Empty Spaces (Part I)

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DENVER – My initial reasons for leaving my hometown 16 years ago included a lack of institutional support for the creative communities here. There was no shortage of committed people, but Denver’s historically philistine approach to creativity in any form meant a DIY attitude for many which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, opportunities to show and disseminate work were extremely limited and that continues today to a lesser degree.

There are still serious cultural divides in this town which are the basis for a somewhat laissez-faire approach from larger institutions and endowments with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver as a notable exception.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Denver’s solution to its philistine problem was to throw a bunch of money at high profile projects and then turn a somewhat blind eye to it. Denver International Airport was one of the first multi-billion-dollar projects to include original art commissions. Included in its permanent collection is really bad work that undoubtedly made a lot of money for the artists. In 2013, DIA was named “Best U.S. Airport for Art” by USA Today as part of its “10 Best Reader’s Choice” travel contest. I know that because they brag about it on their website.

Until 2006, the Denver Art Museum lived in a Gio Ponti-designed brutalist mess. It’s most notable collection up until that point was an American Indian trove of artifacts which were just enough to capture my attention… as a 10-year-old. Not much else captured my attention during many school field trips to the museum during that time. In 2006, the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, designed by prima donna architect, Daniel Libeskind, opened at a price tag of $62 million. The collections expanded significantly, but very little effort has been made in the programming or exhibition areas. The current notable exhibition is made up of Star Wars costumes. My favorite piece is the one outside by Laurence Weiner (AS TO BE IN PLAIN SIGHT, 2009) on view for free by anyone who walks by. Here is Weiner dedicating the work.

My time away saw my old neighborhood transform into the “Santa Fe Arts District.” There are several galleries along Santa Fe now that are worth visits for contemporary art enthusiasts – Michael Warren Contemporary, Space Gallery, and Rule Gallery among them, but the effort to transform the area, as a whole, has been marked mainly by gentrification in the area followed predictably by the philistine attitude that accompanies it. Gentrifiers love art, they just don’t want artists living around them.

But the question last night was about infrastructure as community and community as infrastructure. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re dependent on each other. As any dealer or curator will tell you, collectors depend on artists just as much as the inverse.

More about that later…

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