100 Colorado Creatives: Nora Burnett Abrams

Nora Burnett Abrams at an MCA public program with artist Dario Robleto.
Nora Burnett Abrams at an MCA public program with artist Dario Robleto.

#6: Nora Burnett Abrams

Nora Burnett Abrams makes exhibits happen, and that's not easy: As curator at MCA Denver, she can't just pick up artists at a supermarket. Instead, it's about developing a relationship -- with a little detective work on the side -- and getting inside each artist's head to figure out what's going on in the work. All of which she does beautifully, bringing a rich variety of artists, both local and from around the world, to show Denver museum-goers where art's going in the 21st century, while also providing an informational backdrop for what they see. It's no small accomplishment, and Abrams is the perfect complement to MCA's participatory, highbrow-for-the-people museum model.

We invited Abrams to share her curator's point of view in the 100CC questionnaire; read on for the whole story.

See also: 100 Colorado Creatives: Nikki Pike

Burnett at work at MCA, collaborating on an Allison Smith sculpture.
Burnett at work at MCA, collaborating on an Allison Smith sculpture.

If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be and why?

At the moment, I would say Diana Nyad. She embodies the values of determination, ambition, focus, discipline and courage that I so admire in artists. The sheer scope of what she accomplished in swimming from Cuba to Florida -- after so many failed attempts and near-death moments -- sets a bar for boldness and great vision. She is a huge risk-taker, like so many wonderful artists of the past and the present, and to collaborate with that kind of a visionary would be supremely rewarding. 

Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?

I recently met with the artist Toba Khedoori and find her drawings and paintings to be hauntingly beautiful. Her works are figurative, but she tends to isolate the imagery -- a hole or a log or a fireplace -- on a large monochromatic background so that we are keenly aware of how this is a fabrication or illusion. But, because they are so realistic, you're constantly torn between being seduced and rationally knowing it's a ruse.

I think Roy McMakin's furniture/sculpture works are incredibly clever and beautiful. I love that they never resolve into being purely functional or decorative; they're unequivocally both. I also think Sarah Baie, MCA's director of programs, has the sharpest creative voice and sense of humor, which continually inspire me. Lastly, I think my two-year old son is pretty cute. 

Continue reading for more from Nora Burnett Abrams.  

Abrams in conversation with Denver artist Joel Swanson.
Abrams in conversation with Denver artist Joel Swanson.

What's one art trend you want to see die this year?

I don't know if this is a trend, but I dislike it when works of art are referred to as "pieces." To say "piece" implies that something is not fully or completely whole and also suggests that they're just any old things. They're objects or creative works and to refer to them as "pieces" feels degrading to the artist. 

What's your day job?

I am the curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where I work with artists to organize exhibitions and help realize their creative ambitions. I get to visit their studios, develop relationships with them and do my best to ensure that they present their best work at the museum. I also get to research and write for publications and other materials that accompany the exhibitions to make sure that our visitors can have as meaningful an experience with the work as possible.

A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?

I would make all museums, everywhere, free for everyone. Oh, and world peace.

What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?

I think having more critical voices would be a huge addition to the arts in Denver. We need more platforms for critical dialogue and more contributors to that conversation in order to enable a more lively, diverse and really messy constellation of the creative forces at play here.  

Continue reading for more from Nora Burnett Abrams.  

100 Colorado Creatives: Nora Burnett Abrams

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Monique Crine makes great paintings that hover between photo-realist and dream-like. They grip you and get under your skin. 

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

I am working on several solo exhibitions with the artists Senga Nengudi, a sculptor/performance artist who emerged in the 1970s in Los Angeles and who works with everyday materials like pantyhose and sand; Jorge Mendez-Blake, a Mexican artist who explores connections between literature and architecture; and Paul Sietsema, an artist who makes sculpture, paintings, drawings, and films that explore the very concerns of art-making itself. I'm also hoping to do another series of our "Nora! And Friends" talks at the museum, where different friends from the field of contemporary art and I talk about artists we're interested in and issues/ideas/breakthroughs in the field that feel relevant and timely. 

Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2014?

I think Joel Swanson is likely to get more attention this year. His work (on view at MCA Denver through March 30) finds the quirks of language and playfully calls attention to them. His work is serious but still accessible and even humorous. I also think Amber Cobb is a strong artist who is really pushing herself in exciting directions. I am always inspired by artists who continually expand their interests and their practice -- and risk failure in the process -- rather than staying with what they know and/or what is comfortable. 

Visit MCA Denver online for more information about current and upcoming exhibits curated by Nora Burnett Abrams.

Throughout the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.

To keep up with the Froyd's eye view of arts and culture in Denver, "like" my fan page on Facebook.

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MCA Denver

1485 Delgany St.
Denver, CO 80202


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