Since 1995, the Denver Art Museum's handsome and spacious Stanton galleries have mostly been at the disposal of the Modern and Contemporary Art department, and over the years, department curator Dianne Vanderlip and her colleagues have used these rooms, located just off the elevator lobby on the first floor, to host changing displays based on a rotation of the DAM's impressive permanent collection along with choice loans from private sources. But this Sunday, Vanderlip's reign in Stanton will end -- at least for two years, and most likely forever. Stanton, like the adjacent Hamilton galleries, will be given over to traveling shows, an unfortunate but not unexpected turn of events.
Surely this situation was predicated at least in part by the impending construction of the new museum wing, which will be on line in four or five years. The department is set to move there when the wing is completed and, as a result, will have severely limited space until then. As disappointing as it is to us, it must be really awful for Vanderlip and her crew. And one wonders who made this wrongheaded decision and foisted it on them.
Of course, the changes don't mean there won't be any modern and contemporary art on view, just considerably less than we're used to. Schlessman Hall, just opposite the entry lobby, will continue to be used, as will the passageways leading to the Hamilton and Stanton galleries and the elevator lobby. The Vance Kirkland Close Range Gallery will continue to feature contemporary art, and the sixth and seventh floors will still include some examples of modern and contemporary art within more broadly historical displays of paintings and sculptures.
The Mirage photography gallery, now within the Stanton rooms, will move up to the seventh floor, where it will replace the existing photo gallery, and in spring 2002, the seventh floor's Gates Gallery will be turned over to Modern and Contemporary Art as well. All of this sounds a lot better on paper than it actually is, since the seventh floor, which primarily features Western art, is only half the size of most of the other floors. And since contemporary art is often mighty big, it will be difficult to find enough breathing room up there, especially in the cozy Gates Gallery.
The only rational response to this alarming situation -- after, of course, an interval devoted to lamentation -- is to rush over to the DAM in the next few days and revel in the many wonderful things on display in the Stanton rooms.
For instance, John DeAndrea's famous 1983 sculpture, "Linda," is back. The super-realistic reclining nude is displayed just outside the entrance to the Stanton space and has been demurely -- and strategically -- draped. Beyond, in the large front room, is "Reuben," by Larry Poons, from 1965. This piece has been hung vertically, though it's most often been seen in an incorrect horizontal orientation. Across from the Poons is the marvelous "Air Conditioned Jungle," by David Budd, from 1974. The artist smeared thick layers of green paint onto this painting, producing a luscious color field.
In the main central space are several major pop and post-pop works -- notably, Edward Ruscha's "It Is Said," from 1984, and Roy Lichtenstein's "Reflections: Whaam!" from 1990. Also referring to popular culture is the 1988 silkscreen-on-vinyl painting "Turned Trick," by Jenny Holzer. In a very different mood is Jim Dine's "Color of the Month of August," from 1969, in which the artist used not only paint, but things like an attached cowboy boot and a freestanding camp stool.
In the first of the series of galleries that radiate around the large central space, we can find selections by Bay Area funk stars Joan Brown, William Wiley, Robert Arneson, Peter Voulkos and Robert Hudson. Some of this stuff is very difficult in that it subverts standard ideas about beauty, but then again, that does seem to be the point. Two wonderful Roland Berniers, both from his 1990s "Mouth Pieces" series, are displayed in the next of the small galleries. Bernier, one of Denver's most innovative contemporary artists, is scheduled for a solo in the DAM's Close Range Gallery this spring.
Choice older pieces can be seen in the small gallery in one of the back corners. In this section, put together by associate curator Nancy Tieken, is the DAM's well-known Picasso, a still life related in date and style to "Guernica." There's also that exquisite 1930s Gorky drawing, "Nighttime Enigma and Nostalgia," along with several of the DAM's many Motherwells and a historically significant Barnett Newman, "#61," from 1949, that's been loaned anonymously.
Across the narrow back gallery, where Dine's large 1989 sculpture "Wheat Fields" has been paired with Mondrian's charming little "Blue, White, Yellow," from 1930, are pieces by Dan Flavin and Richard Serra.
Back in the front is the exhibit Colorado Masters of Photography, in the soon-to-move Mirage Gallery. In this exhibit, former DAM assistant curator Jane Fudge put together in-depth looks at four local photographers: Ferenc Berko, Hal Gould, Mary Alice Johnston and Myron Wood.
In the last of the small galleries is a notable James Turrell installation, "Trace Elements," from 1991. In the darkened room, using lights and a simple window-like opening at one end, Turrell has created a thoroughly unreal environment.
In a few days, though, the Turrell's lights will be turned off, probably for a very long time, and other large things will be put away indefinitely. The first of the traveling shows that will be installed in the Stanton galleries are an exhibit of central-Asian textiles and later a collection of European masterpieces.
Apparently, we'll just have to wait until the new wing is completed before a large selection of the DAM's modern and contemporary art collection will be on display again. And in a culture like ours, with its too-short attention span, that seems like a downright eternity.
Thankfully, the privately funded Vance Kirkland Close Range Gallery will continue -- at least for a few years -- to be the principal beachhead for the Modern and Contemporary Art department.
Its current offering is Collecting Ideas: Works From the Polly and Mark Addison Collection. The Addisons, who live in Frisco, are among the state's best-known collectors of contemporary art. Vanderlip selected more than two dozen pieces for this show, which is only a small percentage of the Addisons' large collection.
"Dianne came to me with the idea a couple of years ago," Mark Addison says. "She made up a list, gave it to me, and it all just came together this past spring or summer."
Although the Addisons are both retired, they maintain a very active lifestyle. "We teach skiing at Copper Mountain," Mark says. "Both Polly and I work the weekends during the season, and then I flip a switch on Tuesday and drive down to Boulder, where I become an academic for a day a week." Addison is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado in the fine-arts department. "I donate back all but one dollar of my salary to the department," he says.
Addison can afford to work for this symbolic salary because he made a fortune in the floral-supply industry; wealth may not be an absolutely essential prerequisite for art collecting, but it sure helps.
The Addisons have been collecting art for more than forty years, "but I've been interested in art since I was a child," Mark continues. "Every summer when I was growing up, I was enrolled in the Chicago Art Institute's classes."
The pieces in Collecting Ideas are all over the map stylistically and in terms of medium. There honestly seems to be no aesthetic pattern that connects one thing to another aside from the fact that all were done during the last thirty years. "We've got a lot of breadth, but not much depth," says Addison with a laugh. "First we were interested in strong images -- really good strong paintings and drawings. That's where it started. Later we moved from strong images to strong ideas."
We get some notion of how disjointed the show is in the alcove anteroom just outside the Close Range. In this section, two thoroughly different artistic approaches are laid out. On one side is a trio of neo-traditional oil paintings depicting the human figure; on the other side is something that's entirely different in every conceivable way, a video and mixed-media sculpture by the legendary Nam June Paik.
Presented with this diversity problem, Vanderlip chose to install the show densely and with no apparent stylistic organization. Although this is a direct reflection of the Addisons' approach, it does make it hard to appreciate individual pieces. Look carefully, though, because there are a number of fine things here.
One of the real standouts is the 1969 Jasper Johns, "The Critic Smiles," a lead relief of a toothbrush with teeth standing in for the bristles. Also unforgettable is Ilya Bolotowshky's sublime minimalist sculpture "Cube," from 1963.
Collecting Ideas will be open for the next couple of months, but in a few days, Close Range will essentially be the only place at the DAM for modern and contemporary art for years to come.
I wonder if the trustees at the currently rudderless Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver realize the implications of the DAM's taking a hiatus from modern and contemporary art. Well, at least one is very obvious: The DAM has presented MoCAD with the priceless opportunity to substantially raise its profile in the city's art world.
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