When curators are tasked with creating an innovative new exhibition from a permanent collection, it can sometimes be difficult to find a unique way to connect the works. However, the theme and intent of the Denver Art Museumit is Disruption: Works from the Vicki and Kent Logan Collection, is obvious, both in its title and in its content. “The works in this exhibition question our world today, the social spaces in which we navigate and the past,” explains Laura Almeida, curator for the modern and contemporary art department of the museum. “Many of these artists and artworks subvert or disrupt cultural tropes.”
The exhibition, drawn from more than 300 pieces in the vast Vicki and Kent Logan collection as well as a few from the donors’ private collection, is engaging from the start, with more than fifty paintings, drawings and sculptures that challenge conventional views of media consumption, capitalism, activism, globalism and the colonialism. Working with a wide range of subjects and mediums, Almeida and Senior Curatorial Assistant Caitlin Swindell prove their own talent with how the pieces fit into and cross different themes.
“While the museum has held exhibitions of permanent collections before, this brings different thematic approaches that invigorate the collection,” says Swindell. “It delves into so many relevant topics of today.”
Both nostalgic and reflective, a dollhouse invites, even compels, a reflection on surveillance as visitors strain to seek out the details within. “Night Hunter,” by Colorado artist Stacey Steers, is a dark but charming Victorian dollhouse that looks like it jumped from an illustration by Edward Gorey. Flashes from windows invite guests to peek inside, where various rooms play vintage films that light up otherwise dark rooms, illuminating little butterflies perched on tiny furniture.
“I think people will be very excited about Steers’ article,” Swindell said. “It’s about surveillance, and that’s a theme that runs through other pieces in the exhibit as well.”
Many works confront colonialism. A giant packet of American liquor by Chippewa/Lakota artist David P. Bradley would appear as merely playful pop art if it weren’t for his message about capitalizing on stereotypes: the cigarette society has no relationship fundamental with the American Indians, despite its cachet. of a silhouetted Indian in a headdress smoking a long pipe on the front of the pack.
This theme is taken up in a series of sculptures by Michael Joo entitled “Headless”. The shadow foam sculptures are replicated from traditional Buddha sculptures, but with the heads severed. Instead, float above the heads of Western pop culture dolls: Alfred E. Neuman, Pee-wee Herman, a Madame Alexander doll, and Bert from sesame street are among the many recognizable faces. The sculptures refer to the persecution of Buddhists throughout history, which saw the heads of Buddha sculptures cut off by imperialist regimes, colonizers and traders.
“It’s about colonialism and global markets, and how it floods our daily lives,” says Swindell. “These are tough subjects and difficult objects for viewers, but that’s what makes it ‘the present’.”
“Plastic Surgery”, a painting by Inka Essenhigh, directly addresses a “current” subject. The pervasive issue of body image is exemplified by surreal white subjects cut out of a boxing ring against a stark yellow background. The curators have brought together a few works with pop culture references hanging on the nearby wall: “Plastic Surgery” is highlighted by a video streamed on an iPad that shows a model retouching herself during a photo shoot; next to that is a boxed Instagram post explaining how body poses can change the way your weight appears in photos.
Although sometimes these additional references can be overkill, in some cases they are necessary. A large oil painting of newlyweds, ‘The Wedding Picture,’ by Bo Bartlett, would look oddly out of place in the exhibit if it weren’t for its neighbor: a small photo of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries after they got married (the marriage lasted 72 days). “We want visitors to think about how these works of art speak to today’s events,” Almeida says of the pop culture placards.
The exhibition would still be impressive without such a curator’s hand; most of the works speak for themselves, especially in the context of the medium. Rachel Lachowicz, for example, sculpted three miniature urinals in lipstick. “There’s a gender juxtaposition that she comments on,” says Almeida. Other mediums in the exhibition range from bronze sculptures to stuffed animal skins.
The general theme is emphasized by each work, and some are simply disturbing at first sight, without knowing the disturbing intentions of the artist. Yang Shobin’s “Untitled” is immediately unsettling, with faded, anguished faces that seem to be struggling violently from an alizarin backdrop. And Gavin Turk’s “Camouflage Self Portrait (A Man Like Mr. Turk)” is as hard to look away as it is to watch.
There’s definitely a lot to look at here, like Disturbance is a marvelous feat of curatorial creativity. Through this, Almeida says she hopes visitors “will gain a better understanding of how these artists challenge subject matter and push boundaries, and also how disruptive elements are part of their daily lives.”
Disruption: Works from the Vicki and Kent Logan Collectionat the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, through January 23, 2023. Learn more here.