60 Years of Colorado Modernism and From Framing to Furnishing

The Kirkland Museum is an embarassment of riches that just got better with two new exhibits.

The Kirkland is filling an obvious void, and though there are other collections of regional art at the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado History Museum, the Denver Public Library and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, none of these institutions are actively pursuing it, nor do any of them have as many pieces by so many different artists. This means that the definitive view of Mile High modernism can be found only at the Kirkland.

Another specialty of the Kirkland is decorative art, and pieces from this category are used to lay out 60 Architects. Unlike the 60 Years exhibit, the featured designers in 60 Architects are from around the world. The Kirkland's decorative-arts holdings include many first-class pieces, so distinguishing them from the things in 60 Architects might be difficult. Look for the small blue tags that have been appended to the identifying labels -- but you really have to pay attention to see them and to screen out nearby objects that aren't part of the festivities.

Grant has put some of the most important pieces in 60 Architects in the large main room, including a group of Gio Ponti items. The Kirkland owns a number of wonderful things by Ponti, the designer of the Denver Art Museum's North Building, including his famous "Superleggera" chair from the 1950s. Ponti's furniture is fairly rare, so this is a special chance to see so many of his pieces, particularly the elegant upholstered lounge with walnut legs and diagonal structural arms, and the luxurious console with an abstract enameled copper top by Paolo di Poli displayed in the old studio space. Ponti's sensibilities spanned tastes from the 1920s to the 1970s, but his greatest works are from the '50s, like this chair and console. Ponti took traditional forms and reduced them to their lightest and simplest expression.

"Landscape," by John Edward Thompson, oil on canvas.
"Landscape," by John Edward Thompson, oil on canvas.

Details

Through March 4, Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576.

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The collection at the Kirkland is particularly rich in pieces by Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest American architect of all time. The floor lamp of 1915 for the Sherman Booth House masterfully demonstrates how Japanese ideas were essential to the creation of modernism. The 1951 dining room table and chairs from Broad Margin Plantation reveal how effortlessly Wright was able to update his Japanesque concepts into mid-century modernism. Both the lamp and dining-room set are handmade examples, but the Kirkland also has many Wright production pieces used throughout the museum. Other great architects with pieces here include Gerrit Rietveld, Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer and a host of over four dozen more.

60 Architects is an interesting idea for a show, but with all the distractions at the museum, it's harder to follow than 60 Years, even with those little blue tags. I think both shows would work better if Grant completely isolated them in dedicated spaces. But I know that will never happen as long as there are so many more good things in the collection than there is room in the Kirkland to show them -- a situation that will not be changing in the foreseeable future.

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