Open and Closed

Japanese design is showcased at the CVA, while more art censorship hits Colorado.

The last few months have been pretty tough for the Center for Visual Art, the LoDo mini-museum operated by Metropolitan State College of Denver. In a shocking move this past spring, the school's Republican-dominated board of trustees cut the center's funding in half ("New Directions," May 5). No surprise there: De-funding the arts has been a Republican goal for at least the last twenty years.

Apparently, boardmembers saw the CVA as a source of free money for their budget wishes, not as a key part of the city's cultural hierarchy. In particular, the board needed to come up with the enormous amount of money needed to cover the staggering salary and ridiculously generous benefits package awarded to Stephen Jordan, Metro's new president ("Figures, Facts and Fountains," May 19). To make that happen, several key CVA positions were eliminated. As a result, the gallery lost its well-respected director, Kathy Andrews, and Amy Banker, the head of its award-winning educational outreach program. That leaves only program coordinator Cecily Cullen as a carryover from the old regime.

I went to the CVA last week for the first time since the changes went into effect, and I must admit, I had some trepidation. I wanted to talk with Cullen to find out what's going on, and meet with interim director Jennifer Garner -- who is not to be confused with interim executive director Greg Watts, the chair of Metro's art department.

"Butterfly Stool," by Sori Yanagi, 1956.
"Butterfly Stool," by Sori Yanagi, 1956.
Sony's "AIBO ERS-111," 1999.
Sony's "AIBO ERS-111," 1999.

I found out that widespread rumors of the CVA advisory committee resigning en masse are not true -- but the truth is pretty close. According to Cullen, three members did resign in protest over the budget cuts, and the others decided to "step back," with future meetings canceled indefinitely. So the advisory-council members didn't resign; they simply decided to stop meeting. That strikes me as a distinction without a difference.

Garner seems like a good choice to shepherd the place during this difficult time. She has her undergraduate degree from Metro and has taught art there for the past ten years. She is in charge of the BFA thesis program, in which students present their work in exhibits. In addition, Garner has been running the Emmanuel Gallery, an on-campus facility operated jointly by the three colleges at Auraria. This fall, a search will be launched for a permanent director of the CVA, but Garner has not yet decided whether she'll apply.

Garner believes that if the art department had not stepped up to the plate to bail out the CVA, it might have closed. And that's still a possibility, since the lease on the current space on Wazee Street is up in April, and it's not yet clear whether the gallery will remain at its current address. Garner hopes it will, and she assures me that things will be peachy-keen there. God knows I want to believe her; however, she is the third director in approximately that many years to dismiss my concerns. But given what's happened, I would say that being concerned about the CVA's future isn't being paranoid -- it's being realistic.

The current show at the CVA is Japanese Design Today 100, the last of the big-budget exhibitions to be hung there. It opened on former director Andrews's last day, which is appropriate, as she booked it and oversaw its installation during her final few weeks.

This was clearly a difficult assignment, because Japanese Design has certain immutable aspects that are not an easy fit for the CVA. For instance, each piece is given a number rather than a label, and viewers are asked to tour the exhibit by using a brochure that details the works numerically. As a result, viewers will often find themselves scanning the room to find the next number and will frequently have to cross the gallery to find it. Of course, you can always just walk through and flip back and forth in the brochure instead of following the numbering exactly. The best demonstration of the bad fit is that the show begins in the space behind the information desk instead of in the entry up front.

The Japan Foundation organized the traveling show, with selections made by a jury comprising design professor Hiroshi Kashiwagi, designer Makoto Koizumi, the Nippon Design Center's Nobuko Shimuta and design curator Masafumi Fukagawa. The four chose a group of thirteen post-war objects to provide context for the nearly 100 contemporary pieces that make up the bulk of the show. The use of the historic pieces at the beginning makes Japanese Design a primer on the topic, which is necessary, because the landmarks of Japanese design are little known in this country.

Surely that's why the jurors chose to put Isamu Noguchi's work in the historic section, even though most of it was designed in New York, where he lived (actually making him an American designer). Noguchi's "Rocking Stools," from 1954, in black lacquer and chrome-plated metal, are among the first things viewers will see in the show.

There are other interesting pieces in the historic section that look as American as those stools, though these items were actually designed in Japan. For example, check out the 1960 Sony TV by Sou Shimada and the 1955 Toshiba rice cooker by Yoshiharu Iwata. One early piece that does look more Japanese than American is one of the best known in the show: Sori Yanagi's "Butterfly Stool," made for Tendo in 1956.

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