#45: Darrin Alfred
As associate curator of architecture, design and graphics at the Denver Art Museum, Darrin Alfred -- who cut his teeth at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art before landing in Denver -- keeps the museum's design collection up-to-date, while curating such shows as 2009's popular poster show, The Psychedelic Experience; 2010's What Is Modern?, which re-explored the DAM's collection and redefined the meaning of modern design; and Pattern Play, a glimpse into the modern artistry of mid-century textile designer Jacqueline Groag, in 2013. But he also champions the Denver design community, both as a curator with an eye for local treasures and as a member of the AIGA Colorado board. More than an arbiter of taste, Alfred reminds us how good design and style can enrich our everyday lives. Where is design headed in a new century? Alfred gave us some clues by answering the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword:If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Darrin Alfred: At present, I would say Alexander Girard. The first director of textile design at Herman Miller and an avid promoter of folk art, Girard saw things differently than most. I have the highest respect for his conviction that beauty can be found amid everyday life, that design is everywhere, and that something as ordinary as a picnic table could be set in a beautiful, artful way. It's impossible to talk about his architectural, textile, product and interior designs without using words like visionary or vibrant.
Girard's talent also extended to exhibition design, including the 1955 exhibition Textiles and Ornamental Arts of India at the Museum of Modern Art. His installation, designed as an imaginary bazaar, disrupted the purity of MoMA's modernist white galleries and received rave reviews in New York's fashion magazines. Girard had the remarkable ability to instantly transport the viewer to places he or she could only imagine.
Faye Toogood, "Roly Poly Chair," 2014.
Courtesy Studio Toogood
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
British designer Faye Toogood, Los Angeles-based potter Adam Silverman, and my brother Brian Alfred, to name just a few. I recently acquired Faye Toogood's Roly-Poly chair for the museum's collection. It's a wonderfully sculptural chair with chunky round legs and a welcoming, smooth, dish-shaped seat that was inspired by Toogood's most recent pregnancy. She treated the raw (or undyed) fiberglass -- a material typically associated with mass production -- in an unconventionally hand-crafted manner. The chair has a slightly shimmering and translucent surface that's absolutely stunning when seen in person.
Adam Silverman has combined traditional pottery techniques with his own experimental approach. His pots are gritty and beautiful. He has employed some really unique glazes and techniques to give his works their abstract surfaces. There's something other-worldly about them that I find so arresting.
My brother's painting "City Sunrise" was featured in the Hamilton Building's inaugural exhibition RADAR: Selections from the Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan in 2006. His most recent work, however, takes automobile racing as a starting point for exploring globalism, speed, beauty and danger, through painting, collage and animation. His newest animation was selected for exhibition at Art Basel Miami Beach, for both inside the convention center and outside on the wall of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center. I'm looking forward to seeing it this December.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
I don't think this is an art trend, but I was recently reminiscing with friends about the lost art of the mix tape and was reminded of how the word "curate" has been taken out of the context of the museum and irresponsibly pasted onto everything from food and fashion to music and photo-sharing websites. While organizing things that appeal to you is a valid form of personal expression, it's not curation.
Design Lab: Three Studios featured the work of Denver's DoubleButter.
Denver Art Museum
What's your day job?
I am the associate curator of architecture, design and graphics at the Denver Art Museum. I oversee the Department of Architecture, Design and Graphics. My primary responsibilities include the acquisition, research, presentation and interpretation of objects in the department's collection and the organization of special exhibitions. I also oversee the Design Council of the Denver Art Museum, an alliance of more than 150 design professionals, patrons and others whose mission is to enhance the awareness and appreciation of design by making it accessible to a wider audience. They are probably best known for their annual mid-winter party and fundraiser, Design After Dark.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
It's been proven that good design impacts people and communities and causes. Good design can impact housing, education, health, the workplace and public spaces. I would support and sustain designers (and artists) who play a catalytic role in communities through projects that create positive social impact.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Prior to moving Denver, I lived in San Francisco, where housing for artists has become a major issue. The city's efforts to create affordable live/work spaces for artists haven't panned out and the high cost of housing will force many of them to leave the city. Artists priced out of Manhattan have moved to Brooklyn. Boston artists have moved to Rhode Island. Cities like Detroit, Seattle and Baltimore are offering artists some enticing housing incentives. As housing costs in Denver rise, it might be beneficial to be thinking as much about spaces concerned primarily with artists' needs for living and working as there is toward spaces supporting the presentation of artists' work.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
David Larabee and Dexter Thornton of DoubleButter, a Denver-based furniture design and manufacturing company. Their furniture has a sensuousness that's formed by the hands-on nature of its production and a remarkable attention to detail, materials and connections. Not only do I admire their approach to designing and fabricating their furniture, but they have a wicked sense of humor. I'm looking forward to their new showroom concept in Denver's Baker neighborhood.
DoubleButter's "Chairy Khalenian (CK Side Chair)," 2012, from the DAM collection.
Denver Art Museum
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I recently presented my vision for the museum's new design galleries. I will be working throughout the coming year to make it a reality. When completed, it will represent one of the largest displays of modern and contemporary design in a North American art museum.
I am also developing an exhibition concept that revolves around the term biophilia. It's the hypothesis that humans have evolved as beings deeply enmeshed with the intricacies of nature. The exhibition will illustrate our instinctive need to bond with natural systems, particularly the plant world, through the fields of contemporary art, architecture and design.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2014 and beyond?
Elish Warlop, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and a furniture designer who works primarily in lighting. Elish utilizes technologies such as 3D printing, LEDs and, most recently, OLED technology. Her designs reflect experimentation with details and connections that seek to reveal themselves slowly. Her Hoop lamp, which will be available at Design Within Reach next summer, was inspired by the construction of early eighteenth-century hoop skirts. Its parts are 3D printed before being cast in brass and incorporate high-efficiency LEDs. She garnered a pretty considerable amount of attention at WantedDesign during New York Design Week last May, and I think she's one to watch.
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In keeping with Darrin Alfred's interest in well-designed chairs, the Design Council of the Denver Art Museum and AIGA Colorado will host Chaircuterie, an auction/fundraiser of artist-decorated chairs, on Thursday, November 13 at the McNichols Building. Tickets, $40 to $50 (or $75 for the VIP preview party), are available online; prices are $20 higher at the door. Learn more about Darrin Alfred and the Denver Art Museum's Department of Architecture, Design and Graphics at the DAM website. The next Design After Dark event is scheduled for February 6, 2015.
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