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Considering its outlandish appearance, the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum has overshadowed what's on display inside. There are some exceptions, however, and first among them is RADAR: Selections From the Collection of Vicki & Kent Logan, which is installed in the Anschutz Gallery on level two. Put together by Dianne Vanderlip, outgoing curator of the Modern and Contemporary Art department, RADAR is second only to the building itself in earning raves from visitors.
Much of its presence can be attributed to Vail residents Kent and Vicki Logan, who are among the most important collectors of contemporary art in the country and two of the DAM's most significant donors, having given more than 200 works of art and having promised hundreds more from their personal collection.
The Logans began seriously collecting contemporary art in 1992, while living in San Francisco. They were quick studies and had the means to travel the world on a hot art tip, plus the cash to purchase the best pieces they found. Even more striking than the speed at which they emerged as major collectors is the fact that they almost immediately began giving away a number of the pieces they were collecting. In 1997 they donated more than 200 works by a list of international heavy hitters to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
They left the Bay Area in 2000 and moved to Vail, where they have a home and a private museum. With this relocation, they switched their allegiance from SFMOMA to the DAM, making a series of gifts representing the largest donations in the institution's history. According to Vanderlip, the Logans are different from most art collectors because they aren't waiting until after they're gone to share their booty. Instead, they believe that it's important for the public to see the material while it's more or less still fresh.
The objects Vanderlip selected for RADARcome from all corners of the Logans' collection; she marshaled pieces already on the premises as well as some from SFMOMA and the couple's personal stash in Vail. I'll say this: I wish the Logans had lived in Vail when they began their pursuit so that the DAM would have received the picks-of-the-litter that went to SFMOMA, since those are the pieces that are crucial to the success of RADAR. On the bright side, the pieces from Vail are the finest of their types, and the couple has promised to give most of them to the DAM.
Today, the Logans have a point of view that determines what they buy, though apparently it was not pre-ordained, because Kent has written that they did not start out to collect art. I've heard their approach referred to as "conceptual realism," and many of their pieces are heavy with representational imagery and socio-political content. Conversely, they have scrupulously avoided formalism, even if some pieces look completely abstract at first. For the Logans, contemporary art begins with pop art and new realism from the late '50s and '60s, though Vanderlip chose not to include any historic pieces in RADAR, focusing instead on works done in the '90s and 2000s.
The Logans have zeroed in on various art-making centers, including the United States, Europe and Asia. Vanderlip installed the show in a way that keeps the art from different countries separate, giving the exhibit structure. I'm glad, too, because it allows us to see the work in context and to observe the differences between contemporary scenes in different places.
The Logans rode at the front of many waves, but it was in the field of contemporary Asian art that they really distinguished themselves, having built the largest collection of its kind in the world. This is no doubt why Vanderlip chose to install the Asian material near the front of the show, with Korean in the entry gallery, Japanese in the gallery at the left and Chinese in the gallery next to that.
Dominating the Korean section is Michael Joo's "Headless (mfg portrait)," an installation of 28 out of a set of 64 mass-produced terra cotta casts of the seated Buddha lined up on a large sculpture stand. Joo removed the heads of the statues and replaced them with found doll and puppet heads hung from the ceiling so that they seem to float above the figures. The juxtaposition of the traditional religious symbolism of the Buddha with the pop-cultural heads represents a key issue in contemporary Asian art. It's the idea of East meeting West, as seen in spades in the Japanese section on display to the left.
The Joo gets RADAR off to a strong start, but the four Takashi Murakami pieces -- two paintings and two installations -- are genuine show-stoppers. Murakami is by far the most famous of contemporary Japanese artists, and his signature style is a kind of neo-pop based on Japanese animation and traditional scroll painting. A truly magic moment in the show is the first sight of the installation of the doll-like figure surrounded by anthropomorphic mushrooms in "DOB in the Strange Forest" with "Super Nova," an enormous multi-panel mural of mushrooms anchored by a mushroom cloud, just beyond. The other two Murakamis are presented the same way, with the three-dimensional "May Satsuki" in front of the mural "Hiropon." Vanderlip calls these Murakamis "Japanese national treasures," and I don't think she's exaggerating a bit.
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