Through the '90s, Kara Duncan went the art-school route, finally ending up at Cranbrook, where she earned an MFA in ceramics under the tutelage of Tony Hepburn. But in 2004, the artist began a new journey, when construction began on Vertigo Art Space, the gallery she's run since 2006, in an 1880s-vintage building in the Art District on Santa Fe. At Vertigo, Duncan gives established artists room to stretch without focusing on the commercial aspects of art, while also offering a launching pad to younger artists and students looking for a foothold in the early stages of a difficult career choice. Artists don't just exhibit work at Vertigo, they thrive in the character-building space. We invited Duncan, who supports her artists every inch of the way, to elaborate on her place in the art world by answering the 100CC questionnaire; keep reading for the result.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Kara Duncan: Sometimes the word collaboration gets under my skin, and I cannot decide if I love it or hate it. I really love the abstracted depiction of space in Francis Bacon's work and the mastery of color and broad technical range in the work of Gerhardt Richter. If I could mash these two artists together and paint in their style using their strength/aesthetic with my elocution, I would be elated. I would love to paint without boundaries, material limits or fear -- to work with my whole body and work within an intuitive consciousness/archetypal depth. I do have an affinity for diptychs, so I suppose the paintings could collaborate with themselves.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
This past year, I have been reading literature about the Holocaust and World War II-era stories of survivors. While my answer is not directly related to art, I have been interested in memoirs from survivors -- personal triumphs, spoken truths. I have always been fascinated by the human struggle, our inherent dualities and the human condition. So I suppose that it's the notion of empathy that is interesting to me right now. I will always be interested in Marina Graves and Mark Sink, two artists who are part of the heart of cultural development in this city.
Continue reading for more from Kara Duncan. What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Hmm, well outside the possibility of cutting off the "trendiness from trend" (because I do think trends are an important aspect of developing foresight, even if the foresight anticipates the elimination of trend), a couple of things immediately come to mind. There is a bit of irony to this, so bear with me here...
First, work that is termed "De-Skilled" and "Deconstructive," that overly relies on Home Depot aesthetic, now lacks the depth that it once had when it was trending about ten years ago. Ironically, I was putting forth this type of work, but the majority of it currently lacks the intrigue it once had, unless the concept is solid and it is masterfully done. There are still artists who understand this aesthetic and use it smartly. Locally, Matt Harris and Jaime Carrejo come to mind.
Next would be the growing number of artists who collaborate without knowing the meaning of collaborating or what a collaborative process entails. Collaboration is almost like a catch phrase or a notch to the experience section of the resume. Again, that said, not all collabs should go on the wayside. There have been a few during the years I've been curating for Vertigo that have really impressed me. Examples of successful collaboratives locally are the current show at Vertigo with Mia Mulvey and Amanda Small, Laura Shill and Amber Cobb, who do great work together; Harris and Fike; and my favorite was Barchael (Barry Whittaker and Michael Burnhardt).
What's your day job?
I am a momma to a wonderful son (who really should have been at the top of the most interesting list), and I am the owner/director of Vertigo Art Space, a gallery that focuses on installation, conceptual and abstract works that I feel are dripping with potential for dialogue. Under the umbrella of Vertigo, I also reach out to artists in the community through studio visits and portfolio reviews. I chase down artists and edit their artist statements. I also curate and jury shows outside the gallery, though secretly I'd like to be an artist.
Continue reading for more from Kara Duncan. A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Tough question, as it creates a moral struggle and eliminates the potential for stand-alone pursuits. But I would take it, actually. I am assuming this would be regarding patron funds specifically dedicated to support for the arts, so if I had a mystery patron, I would travel and buy art and pay people fine wages for holding down the fort while I am running around the globe finding new installations for the Art Space -- shipping would be included.
Once I get that out of my system and have made all the necessary connections, it would be time to create programs or additions to university and art-school curriculums that are geared toward professionalism in the arts. It is true that professionalism can be a learned thing -- hey, I am no business whiz, I will be the first to admit -- but artists really need to learn how to present themselves, follow through with ideas and concentrate on being more honest and less dramatic. Many artists I come across don't even know elemental language regarding art: What is an artist proof? How are the roles of curators and jurors distinct? Or even how to hang and light their own work, for example.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
I'd like to see the arts in Colorado become even more mainstream. There has been a heightened exposure due to blogs focused on critical/creative writing and podcast interviews with artists, gallerists, museum directors and others. However, I've often had encounters with acquaintances and strangers alike who have no idea that there are several art districts in Denver. There is a rift between the business professional and the creative that I would like to see come together more.
Craft should be taken more seriously. Alicia Bailey is a fine example of a person who exhibits intricately crafted works at Abecedarian. I can be challenged on this statement, but the stereotypical local artist does not have an appreciation for craft or for how important the identification with craft is in dialogue with the roots of visual art. Craft in America is a PBS series that I highly recommend to elaborate my preoccupation with the disconnect between craft and art. Oh geez, I sound like my professors.
Continue reading for more from Kara Duncan. Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
In the vein of speaking emotively, it's time to address mentorship -- the genealogy of influence. So my favorite Colorado Creatives are the teachers behind the creatives I have had the pleasure to be involved with at Vertigo. The Art Space has hosted many students from CU-Boulder who were recent graduates under the influence of Scott Chamberlain, Kim Dickey, Jeanie Quinn and Alvin Gregario. Currently, CU graduates who have been featured at Vertigo are making diverse, well-executed and thought-provoking exhibits.
The images I have chosen here reflect some of my favorite shows from CU students -- all of whom have gone on to work nationally and internationally as teaching and working artists. Wow. Denver is a city full of artists who teach classes I would love to take. Rebecca Vaughn is fun and super-intelligent, and Michael Bernhardt's classes must kick ass, with his sense of humor mixed with serious dedication.
What's on your agenda in the coming year and beyond?
Next year is mostly planned out, I am excited to say! Every year, I hope that the identity of the Art Space is reflective of what I feel is interesting right now (even though I plan the shows nearly two years in advance -- anticipating the trend, ahem). The Artist As Curator Series will continue with Peter Yumi as curator. There will be a space for an Artist-in-Residence, and a "wild card" show -- both constants in my schedule. The theme for 2015 is based on Porcelain and Midnight -- a tactile and an ephemeral. The thread of the 2014 schedule for Vertigo was the delicacy of line and form, which happened to focus on women artists. I have to say I am so proud of what has evolved at Vertigo this year.
I am considering expanding the space and replacing the carriage house with a new building/exhibition studio space -- private parking, yay! Beyond that, I would love to get back to my own studio work. And Vertigo's tenth anniversary might be a year of independently curated shows, so I can be a true observer for once.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2014 and beyond?
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RedLine has an impressive group of artists, and from this group, I would look out for Dmitri Obergfell and Daisy Patton.
Vertigo's next exhibition, featuring Houston-based installation and mixed-media artist Jessica Kreutter, opens with a First Friday reception from 6 to 9 p.m. November 7 and runs through December 20. Learn more about Kara Duncan and Vertigo Art Space online.
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