The idea of having a separate curator to oversee photography at the Denver Art Museum has been kicked around for many years. Over the last decade, there have been times when a sympathetic curator like Jane Fudge, or a curatorial assistant like Blake Milteer, mounted photo shows, but there has never been a photography department headed up by its own curator. Until now.
On April 17, the DAM announced that it had hired a photo curator in the person of Eric Paddock, who will oversee a new photography department. Funding for that department has been contributed by a group of longtime supporters of photography, notably Evan Anderman, John Grant, Robert G. Lewis and Anthony Mayer. Paddock will start at the DAM this summer.
Paddock is hardly an unknown commodity here in Denver. Born in Boulder, he earned a BA at Colorado College and his MFA at Yale University and is an important fine art photographer who records Western scenery -- as in “Gypsum, Colorado,” pictured here. He’s also been the curator of photography at the Colorado History Museum since he founded the photo department there some 25 years ago. During that time he more than doubled the Colorado Historical Society’s collection, which was big to begin with but is now enormous, with a staggering 800,000-plus pieces in its holdings.
The DAM’s collection is less than a tenth that size, numbering just over 7,000 pieces – but each is among the choicest of the choice, including the breathtaking photos in the Wolf Collection of nineteenth-century Western landscapes, as well as images by early photographers including Edward Curtis, David Francis Barry and John Hillers.
Since the DAM’s photo collection was formerly part of the modern and contemporary department, it’s not surprising that the collection also includes vanguard photography by Herbert Bayer, Man Ray, Robert Adams and Diane Arbus, representing the modern group, as well as the likes of Lucas Samaras, John Baldessari and Yasumasa Morimura.
With his knowledge of the CHS’s collection and the ability to borrow pieces to supplement those already at the DAM, Paddock will be able to put together blockbuster photography shows on the American West. I can’t wait to see his first display. – Michael Paglia