Denver Art Museum visit and art critique

Denver Art Museum visit and art critique

Art critique is one of my favourite pastimes, and this past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Denver Art Museum in Colorado, USA. The Denver Art Museum is a majestic contraption, almost out of place in its plaza home, but oddly, it seems to blend in with its surroundings. The building itself is akin to a sculpture, and almost has a nautical feel to it. The building directly across the plaza from the DAM, as it is fondly referred to, has deco appointments and also sports a facade mimicking the DAM’s exterior, and even features similar aesthetic siding. Two foreboding sculptures reside in the courtyard and these resemble cliffsides, but, upon further inspection, it can be seen that they are man-made. The colour and surface of the sculptures as compared to the DAM’s are quite opposites, yet their dichotomous nature seems to bind them. This phenomenon resembles Denver itself, a cosmopolitan city surrounded by rugged nature.

Another building built on the opposite — some would say “caddy corner” — side of the street, is also a mishmash or puzzle of a structure. The building has gothic overtones but is clearly postmodern, and looks as though it was pieced together from several other buildings. What is fascinating about the entire plaza area is that it appears to be a giant outdoor art museum — and one, upon lingering, could find oneself pondering whether or not they were part and parcel in a strange chess-type game. The North building, connected by the steel and glass bridge, appears to be a sort of dock for the large ship that the new building seems to be. In this way, they correlate and flow well into one another.

Upon entering the Denver Art Museum, the gorgeous glass display in the gift shop caught my eye. The atrium of the entrance disguises the fact that the architecture of what can be seen outside is not limited to the exterior, but is continued throughout its interior. I was drawn immediately to the wall of glass objects, some bowls, some vases — some ambiguous, but all exquisitely coloured and longing to come home with me. I realized that I had to hustle to view the art and critique the paintings, so I left the gift shop behind for another day’s treasure hunt.

My husband and I ascended the massive staircase from the first floor. As I studied the map given to us at the reception desk, I realized that the shape of the DAM truly does resemble a boat — hence the idea of a ship that had sprung to mind outside in the courtyard. I don’t know if the new building is cohesive with the old — but from the inside, it is difficult to say that it breaks the rhythm of enjoying the art exhibits. Actually, going across the bridge provides a friendly breather, and the decks were quite refreshing to visit. It does seem to harbour a lot of “wasted” space, upon first inspection. But one could consider that open and airy. I think the openness is akin to freedom — freedom to explore the museum, or even freedom to pick up a canvas and paint one’s own masterpiece.

I probably wasn’t as vigilant as I should have been when notating where each and every one of the paintings and sculptures that I critiqued were located, but I do believe I was quite caught up in it all, and the momentum of looking at painting after sculpture after exhibit overtook me. I was stunned upon seeing the first painting that I would choose to critique, one entitled Release Your Plans, by Daniel Sprick, an American-born artist (1953). This is a large canvas, approximately four feet in height by five feet across in length. Instantly I was drawn to the painting, oil on panel, done in 2006. The placard stated that it was an anonymous gift.

The style of Sprick’s painting was definitely a realistic one, and I would call it a still life, but the subjects seemed surreally placed. I have always loved realistically done paintings, especially when they are not photorealistic (although I love them) but realistic enough to take you aback. The draped cloth in the rear and parts of the rug were done in the darkest values. My eye was drawn to what clearly was the main focal point, the skull on the table. I quickly noticed the string, and the wound around the pot and white cloth, which brought to mind a wrapped body or mummy coinciding with the wooden “legs” underneath it. The body simile is apparent, but what about the plant? My hubby and I surmised that the plant, having been wound around and choked off by the string, grew out in new directions, insinuating that perhaps humans were more fragile than plants and succumbed to the “squeezing” of stress and worldly conflicts, but that the plants would just be able to adapt and continue to grow.

There was a separate exhibit behind the wall of Release Your Plans that featured interactive videos and Sprick’s self portrait. Among the text on one of the screens, there were quotes from Sprick himself, stating that he “doesn’t paint in symbolism but for outward appearances.” This certainly seemed hard to fathom, especially with the two wooden legs, wound string, and wrapped “body”, complete with head! Should I venture to say that perhaps he either is using symbolism subconsciously or doesn’t know what it means? Either way, it is a fabulous painting that drew me in and elicited several serious emotions. When observing this painting, I feel the fragility and ugliness even of life; the grungy side. It brings to mind a person who died poor, lonely, and misunderstood, with little comfort. It really induces a feeling of sadness and I want to cry looking at it. Excellent evoking of emotion by the artist!

The next painting that captured my full attention was by Daniel Morper and was entitled Fog. Morper was born in 1944 and he painted Fog in 2000. This painting is an oil on canvas, is about 48″ wide by 36″ high, and was purchased with funds from the Contemporary Realism Group. The placard states that he “chose to paint the urban landscape rather than a landscape unchanged by civilization. However, he chose a rail yard as his subject. During the 19th century, railroads played a central role in settling the American West. The artist states, “I am fascinated by how the train passes furiously and just as quickly leaves the land quiet again.” In the painting, the train is moving toward us in the fog. I found it very peaceful, but I have always loved what I feel from nostalgia in seeing and hearing trains. My companion found it disturbing, as it reminded him of — as he stated it — the “train to Auschwitz.” (I felt horrible upon hearing that analogy.) I did have another impression besides peacefulness, and that was it had the appearance of a polluted waste yard, mainly because of the puddles reflecting the mechanics and the sky — and I guess that they reminded me of oil slicks, although they do appear to represent water. I bore the feeling of shame almost, because we have impacted our natural environment as such, with chemicals and commerce.

We continued to wander around and visited the deck near the bridge sporting a large contemporary-styled wagon sculpture, which was a lot of fun — and we assayed much of the furniture. I will admit that we missed quite a bit of the museum, but it was difficult to take it all in at once. We came upon a large room with a huge painting on one wall, and I couldn’t find a placard of information for it — but it was the largest painting I had seen there and was reminiscent of “hell” with radioactive water ladled out for the inhabitants to drink. I decided not to critique that one, but instead chose a tall sculpture in the corner. It was done by a Japanese artist, which I could have guessed, as it was a stack of heads with faces that were clearly representing Asian counterparts — yet they were babies. It was done by Yoshitomo Nara, born in 1959 in Hirosaki, Japan. The title of this sculpture is Quiet, Quiet, and the heads are finished in a lovely off white matte glaze. The heads, four stacked, are seated in a bowl, which is seated in a saucer, and those two items are finished in a gloss glaze that is a seafoam green. It is quite a large piece, the dimensions estimated at 2 or 3 feet across by about 12 feet high. But the soft colours prevent it from being too foreboding, and the subject matter is more palatable. The babies look very sleepy, and the name of the painting, Quiet, Quiet, gave me the impression that either I should be very quiet around these “babies”, or that the babies were being told to be quiet. This piece did puzzle me. One idea that came to mind from that, since there were four of them, and they were all stacked and apparently using the same bowl, is that they may live in crowded conditions and have no individuality — and that perhaps this was representational of the artist’s home city in Japan.

The last piece, and, actually, most exciting piece of the tour, was a sculpture that encompassed a very large floor area. I would estimate that the size of the area was at least 100 feet by 30 feet, and it contained a walkway through it as well. It was located under a staircase and was visually astounding. The name of the piece is Fox Games, executed in 1989, and it does not give a date of installation. Ms. Skoglund’s work is defined by her as a commentary on what the foxes need versus what people need, and the fact that the animals have no need for what people normally use, such as the tables. My take on the sculpture, as well as my companion’s, was that everything in red — which was everything but the foxes — represented the foxes’ blood, especially since draped over the back of one chair was a fox pelt, in red as well. The gray that the foxes were painted in caused them to appear as but shadows, and their antics seemed to be after-hours or after the evening’s festivities had played out. Another of the foxes had a red tail in its mouth, which to me also represented the death of at least one of them for its fur.

I really started to understand when reading the artist’s intent for these works that perhaps we do come to grasp their interpretations more than what the artist originally meant to say, but it seems that the art takes on a life of its own once it “hits” the public. This can be beneficial, but sometimes even detrimental, for the artist — if the public comes up with an unintended interpretation and runs with it. Art is truly an effective medium of communication and it enriches our society by a great measure. Whether or not the originally intended meanings are always interpreted by the public, I don’t really think is the point of art. I think that the point of art is that there is a different meaning for everyone, perhaps — and that it evokes emotion, as it should.