionary proviso that I must put forward at this point: Plans for new museums have a tendency to evaporate over time. Consider the examples of the Museo de las Américas and the formerly joined Mizel Museum of Judaica and Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. Each had plans to build new facilities that were much further along than the MCA's are now, and the projects still fell apart.

Just last spring, a financial crisis at the Museo forced the abrupt cancellation of a multi-use museum complex that had already been designed by nationally famous California architect Michael Rotundi. Even more recently than that, the Mizel Museum split with the Mizel Center, and their plans for a joint museum were scuttled, even though Denver architect David Owen Tryba had already designed the building. I hope the MCA's dreams don't wind up in that same dustbin of good but discarded ideas.

Though she knows the effort will be tough, Payton is optimistic. "We're going to build a museum, definitely," she says emphatically.

And you know what? I think I'm tempted to believe her.

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