Monday, September 15, 2014

A Visit to the Denver Art Museum; Pop Art and Quilts

After a week of rainy days and the first snowfall of the season -- unusually early, everyone assured us -- we enjoyed a weekend full of bright sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80's.  

After the snow cleared out on Friday morning a friend drove me to Denver to introduce me to some of its attractions.  We first went to lower downtown, a neighborhood known as LoDo, the earliest settled part of Denver.  Although it was once the major business district, over time it deteriorated and by the 1980's had become a very undesirable part of the city.  That changed when the city voted in a revitalization plan to save the remaining buildings and to encourage businesses such as the Wynkoop Brewery, Denver's first microbrewery.  The completion of Coors Field to house the newly acquired Rockies baseball team in 1995 lured even more people to the neighborhood and it is now a lively and hip area, full of restaurants and shops.

First we went into Union Station, the early train station which has been restored and repurposed as an upscale eating facility.

Don't you love the windows? 

Then we had lunch at the Wynkoop Brewery, where I had the best salmon club sandwich ever.  Afterwards we were off to the main event, a visit to the Denver Public Art Museum to see its current exhibitions.

Beyond Pop Art: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective was a real eye opener.  I didn't know anything about this artist but enjoyed his vibrant colors, the oversize scale of many of his works,  and his use of collage.  Being a retrospective, the exhibit allowed the viewer to see pieces made throughout Wesselmann's  career and study the progression of his work over time.   He worked in various series, each growing out of the other.  For example, this kind of painting ....

... over time turned into this kind of 3-D laser cut, hand painted metal sculpture...

...which turned into this type of stylized abstract "drawing" out of metal.

Wesselmann worked in series, something serious quilt artists are always encouraged to do, and when I saw the progression of art that occurred in the series that Wesselmann worked on, I understood how important series work can be for an artist's growth.  A good description of the Wesselmann's work can be found here.

Also on view at the art museum was an exhibit of 20th century Japanese woodcuts which was quite beautiful. You can see a few of them here.

I hadn't planned to spend much time looking at First Glance--Second Look; Quilts from the Denver Art Museum since I'm not a huge fan of traditional quilts, which were the focus.  But as we approached the exhibit I was immediately drawn into it by the graphic and colorful quality of the quilts selected for display.  For example, look at this one:

At first glance I thought it used repetitive blocks, but then realized that each house is different in either coloring or design, and that one of the pine trees is different from the others.  That randomness coupled with the bold striped sashing and borders made the quilt seem modern to me, but it dates from the late 1800's.

Here's another one, this time featuring large swaths of fabric that look pieced or appliqued.  This focus on the fabric as opposed to technique or quilting, seems quite modern to me, but, again, this dates from the 1820's.  

Besides enjoying the quilts I also enjoyed how they were presented.  They were hung beautifully, with many suspended from the ceiling so both sides could be seen, and lots of breathing space between them.  The curators cleverly organized them into nine categories:  Little Houses (house blocks); Bands & Borders; Princess Feather (variations on a feather pattern); Sunshine and Shadow (log cabin blocks); Seeing Stars; Ordered Chaos (crazy quilts); Material Matters (focus on the fabric); Excellent Excess (quilts using an abundance of something, such as Yoyos); and Second Life (quilts reusing surprising material, such as clothing labels).   Seeing like quilts together and being able to compare them made the exhibit more interesting to me then seeing the quilts presented by date, or makers, or locale of the maker. 

The Denver Art Museum's commitment to quilts was evident not only from this exhibit but from the conservation room, which was viewable by the public and featured large tables for laying out quilts, special vacuum machines for gently removing surface dirt, and supplies for safely wrapping and storing ones not on display.  It was pretty impressive. 

But the most fun thing to see was the Thread Room, a large and comfortable space with many small displays about the various ways that thread has been used over different times and cultures.   A nice description of the room can be found at the designer's web site.  Here's a photo from that site.

Here's a closeup photo I took of one of the little displays.  I've never seen stitchery and the objects used to create it so lovingly exhibited and the displays were both interesting and a lot of fun to examine. 

To end this short summation of my introduction to the fabulous Denver Art Museum, here's a small jewel from the Thread Room.  The fabric was hand painted and then stitched to create a fanciful and lovely scene.  I just love this!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the report, Mary. Those quilts (and your comments!) are fabulous. A great museum.


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