Art News

MCA's Adam Lerner on Cheap Wine, Cornholio and Art-Opening Fashions

Denver has more than one winning team: The Denver Broncos may be the national champs, but this city’s artists and arts organizations keep scoring with audiences not just in Colorado, but around the world. And while the football season is over, the 2016 arts season is just beginning, so we’ve checked in with some of the scene’s stars to see what they’ll be watching — and watching for — this year.

Adam Lerner, Director/Chief Animator, Department of Fabrications
Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

Westword: What are three things any newcomer to Denver should know about the arts scene?

Adam Lerner: (1) Art people in Denver are generally nice and like meeting other people. That means that if you show up to three art openings in a row, people will think you’re an insider and want to hang out with you. It also means that if you think people are being mean to you, get some feedback from your old friends, because it might be you. (2) Wear whatever you want. In New York, wear black. In L.A., look sexy.
In Denver, if you want to wear a fleece jacket and jogging shorts to an art opening, go ahead; you won’t be the only one. Then again, if you come to one of our openings at MCA Denver, try to look as fashionable as you can. That’s what people do. Besides, it’s fun. (3) The wine sucks. Bring a flask.

What developments on the arts scene are you excited about this year?

I’ve thought about this one for a long time, and I think maybe I don’t get excited about developments. Did anyone else have an answer to this question? [WW: Keep reading.]

Who/what are the artists/arts organizations to watch this year?

I love watching a younger generation of artists come into their own. Zach Reini is rapidly becoming the reigning prince of Denver’s alternative art scene. He distills the skateboard/punk/DIY universe into sparse paintings and installations that look like the morning after a house party. A true DIYer, Zach also organizes surprisingly good one-night gallery shows at Leisure Gallery, his studio space on Santa Fe.
Kristen Hatgi Sink had breakout exhibitions at BMoCA and Gildar Gallery this past year, moving the nude figures in her photographs into fantastical environments and surreal relationships. I look forward to seeing what’s next for her. Finally, I am a big fan of Taylor Balkissoon, whose work manages to be both dark and playful as it locates genuine meaning in the consumer-driven, celebrity-obsessed world around her.

What’s exciting at your own organization/institution?

Nothing. We got nothing going on. Ha. Where do I start? The unrivaled Black Sheep Friday returns to MCA Denver this spring with another round of outlandish programs like Cornholio, a Beavis and Butt-head-themed cornhole competition. (This is why I got my Ph.D.) In the galleries this spring, we’re putting L.A. artist Brian Bress and Denver’s Laura Shill side by side in solo exhibitions, both embracing a childlike sense of play. Brian creates part goofy, part elegant videos of actors in handmade costumes performing mundane tasks, and Laura creates soft environments that seem a little like human innards but are as inviting as a mattress fort. Lanny DeVuono is exhibiting paintings of what she imagines Mars to look like. Also, our unique Feminism and Co. program series starts in March this year, with performance art and conversations with filmmakers, authors, activists and others. 

 How are you working to grow your audience?

Cheap wine, obviously. Otherwise, we are looking to have more live music performances and DJ sets this spring and summer following the successful parties and concerts we had this past year. Also, we found a patron willing to underwrite museum memberships for Colorado artists, which had a bigger impact than we could have imagined. I am hoping to find the support to make the museum free to everyone before too long. As our region becomes increasingly expensive to live in, we want to send a signal that we value the people who make personal sacrifices and help create a more interesting community.

Write-in Question: Who is Denver’s art mensch? (Translation: Who do you respect?)

Tough question, but here are my top three. We should all be grateful we have artist Derrick Velasquez in our midst; he is not just a talented young artist, but a humble and steadfast booster for other artists and a generous leader in the scene. And he has great hair. Bree Davies has been such an important voice in articulating how Denver’s recent prosperity is chasing away the artists and creatives who make the city a more interesting and vibrant place. Her writing has influenced me in the direction I’ve taken with the museum. I know giving a shout-out to a Westword writer makes me a little bit of a suck-up here, but it’s okay — I’m used to getting beaten up in the schoolyard.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun