Founded by curator Dianne Vanderlip in 1978, the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum is one of the institution's most important divisions — if not the most important. Occupying nearly all of the third and fourth levels and the atrium of the Hamilton Building and invading the Western art, Native art, Asian art and other galleries, Modern and Contemporary's collection numbers into the thousands.
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In 2007, Vanderlip stepped down and was replaced by Christoph Heinrich, who became the museum's director in 2009. Since then, the department has been overseen by Gwen Chanzit, a longtime DAM curator and the keeper of the Herbert Bayer Archive. Now a young curator, William Morrow, has been hired, and he'll be coming on next month. The department's structure has radically changed since Vanderlip and Heinrich's time, and Morrow will not be replacing either of them, even if his title, the Polly and Mark Addison Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, might suggest that he is. (Chanzit's new title is Curator of Modern Art.)
Morrow comes from Louisville, Kentucky, where he was founding director of the contemporary art space at 21c, a combination boutique hotel and museum founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. 21c is dedicated to collecting art from the 21st century, and when it opened in 2006, it became the first museum to have such a focus.
I sat down and talked with Morrow while he was in town searching for an apartment, and although he's clearly knowledgeable about contemporary art, what I really wanted to know was whether or not he's interested in featuring examples from the vibrant scene we've got going here in Colorado. I was definitely pleased with his response. He said — and was credible when he said it — that as he had at 21c, he was very interested in putting regional art together with international work.
When he gets here in a couple of weeks, even before he has a chance to unpack, he will immediately jump into an ongoing project, Nick Cave: Sojourn, which will open at the DAM in June 2013.