100 Colorado Creatives 4.0: Jina Brenneman

Agnes Martin, "Untitled," 1953, oil on canvas.EXPAND
Agnes Martin, "Untitled," 1953, oil on canvas.
Collection of the Harwood Museum of Art, © 2012 Agnes Martin/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
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#36: Jina Brenneman

Curatorial genius comes naturally to Jina Brenneman, who has a knack for making exhibits that attract new and unexpected audiences, but that also serve the traditional ones. While serving as the fine-arts curator at Pueblo’s Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center, Brenneman routinely loaded up three floors of galleries with several interrelated shows, all on a theme designed to catch the imaginations of both the old steel town’s blue-collar east-siders and the west-side culture vultures. She later moved south from Pueblo to the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, imbuing exhibits there with the spirit of northern New Mexico’s cultural and historical mix of Native Americans, Chicanos, artists and hippies.

Her tour de force at the Harwood was an exhibit focusing on minimalist painter Agnes Martin’s early life in New Mexico and the biomorphic and transitional paintings that preceded the later grid works for which she’s best known. Brenneman uncovered new territory in the Agnes Martin legacy, and the exhibit gave rise to a book and a documentary film, Agnes Martin Before the Grid. Now living in Denver, Brenneman is pitching the film with Taos filmmaker Kathleen Brennan and deciding where to take her career next. Did we mention that she's an artist, too? Take a dip in Brenneman’s world via the 100CC questionnaire.  

Jina Brenneman at work.
Jina Brenneman at work.
Photo by ©Kathleen Brennan

What (or who) is your creative muse?

My creative muse is whoever, or whatever, I am working with or researching at the time. I fall in deep love with a project, and when it ends, I fall in love with the next one.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party and why?

I would choose to have dinner with Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver. My third would be Rasputin, but not at the same dinner!

What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?

Southern Colorado and northern New Mexico have been my local art scene. I consider that area to be one state. I curated an exhibit called New Mexorado, because the land, food, faith, foibles and commerce all reflect a historical and current connection. The artists working in this region reflect the same. The artists working in this area are serious and immensely talented. My favorite thing about this community is that art was not something you had to go out and look for. It was all around me, all of the time. Life was art.

The downside to that is nothing that I can think of.

How about globally?

Regionalism. Because of wonderful technological expansion, regionalism is available to the world. You can stay true to yourself and your locale and still be a worldwide presence.

Again, I don't see a downside. As long as art is being made, there is no downside. Even the countries that censor art are usually the same countries that provide the most spellbinding and important artists. Obviously we don't want that to happen, but difficulty is so often spawned by ingenuity.

Are trends worth following?

Oh, absolutely! Whatever inspires you to create. Who cares if it's a trend?

What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?

My favorite trend is appropriation. It is such a bold statement about materialism and possession.
It was also the life work of one of my favorite artists, Elaine Sturtevant. She said about her work, "What is currently compelling is our pervasive cybernetic mode, which plunks copyright into mythology, makes origins a romantic notion and pushes creativity outside the self. Remake, reuse, reassemble, recombine — that's the way to go.” Peter Eleey, curator of Sturtevant's 2014 MoMA exhibit, states, “She was the first postmodern artist —before the fact — and also the last.”

There are no trends that I hate. It is all interesting in one way or another. Performance art sometimes gets a big eye roll from me.

What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?

Judy Chicago telling me I was full of shit.

You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?

To see all of the museums of the world and taste the food of the world's best chefs.

Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?

Family, family, family. I don't want to leave.

Agnes Martin portrait by Mildred Tolbert, ca. 1954.
Agnes Martin portrait by Mildred Tolbert, ca. 1954.
Collection Harwood Museum of Art, courtesy Mildred Tolbert Archive

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

There are so many, so I have to say the first two that came immediately to mind. Noel Black: writer poet, provocateur (Manitou). Sally Lincoln (Pueblo) and Margaret Kasahara (Colorado Springs): two of the truest painters I have ever met.

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

This is a scary and exciting question, because I have absolutely no idea what will happen in 2018.

Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

With the opening of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. I am hopeful that both past and present Colorado artists will get their due.

And globally?

This is a difficult question, so I'll go with the first thing that came to mind: There are hundreds of answers to this, but I get a huge kick out of the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It is the exact opposite of everything we think of in a biennale.

Learn more about Jina Brenneman and Agnes Martin Before the Grid online.

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