In 1990, Denver Art Museum director Lewis Sharp hired his old friend Craig Miller to start the Architecture, Design and Graphics department. A gifted and visionary curator, Miller took the ball and ran with it, collecting pieces with abandon.
He became especially deft at absorbing entire collections of graphics, and the first one I remember him getting was the John Sorbie archive. Unveiled in 1999, it included examples of just about everything the nationally known Colorado poster designer had ever done. Miller's biggest coup, however, was the gift of over 8,000 works from the collection of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) in 2003.
This past summer, right after Miller split for a job at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the DAM hired Darrin Alfred as the graphics curator, a newly created position that was partly sponsored by AIGA. This sponsorship — and the fact that a replacement for Miller hasn't been named — makes me think that graphics just might become its own stand-alone department in the not-so-distant future.
Denver Art Museum
Also on the graphics front is the news last week that the DAM is acquiring 875 psychedelic rock posters from the 1960s and '70s. The collection was assembled over the past 25 years by Boulder collector David Tippit. The posters were originally made for various clubs, like Denver's Family Dog and San Francisco's legendary Fillmore, by some of the Bay Area scene's biggest names, including Rick Griffin, Stanley "Mouse" Miller and Victor Moscoso. In a 1967 poster promoting a concert at the Matrix by the Chambers Brothers (pictured), Moscoso melds two different traditions, revealing the hybrid nature of classic psychedelic graphic design. Moscoso juxtaposes Andy Warhol-type imagery and a similarly pop-ish palette with an antique-y typographical style that comes right out of art nouveau. The revival of historic lettering removed from its original context and placed in a pop one is a signature of the psychedelic style.
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There are no immediate plans to exhibit these posters, which will be transferred to the DAM over the next couple of years.