As Nora Burnett Abrams settled into her new job heading MCA Denver, replacing Adam Lerner as the Mark G. Falcone director a little over a year ago, one of her first tasks was searching for her own replacement as the museum’s Ellen Bruss Senior Curator. The MCA’s ultimate choice, Miranda Lash, a seasoned curator who comes to the MCA from earlier roles at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and the New Orleans Museum of Art, came on board just a few weeks ago. As a qualified curator of Latinx heritage, Lash not only adds diversity to the MCA’s core staff, but she also brings an eye for unique cultural themes (her best-known show at the Speed was Southern Accents: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art, a survey she co-curated with Trevor Schoonmaker), as well as a goal of curating more broadly inclusive shows by gender-expansive artists and artists of color.
Lash represents what it means to be worldly in this moment, in 2020, on Planet Earth. Get to know her and learn where she’s heading as she answers the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: Welcome to Denver! Would you share some first impressions of the city's general vibe and art scene?
Miranda Lash: Denver overall has a wonderful feel to it. I’ve loved the beauty of the local trails and parks, and the way Coloradans encourage a full-on embrace of all that nature has to offer.
Since arriving, I have been struck by the generosity, warmth and encouragement I have encountered among the artists and arts leaders here. I’m impressed by the commitment across the arts organizations and artists to be supportive of one another, as well as people’s willingness to be creative about ways to connect virtually during COVID.
What (or who) is your creative muse?
For me, creative inspiration comes from so many places — traveling (pre-COVID), seeing art exhibitions, listening to the news, attending Zoom calls with my colleagues and, whenever I can squeeze it in, reading literature and poetry. On my bedside table right now are Ada Limón’s The Carrying , Jami Attenberg’s All This Could Be Yours , and an old favorite of mine, Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Love in The Time of Cholera (the title feels appropriate for the moment).
All that said, above all the most impactful source for me has always come from visiting artists’ studios (more so now through a virtual format). Getting to talk with artists about ideas that motivate them while looking at their latest creation is always a very special, sacred experience for me that never gets old.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
This is a hard one! If given the honor, I would invite First Lady Michelle Obama to preside over the event and share with us her wisdom on how to get through these challenging times. I would invite the recently passed Okwui Enwezor to talk about his favorite curatorial projects over a glass of wine. He did so much to blow apart our traditionally Western-centric approach to contemporary art and bring issues of class, power and race to the fore in his practice.
After dinner, when it was time for the dance party, I would invite my friends Quintron and Miss Pussycat to perform one of their incredible shows. Some of the best parties of my life have been in the Spellcaster Lodge in New Orleans.
What or who interests you in the global art world right now?
So many issues that are affecting the U.S. right now are similarly being felt around the world, such as climate change, unequal access to resources and discrimination against others. The added tragedy of COVID has in many ways enhanced the urgency of these challenges. I am interested in artists throughout the world who are exploring the specific issues facing their communities thoughtfully, because I often find that when a project is well-researched, there are lessons within it that transcend its specific context.
I am fascinated, too, by how artists are exploring not just the use of social media, but the implications of how social media has transformed how we relate to each other as humans and present our identities.
And, because my first love in art history was painting, I am always on the lookout for how artists’ approaches to painting is changing or evolving.
What are your goals as you join MCA Denver as a curator?
My goal is to offer exhibitions that make you think but also leave you with a sense of wonder. I came here because I was inspired by the creative team and philosophy of MCA Denver. I have admired their exhibition program for years, and I am thrilled to work with Nora Burnett Abrams, MCA Denver’s Mark G. Falcone director, on building a program dedicated to thoughtful innovation, sensitivity to place and a commitment to sparking both compassion and joy! Expect to see a dynamic mix of artists from Colorado and from around the world.
What’s your dream project?
I love the idea of a citywide takeover with newly commissioned artworks by contemporary artists. I adore museums and always will, but there is something magical about seeing art in unexpected places like auto repair shops, a public garden, a historic building or maybe even a sports stadium!
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
The process of developing an eye for art, whether as a curator or an artist, comes with practice and exposure. The most important thing to do throughout one’s career is to look, look, look. See as much art as you can, as often as you can. (I prefer in person, but virtually works, too!) And no matter what the context, be as generous as you can with giving and showing respect. The art world can be infamous for its aloofness, but I’ve nevertheless found that being open-minded and respectful can still work wonders in opening doors and making connections.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I am sure there will be many! I’m really looking forward to getting to know the local artist-run spaces, studios and galleries. In the meantime, I love the writing of Kali Fajardo-Anstine, a brilliant young Latina writer. I’m also impressed with the work that the Lighthouse Writers Workshop is doing.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
Working on building a kick-ass exhibition calendar for MCA for late 2021 and beyond. We are attacking it from multiple angles and contingency plans. I’m excited to share what we have in store soon.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
The unequivocal answer here should be artists of color. Black Lives Matter and recent protests have underscored in so many ways the injustices ingrained in our society and the urgent need for change. Museums and arts institutions are similarly being called upon to take a hard look at our systemic biases and make necessary changes. Part of this work entails correcting longstanding blindspots and underrepresentation. We need to ensure that we are acknowledging, celebrating and compensating the hard work of POC creatives in our community as part of our practice going forward, not just in the coming year.
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