Denver’s museums and art galleries look to the future after a tough year


It’s not really news that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted many sectors of human society across the world. In-person experiences, such as dining or attending sporting events, concerts, plays … and art exhibitions, were particularly affected. Although the art world has not been as completely closed as other fields, the last eighteen months have always been difficult. The good news in Denver is that almost the entire art scene has persisted, even if some places are just the skin of the teeth.

“Fortunately, business has been good,” says Jennifer Doran, co-director of the Robischon Gallery with her husband, Jim Robischon. “There is a double reason for this: our really loyal customers who wanted us to be successful and our long-standing presence online. But there is no substitute for seeing the art in person, so while we sell well, we are also an exhibition space.

Speaking of exhibitions, the opening on October 22 at Robischon is a set of thematically related solos: Paco Pomet, Walter Robinson, Tom judd, Gary Emrich and Sponge Maker. “The artists are seriously looking at where we are now,” Doran explains, adding that there are “some uncomfortable things, but also humor, which is a hopeful aspect”.

Click to enlarge

Walter Robinson’s “Buffalo Cookie (Chocolate)” at the Robischon Gallery.

Courtesy of Walter Robinson and Galerie Robischon

Doran considers LoDo to have fully returned in the wake of the Major League Baseball All-Star game, and other neighborhood hotspots have major efforts planned for the fall. K Contemporary by Doug Kacena offers the solo Hunt Slonem until November 6; for this exhibit, the gallery was filled with antiques that surround the New York artist’s whimsical depictions of rabbits and butterflies. In the neighboring gallery, eponymous David B. Smith, a pair of solos opening on October 22 contrasts the conceptual abstracts in Robert burnier with the conceptual realistic paintings in Sarah McKenzie.

The Golden Triangle is also back. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that the pandemic would be good for business,” said William Havu, owner of his namesake gallery. “I think we took advantage of the fact that people couldn’t travel, so they spent that money on their house. ”

“It was a bit disappointing to put the exhibits up and only a few people to see them, but it’s important to show them anyway,” says Nick Ryan, gallery director. And so Havu presents the precise mechanical summaries in Carlos Estévez, on view until November 6, followed by Emilio Lobato, opening Nov. 12 and showcasing radically different work for the well-known Colorado artist, including collages made with rubber sheets and porcelain sculptures.

Across Cherokee Street at Walker Fine Art, Owner Bobbi Walker says, “It was really scary at first, and I wasn’t sure we would get there, but I got a PPP loan to continue. , and once we reopened in the summer of 2020, sales became explosive. Like Havu, she attributes the boom to the fact that people couldn’t travel and had money to spend on other things. “But even more importantly,” she adds, “artists have stepped up, having more time to create and do some of their best work.” Until November 6, the abstract show Spectrum of being, with A matter of time, a group exhibition combining abstractionnists and conceptual realists, inaugurated on November 12. A few blocks away, Boulder’s master of magical realism is on view in Frank Sampson at the Sandra Phillips Gallery, until October 23.

On Santa Fe Drive, things are moving too. “The year 2020 started strong, then it all stopped,” says Warren Campbell, who runs Michael Warren Contemporary with Mike McClung. “The owner of the building, Sandy Carson, wanted us to be successful as a gallery, so she lowered our rent for a while. ”

McClung points out that over the past year sales at the gallery have been hot, then cold, then hot again. “It was a roller coaster ride,” he says. Pamela joseph, which features feminist-infused face masks, is on display there through October 23, along with African-American identity works in Floyd tunson opening October 29.

Up the street, Rule Gallery owner Wayne Rogers stepped in to help the place through the rough patch. “Most people look to the financial side,” says Valerie Santerli of Rule, “but Wayne was okay with the problem. And our collectors didn’t want to see us sink, some giving us money, saying they were sure they would want a work of art in the future.

While many galleries have remained afloat thanks to sales, things were more difficult for spaces dependent on footfall. The McNichols Building, the city of Denver’s unofficial museum, not only had to deal with COVID, but suffered significant funding cuts when the Red Rocks Amphitheater stopped bringing money to the city. Shanna Shelby, Curator of Exhibitions, has been reassigned; then she was back this summer as the city put on an All-Star Game-related exhibit almost overnight. The schedule continues this fall with Lifetime artists, looking at artists in their seventies, and Louise Cadillac, a solo featuring the work of a 90-year-old Colorado artist, both premiered on October 16.

The Arvada Center – also funded by shows – has also experienced a long shutdown, reopening last spring with Collin Parson hosting a pandemic show followed by Roland bernier, a major commemorative exhibition on display until November 14.

In some ways, the Denver Botanic Gardens have been lucky because it is primarily an outdoor attraction. “The indoor / outdoor hybrid is a plus,” says Lisa Eldred, director of exhibitions. “We have become a safe alternative to staying at home, and now our membership base is bigger than ever. There was however a catch: the inauguration, in full pandemic, of the new Freyer-Newman Center, a covered place including galleries. Now the center welcomes Yoshitomo Saito there until November 28, and Ana Maria Hernando until January 2.

Click to enlarge Ana Maria Hernando's

Ana Maria Hernando’s “Fervor” at the Freyer-Newman Center in the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Denver Botanical Gardens

The Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts also suffered a complication with its construction. After being closed for months, it finally reopened and welcomed visitors again last winter, then suffered a broken pipe during the polar vortex. Fortunately, motion detectors detected the flooding and alerted staff, but not before substantial damage had been done. Now, however, after more than six months of repairs, there is no evidence left of the disaster. “Don’t call it ‘Watergate’,” Kirkland founder Hugh Grant says, laughing.
“I was afraid people would forget about us, but they’re back, and it’s like it never happened.” During the downtime, Grant researched objects in the collection and facilitated substantial new acquisitions. In addition to the restored permanent collection galleries, there is now a special exhibition, Christophe chest of drawers, which examines the varied career of the 19th-century designer, through January 2.

Yet another institution ran into trouble at the intersection of pandemic and architecture, and in this case, it was the neighborhood’s big kid: the Denver Art Museum. In recent years, the DAM has pursued a number of major projects: the completion of the new Sie Welcome Center and the careful restoration of the Martin Building by Gio Ponti. “It was not easy”, explains Christoph Heinrich, director of the museum. “We originally planned to start the phased opening in May 2020, but we had to postpone that.” The delayed opening of the two buildings is now set for October 24.

More than most arts institutions, DAM has been able to carry on its work almost normally, putting together a comprehensive list of exhibitions in the Hamilton Building. “It was a tough year for all of us, but we were so lucky,” recalls Heinrich. “We were able to provide secure access to people in June 2020, earlier than in many places. We were one of the safest places for people back then. And when the original building reopens as Martin, all of the galleries in the permanent collection will be there, along with plenty of new things to see, including special exhibits. There are Revision, an unprecedented blend of ancient, historic, modern and contemporary Latin American art, and Gio Ponti, examining the range of remarkable creations of the modern Italian master. In Hamilton, the blockbuster Whistler to Cassatt, showcasing American artists who have worked in France, will open on November 14.

Over the past year and a half, the city’s galleries, museums and art centers have been put to a real-world stress test, putting their survival on the line. And against all odds and negative expectations, the stage is still there. This is because the artistic community has grown stronger, showing everyone that it collectively understands the value of long term commitment.


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