Mile-High Masters

Herbert Bayer is feted at Emil Nelson, while Vance Kirkland will be featured at the Newton Auditorium.

"Articulated wall" is the only large-scale Bayer currently on public view in Denver, though there was once another one: Bayer created a major indoor installation for the lobby of the Anaconda Tower, at 555 17th Street. I remember it well and feel fortunate to have seen it before it was foolishly ripped out during a remodel in the mid-1990s. The installation included a shallow pool of water lined with tile and trimmed out in white marble, with large white marble forms, including rectangles, diamonds and semi-circles, set on end. It was fabulous. No one in the art world knew it was endangered -- after all, who in his or her right mind would ax the Bayer material? -- but art dealer Sandy Carson caught wind of the impending vandalism and saved the lobby piece. However, she came in too late to foil plans to annihilate a Bayer mural on the Anaconda's mezzanine, which was painted over. The installation was to be hauled to the dumpsters, but it is now safely in storage at the DAM and will hopefully be re-erected somewhere, someday. The Emil Nelson show has a small model of the Anaconda piece, with the pool painted black and the edges and the forms painted white.

There are so many remarkable maquettes in the show that you might miss all the great works on paper. I especially liked the large untitled lithograph on the back wall in which stripes and crescents intersect one another so that they almost resemble organic forms. Plus, there are all the gorgeous Bayer-designed posters, many of them in racks, that are the most affordable pieces included, costing only a few hundred dollars apiece.

As I surveyed the show one last time, it occurred to me that herbert bayer: maquettes, prints and posters wasn't an abbreviated museum show, but a full-scale production that was shoehorned into the tiny spaces of the Emil Nelson Gallery.

"yellow stacked squares," by Herbert Bayer, wood 
and paint.
"yellow stacked squares," by Herbert Bayer, wood and paint.


Extended through December 4, Emil Nelson Gallery, 1307 Bannock Street, 303-534-0996

Just a few blocks up Capitol Hill, at 13th and Pennsylvania, is the wonderful Kirkland Museum, where there's always a large selection of Kirkland paintings. Recently the museum announced that three of the artist's most important creations -- "Space Mysteries," 1958, "Vibrations of Scarlet on Crimson," 1968, and "Explosions in Unknown Space," 1976 -- will be hung in the Newton Auditorium's Grand Gallery, which will be adjacent to the still-to-be completed Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The Grand Gallery will make up the lobby space at the orchestra level of the opera house, which is being inserted into the historic 1904-1908 Newton. On the concourse level, works by Stephen Batura and John DeAndrea have been commissioned.

The Newton name was affixed to the auditorium in 2003 in honor of former mayor Quigg Newton. Interestingly, Newton displayed Kirkland's paintings in his office during his term, which is why museum director Hugh Grant felt that it was fitting to display Kirklands in the newly renovated Newton Auditorium.

"Space Mysteries" and "Explosions in Unknown Space" are examples of the artist's experiments in mixing oil and water. "Vibrations of Scarlet on Crimson" is a classic dot painting in an op-art style and, at fourteen feet across, has the distinction of being Kirkland's largest single-panel painting.

Kirkland invented both the oil-and-water mixture and the transfer-painted dot techniques, as well as the subject matter: an imaginary view of outer space. "Kirkland was sad that humans were destroying their own environment, so he went to the stars," Grant says. "The paintings are a sort of commentary on our disregard for our own earth. Needless to say, he was a Democrat." As was Newton, I might add. Another interesting connection is that November 3 was the hundredth anniversary of Kirkland's birth, meaning he was born in 1904 -- the same year the Newton Auditorium was designed!

It will be the summer of 2005 before the Newton Auditorium is completed, which is when the public will get to see those Kirklands. In the meantime, check out the museum itself, where there are many examples of the master's work on display right now.

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