Cultural Diversity

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Carrie Mae Weems, who's very famous in contemporary art circles, is a case in point. For her conceptual piece "Not Manet's Type," a series of five silver gelatin prints with silkscreened text running below each image, Weems has taken nude shots of herself reclining on a bed and reflected in a large, round mirror. The text ruminates on the fact that Weems, who is black, is not Manet's type -- or, to be more specific, not the type of woman ordinarily depicted in Western art.

Renee Cox, another big-name artist, seems to be keying into the same idea but coming at it from an entirely different direction with the color self-portrait "Burning." Cox has dressed herself up like a '60s blaxploitation-style superheroine, then laid that image on top of a separate image of flaming wood that suggests the burning crosses of the KKK, over which she's obviously triumphed.

Thomas Allan Harris and Lyle Ashton Harris paint their pictures with a broader brush -- or should I say a wider lens? "Procession," a huge C-print, explores the hybrid identity of black Americans, with their varied connections not only to Africa, but also to the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas. These influences are personified by nude and clothed figures posed by the Harris brothers in groupings that resemble arabesques; the result is epic in both size and scope.

"Intimate" describes the scale of Dennis Olanzo Callwood's two photos of gang members, "Signs/Signos: In Their Own Words" and "In Memory of Jasmine." Part of a series based on the words Callwood found in the tattoos of street kids, both are type-R prints in graffiti frames, and both are absolutely beautiful.

Reflections in Black is the most important group photo show to be presented in Colorado in a couple of years, and that's really saying something. So hurry over to the CVA, because it closes this weekend.

Definitely saying something is the news that Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art is one step closer to having its own built-from-scratch museum. The idea became concrete earlier this year, when Mark Falcone and Ellen Bruss announced a promised gift to the MCA of a parcel of land at the corner of 15th and Little Raven streets. This intersection is close to where LoDo gives way to the Platte Valley, so it's a very good place for a museum.

This fall, the MCA sent out "requests for qualifications" on the project to some seventy architects around the world; it received over forty responses, which were subsequently evaluated by the MCA's architect-selection committee. That group chose six finalists: a partnership of Denver's Humphries Poli and TEN Arquitectos from Colonia Condesa, Mexico; Snohetta from Oslo, Norway; Tucson's Rick Joy Architects; Predock_Frane Architects from Santa Monica; New York City's Gluckman Mayner Architects; and finally, Adjaye/Associates of London. I don't know anything about any of them except for Humphries Poli, which is one of the most artistically distinguished firms in the state and the only Colorado outfit to make the cut.

Choosing a designer is the least of the MCA's worries. The money to build the new museum -- no matter who's anointed to do it -- must still be raised. Times are tough out there, but the project seems so hot that it may attract donors in the same way that it has already attracted an international cadre of architects.

Mayor John Hickenlooper took his time selecting a director of planning, announcing just last week that he had chosen Peter Park of Milwaukee to fill the mega-important job that was held by the late Jennifer Moulton during the entire Wellington Webb administration.

I often found myself at loggerheads with Moulton, although we maintained a cordial relationship through the years. And while she did a lot of things that I hated, notably rolling over on Zeckendorf Plaza, she also did a lot of good things. For example, she was personally responsible for saving Annex I, which is now part of the Webb building. But her greatest accomplishments were with new projects. Moulton used her formidable power to force Fentress Bradburn Architects to improve the design of Invesco Field at Mile High, which started out as a pretty bland stadium. Even worse were the various early designs, also by Fentress Bradburn, for the Colorado Convention Center expansion. That project is still a disaster -- but thanks to Moulton, at least it's going to be a high-style one.

Will Park be as effective? We'll know soon enough, because there's an acid test on the horizon: the vulgar changes looming for Ocean Journey. First, the good folks of Landry's want to put a fake stone cave at the main entrance. Then, they want to paint the gorgeous brick masonry white. And while they haven't said so yet, I'm sure they plan to cover the whole thing with illuminated signage.

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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