Mary Voelz Chandler, a respected journalist and critic who’s written about the arts and architecture for decades, including a long stint at the Rocky Mountain News, continues her journey today as a blogger and writer-at-large. When she wasn’t reporting over the years, Chandler also was writing, researching and compiling for books with a local flair, including Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture, which she co-authored with Westword critic Michael Paglia, and two editions of her own local love letter, Guide to Denver Architecture.
Chandler remains an unbroken thread in the fabric of Denver’s art scene, continuing to view it with seasoned acuity and a real love for its artists and architects. She goes into her concerns in depth as she answers the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Mary Voelz Chandler: Two examples. First, my parents, who both loved art, music and books. I was happy to soak that in from about the age of five. Then, a crusty former newspaperman who was teaching a course in journalism school gave the final lecture for the semester involving journalism, sex and alcohol. It was a cautionary tale about getting too close to sources or to a bottle of pills or booze. They have been good words to live by.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
It would be an eclectic group, who all had a true compass directing their life and work. Nellie Bly, the reporter under that pseudonym who in her early twenties went undercover to report for the New York World on the hideous conditions in an insane asylum in the 1880s. Albert Camus, whose writings made a great impression on me because of his clarity and honesty. And Henri Matisse, whose vision opened up a whole new world of color. In his final years, he was making paper cut-outs that remain fascinating. There would not be tea and cookies served, but something a bit more festive.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community — and the worst?
The best thing is the members of metro Denver’s creative community who are devoted to their art or craft. Before the skyrocketing rents started several years ago, I watched new shops and galleries popping up and making a mark in improving our community. (And being homegrown and not a chain.) Now the economy in the area has certainly changed. As for the worst: In all eras, there have been people who think it would be fun to be an artist but then discover it is a lot of hard work. Still, those who are serious about their art will persevere, and we see that impact in galleries, co-ops, community art spaces and even some museums.
How about globally?
Perhaps this is just me and what I read, but it seems that in an era of demagogues, members of creative communities still find a way to portray the truth. For women, for people of color, for religious groups considered not in line with the majority faith: This will be written about these barriers (and deaths), but also reflected in art. Migration, climate change, repression, bigotry: What better way than to use creative avenues to examine these problems? The question is: Will people pay attention? I hope so, but taken all together, it seems overwhelming.
As a veteran critic, how would you size up the current climate in the local art world?
What I see and hear is the fear of being pushed out of Denver, and at some point, with the economy so strong, it also affects nearby cities. Overheated redevelopment has priced people out of their neighborhoods because of rent hikes and property-tax increases. This has turned everything upside down. Still, I think the creative communities will try to make it work for them, though the situation here is difficult to watch. Putting a roof over your head is dire for so many. During the recent mayoral election, incumbent Michael Hancock said, "We would much rather govern the challenges of a rising city than govern the challenges of a dying city.” I thought, “rising?” That was years ago; now it’s supersonic. A ridiculous, developer-driven zoning code has changed things, too, and not for the better.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Only one thing? People need help. When the city responded in an over-the-top manner to the Ghost Ship disaster, the city’s Arts & Venues agency put together a presentation involving city officials to talk about city codes. There was a sizable audience, but it was clear that bringing some studios or gallery spaces up to code would break the bank for artists. The city set up a fund for repairs, but it was not near enough to cover materials and, especially, labor. In the same vein, a tangled financial situation about a proposed live/work building in RiNo caused the deal to implode. I know that money is important, but the loss of this project (for now, anyway) was a disappointment.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I have a love-ugh relationship with Denver. After so many years writing about architecture, I drive through neighborhoods and my head is swiveling like Linda Blair’s character in The Exorcist. What a travesty in so many places — the loss of rich buildings, and in some cases the necessity of people leaving their long-term neighborhoods because they can’t afford them anymore. That said, when you live here long enough, with friends here and knowing where to purchase this or that (or finding new places to explore), and so many new museums, well, I guess Denver has me by the throat.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
This is difficult. There are so many artists whose works move me. But during a celebratory period, I would select painter and educator Clark Richert. With ongoing exhibitions at MCA Denver and BMoCA, and recently at UCCS’s GOCA Ent Center, Richert’s rich history of scientifically/mathematically based images is in the spotlight. He has been well respected for years of working with students. He has contributed so much to the community.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
Working on the blog, freelance work and whatever comes my way. And looking at art.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
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This also is difficult, but here are a few. Sculptor David Mazza creates geometrically intriguing works, always a pleasure to view. Sandra Fettingis is well known because of her one-of-a-kind style working in predominantly murals; these works make any building better. Frank T. Martinez, whose work shone in the Museo de las Americas show Espacio Liminal/Limited Space. And Lola Montejo, whose abstract paintings draw you right in.
Colorado Abstract +10: A History, an exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of the book Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture, by Mary Voelz Chandler and Michael Paglia, opens with a reception on September 5 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1201 Bannock Street, and runs through January 12, 2020. Reception tickets, $10, are available in advance at eventbrite.com (or $12 at the door). Admission for museum members is free, but a $5 donation is suggested.
The companion exhibit, Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey, opens on September 12 with a free reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard in Arvada, and runs through November 17. Learn more about the exhibition and related events at the Arvada Center’s website.
Tune into the Chandler in Denver blog online for insights on Denver’s art and architecture.