The Denver Art Museum Elevates Diverse Voices With Stunning Spring Lineup

In the turbulent summer of 2020, the Denver Art Museum took a public stance against racism and violence, and pledged to elevate and amplify underrepresented communities within its galleries. At the same time, the organization was already in the midst of another kind of upheaval: the multi-year renovation project aimed at modernizing and expanding the Gio Ponti-designed North Building, now renamed the Martin Building. The results of both these initiatives can be detected throughout the entire museum this spring, most noticeably in the two major exhibits and three reopening collections in the Hamilton building.

“Time is something that affects the way we look at objects and at artworks,” says DAM Chief Curator Angelica Daneo. “We had our wonderful celebratory reopening in fall ’21 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Martin Building, and that allowed us to look at our collections and the way they were installed and ask ourselves, ‘Is this still relevant?’ This was a great opportunity to re-imagine and re-envision our entire permanent collection.”

To do this, Daneo and her team have applied a curatorial lens that moves away from strict chronology. “Even collections that were looked at as historic are put in dialogue with contemporary works,” Daneo explains. “So we visualize for our visitors that this art is a continuum. None of the cultures that we present are gone, or in the past.”

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“Audrey Siegl,” by Kali Spitzer, seen in Speaking With Light.

Courtesy of the DAM

That’s apparent in the exhibition Speaking With Light, which is on display on the first floor of the Hamilton Building until March 22; it’s one of the first major museum surveys to explore the practice of Indigenous photographers over the past three decades, and displays photographs by both emerging and established artists, as well as installations. “This is really an important show,” Daneo says. “The particular focus is on the underrepresented voices, so this is a great way for contemporary Indigenous photographers to reclaim the narratives and the themes that are relevant to their communities.” Curation for this groundbreaking group was provided by John Rohrbach from the Amon Carter Museum, in collaboration with Navajo/Diné artist and curator Will Wilson.

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“In the Abyss Grand Canyon,” by Fernand Lungren, seen in From Near East to Far West.

Courtesy of the DAM

One floor up is Near East to Far West, running through May 28, which explores the influence of nineteenth-century French Orientalism on both landscapes and portraits in Western American Art. Paintings from both movements are known for reflecting fears, desires and curiosities about so-called “unknown lands.” Having examples from each placed side by side directly aligns with the museum’s efforts to stoke conversation between objects and timelines; it also creates a poignant contrast with the photography in Speaking With Light, which depicts the ample pain and tragedy caused by these illusions in black and white.

“It’s quite striking. These two galleries, even though the art is seemingly dissimilar, there’s actually some interesting touch points that allow people to experience different art but that also allows them to connect,” says Daneo.

Also debuting within the Hamilton are new gallery spaces for three collections that have mostly been out of sight since 2016: Arts of Africa, Modern and Contemporary Art, and Arts of Oceania. All three will be reopening on May 14.

The collection in the updated African Arts Gallery, which presents an expansive view of arts from the continent for the first time at the DAM, is organized around three themes: the self, power and transformation, and manifestation. Drawing on the museum’s catalogue of 1,000 objects, the gallery will include paintings, prints, sculptures, textiles and jewelry, as well as recent acquisitions from contemporary artists.

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“A monument to iS’pantsula as mama feeds the community,” by Phumelele Tshabalala, seen in African Arts.

Courtesy of the DAM

The Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery is also organized by a wide variety of themes. Once reopened, it will stretch across two floors and include African arts, Indigenous arts of North America, Latin American art, photography, textile art and fashions. Similarly innovative in approach, there will be a mix of work with big names including Joan Miró and Henri Matisse alongside recent acquisitions and long out-of-sight favorites.

F​inally, the Arts of Oceania Gallery will reopen on May 14 with Islands Beyond Blue: Niki Hastings-McFall and Treasures From the Oceania Collection. This innovative exhibit presents the art of Hastings-McFall in conversation with thirty works from the museum’s permanent Oceanic arts collection. It will be anchored by the work of Hastings-McFall, who is known for her large-scale “lei bombings,” which incorporate thousands of synthetic flowers to create transformational installations.

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“Lei Bombing,” by Niki Hastings-McFall, seen in Oceania.

Courtesy of the DAM

“Reopening these galleries really completes the reinterpretation of our collection,” says Daneo. “T​hese are our permanent collections, these are our DNA. So in order to be able to reinstall them and present them anew to our visitors is very exciting.”

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Written by Sharecaster

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