Dan Jacobs, the director at the University of Denver's Vicki Myhren Gallery, used to be a high-ranking staffer at the Denver Art Museum. As a result, he has brought museum-like programming, like the current exhibit, Learning to See Color, to the Myhren. Jacobs and co-curator Jeffrey Keith, a well-known Denver artist and teacher at DU, have filled the Myhren with an ambitious thematically organized group show embracing a range of ideas that are not just about color, but also about the nature of art.
The idea for the show began with a portfolio of works on paper by Josef Albers — called “Formulation: Articulation" — which is owned by DU. Albers, who was associated with the Bauhaus in the 1920s, is best known for his geometric abstractions based on interlocking colored squares. The prints in the suite at DU, all from 1972, were designed by Albers to serve as a retrospective of his lifelong examination of color.
Jacobs says that he and Keith addressed color in this show in a wholly non-scientific way; in other words, there is nothing about the physics of seeing or the biology of the eye in the show. Instead it looks at the way in which color creates mood, narrative and composition, as well as its other visual-art functions. Using the Albers prints as stepping stones, Jacobs and Keith establish various topics related to color, fleshing out their ideas with paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures.
The inclusions cover a wide assortment of material, including nineteenth-century works, older twentieth-century pieces, and a healthy dose of 21st-century creations. But since everything has been organized according to how it illuminates this or that idea, the pieces are not chronologically arranged. The show includes many notable works by internationally known artists such as Andy Warhol and Helen Frankenthaler, as well as a nice assortment of pieces by Colorado artists, including Sushe Felix, Monroe Hodder and Kate Petley.
Despite the fact that color is a visual sensation, there is also a musical component to Learning to See Color. On February 25, the concert “Colors in Music” will be presented at DU’s Newman Center, featuring the Colorado Symphony conducted by Andres Lopera. The music will be integrated into a digital light-and-color show created by DU undergrads Bailey Dunning and Travis Powell.
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The next day, on February 26, there will be a symposium from 10 a.m. to noon in the gallery, moderated by Dean Sobel, director of the Clyfford Still Museum.
There is one sour note concerning Learning to See Color. Outside the Shwayder Building, which houses the gallery, artist Collin Parson had erected “Night Sight/Night Site," a multi-part installation which served as the only outdoor component of the exhibit. The piece comprised a row of ten elements topped by open circles covered in reflective stainless steel; the mirror-like finish allowed the piece to take on the colors of its surroundings.
But on the night of the opening, January 14, it was vandalized and subsequently repaired. Then, a week later, it was damaged again, and again the next day, so the decision was made to remove it. Needless to say, this was a great disappointment to the curators and to Parson — and, come to think of it, to anyone who cares about art.
Learning to See Color runs through March 6 at the Vicki Myhren Gallery, in the Shwayder Art Building at 2121 East Asbury Avenue. For more information, call 303-871-2846 or go to du.edu/vmgallery.