Rebecca Hart joined the Denver Art Museum last August as the new Polly and Mark Addison Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, after ten years in a similar position at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Her first official show at the DAM, Audacious, opened earlier this year, giving the public a peep at what kind of magic she’ll be working there in the years to come. Get to know Hart better through her answers to the 100CC questionnaire:
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Rebecca Hart: One of the artists who expanded my understanding of contemporary art and culture was the painter, poet and co-conspirator Florine Stettheimer (1871—1944). She was a buddy of Marcel Duchamp, Carl Van Vechten, Henry McBride, Georgia O’Keeffe and Gertrude Stein, all avant-garde modernists who are among my all-time luminaries. Stettheimer, through a life of privilege, gathered friends for salons in her Alwyn Court apartment just south of Central Park. Artists of all disciplines exchanged ideas and hatched experimental art forms fostered by her. Stettheimer had the courage to be a modern woman, someone who asserted her independence from societal norms even in the face of familial expectations. When I think about artists who I want to engage for exhibitions or projects, I consider personal qualities as part of the equation. I’m attracted to people who live large and maintain a personal discipline, like Florine.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Pope Francis has reached out to world leaders to redefine international diplomacy. I’m not a Catholic, and I actually don’t agree with much of the church’s dogma, particularly its stance on human sexuality and freedom of choice. Yet Francis makes profound statements about reconciliation with actions like meeting the Russian Orthodox patriarch Kirill or fostering renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. I was profoundly moved by the mass he celebrated in Ciudad Juárez and his compassionate critique of American immigration policy.
On the art front, I rediscovered Ellen Gallagher at the Venice Biennale last summer. I’m very interested to see how her newest series of portraits develops.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
There is a proliferation of art fairs that bring income and prestige to cities but also dilute the efficacy and agency of art. I have great respect for a distinguished collector in Detroit, Marc Schwartz, who vowed to stay away from fairs for an entire year. At the end of twelve months, his collection had grown in interesting and significant ways without the art-market hype that happens at fairs.
What's your day job?
I’m the Polly and Mark Addison Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum. My oversight includes research, interpretation and presentation of a collection of more than 7,600 objects, along with building the collection through acquisitions and developing exhibitions. I also work with DAM Contemporaries, the museum’s interest and patron group, which supports contemporary art, including the Logan Lecture Series and SCFD partners. Building experiences based in art, artists and ideas is an exciting and sustaining vocation.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I would assemble a group of big-brain folks to generate sustainable models that fostered cross-disciplinary exchange and then support at least one platform. For me, the model would involve visual art, urban planning, social education, design and food.
Denver (or Colorado); Love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Members of my family established homesteads along the Front Range in the 1870s and ’80s, so moving to Denver feels a bit like coming home. There’s a fresh curiosity about life here that I enjoy. Although I grew up in Kansas City, I’ve always had ties to Colorado.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Artists here would flourish with a regional program that recognized them and allowed them to migrate their practice into a larger arena. In Detroit, the Kresge Artist Fellowships do this. The foundation funds eighteen annual unrestricted grants of $25,000 for creatives, awarded on a competitive basis, along with two years of support for career development and exhibition, publication and performance opportunities. It’s been a game changer that launches local artists into international prominence.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I came to Denver because of the vision I discovered at the Denver Art Museum. I met people who would talk about anything and leadership that inspired creativity. Detroit is a burgeoning art mecca that I didn’t leave without careful consideration. Christoph Heinrich, director at the Denver Art Museum, is at the top of my list as a Colorado Creative even if he is a transplant like me. Beyond him, it was the vision of people like Amy Harmon, who want to integrate urban development with the arts. She understands that cultural equity and the visibility of the arts foster a vibrant creative community, which enriches the urban fabric.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I’m working on a couple of exhibitions for 2017 that will be very exciting for our visitors. One will involve on-site installations at massive scale, and the other includes a partnership with another local art venue. I’m also looking forward to the birth of our second grandchild in October. And there are so many people yet to meet, trails to walk and conversations to enjoy.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Had I lived here longer (six months so far), I could answer your question across disciplines. So just sticking with the visual arts, my money is on Derrick Velasquez, Jaime Carrejo and Dmitri Obergfell as (semi-)emerging artists to watch. I’m also excited for Stacy Steers’s new animation, and I’ve enjoyed my visits to Ironton Studios. Spinning out from my expertise, I’ve loved my interactions with Wonderbound.
Audacious: Contemporary Artists Speak Out, curated by Rebecca Hart from the Denver Art Museum collection with additional artworks on loan from local collectors, runs through next February on level three of the museum’s Hamilton Building. Keep up with exhibit openings and DAM news online.