Art Review

Review: Jenny Morgan: Skin Deep Goes Beneath the Surface at MCA Denver

“Shadow Play,” by Jenny Morgan, oil on canvas.
“Shadow Play,” by Jenny Morgan, oil on canvas. Collection of Wayne F.J. Yakes, MD. Photograph © M Stevenson Photo
Born and raised in Utah, contemporary-realist painter Jenny Morgan now lives in New York, where she received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2008. But before that, she spent several years in Colorado, where she got her BFA at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design in 2003.

Morgan’s time in Colorado was instrumental to her career in a number of ways. At the top of that list is her association with Irene Delka McCray at RMCAD. McCray helped Morgan refine her painterly vision; however, in no way is the student’s approach derivative of her teacher’s, even if there is clearly an affinity between them.
Another key Colorado connection came about when freelance art consultant Simon Zalkind introduced Morgan’s work to a mega-collector in the area, Wayne Yakes. Yakes’s sprawling, still-growing collection is characterized by his preference for sampling artists in depth, as he did with Morgan, acquiring more than two dozen of her paintings. The influence of McCray and the support of Yakes led directly to Jenny Morgan: Skin Deep, a striking solo now on view at MCA Denver; Yakes loaned all of the paintings in the show. Curated by Zoe Larkins, Skin Deep occupies the four connected galleries on the MCA’s main level, so there’s plenty of room to survey Morgan’s work from 2007 to last year.
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"Dissolving Contract" (left) and "Don't Leave Me Mother, oil on canvas.
Collection of Wayne F.J. Yakes, MD. Photograph © M Stevenson Photo
Even in the earliest pieces, Morgan’s remarkable skills at rendering the human figure are evident; she has the whole hand-to-eye-coordination thing down pat. But the expertly done hyperrealist handling of her subjects is only one layer of a Morgan painting, with the artist altering, covering or taking away parts of the otherwise photographically accurate depictions. For Morgan, these interventions are meant to convey the inner reality of the sitter. Many of the paintings are self-portraits, while others are portraits of women who look like Morgan, including a doppelgänger from her home state and an exotic dancer.

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"Credence" and "The Mirror," oil on canvas.
Collection of Wayne F.J. Yakes, MD. Photograph © M Stevenson Photo
Because Morgan is an attractive young woman — as, of course, are her lookalikes — and since the subjects of her paintings are female nudes, her work represents a subversive take on the cheesecake tradition. Since the artist is a woman, though, she’s ineligible for the negative “male gaze” charge aimed at similar material done by men. The erotic aspect of many of Morgan’s paintings is downplayed in the show’s support materials, but is nonetheless an important element of her oeuvre.

Jenny Morgan: Skin Deep runs through August 27 at MCA Denver, located at 1485 Delgany Street. Call 303-298-7554 or go to
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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia