During 2018, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) strategically enhanced the breadth and depth of its collection through a variety of major acquisitions, both purchases and gifts from generous museum supporters including artists. This ongoing refinement and expansion of the museum’s collection exemplifies the DAM’s enduring commitment to maintain a diverse collection that reflects the community and provides invaluable ways for audiences to learn about cultures from around the world. Following are some selected acquisition highlights from 2018.
This Eames Storage Unit (ESU), which entered the architecture, design and graphics collection in 2018, will be included in Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America, which will be on view at the DAM May 5–Aug. 25, 2019. Following World War II, the American home emerged as a site for architectural discourse, as architects and designers explored new ways of living.
Perhaps the most influential American designers of this period were the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames. Their ESU series—an inexpensive solution to the changing storage and display needs of midcentury families—was constructed of standardized and interchangeable parts and easily adaptable to a variety of uses, while expressing a playfulness in design. The colorful panels of this model also reflect Ray’s appreciation of the art of Piet Mondrian from her days as an artist in New York in the 1930s.
The Asian art department was the recipient of several Chinese artworks bequeathed by Justine Kirk in memory of her mother, Justine Sarkisian Rodriguez, and her uncle, H. Medill Sarkisian.
The bequest included a Tang dynasty sculpture of Guanyin (pictured), a well as a pair of famille noir vases with floral and bird motif and a pair of bowls with dragon and phoenix motif from the Kangxi period (1662-1722).
The modern and contemporary art department acquired a number of significant works this year. When Fred Wilson was invited to participate in the 2017 Istanbul Biennial, he was intrigued by its chosen theme and title: a good neighbour. Wilson was conscious that Constantinople, now Istanbul, former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, had a legacy of neighborly as well as un-neighborly relationships with Asian and European powers. The theme was an invitation for Wilson to insert a perspective challenging conventional assumptions of history, culture and race. He reprised a Murano chandelier design, first made for the 2003 Venice Biennale, to create The Way the Moon’s in Love with the Dark.
In the spirit of neighborliness, Wilson designed this complex sculpture based on Ottoman and Venetian lighting traditions: at its core are multiple symmetrical arms capped with a light taken from European fashion crafted in black Murano glass surrounded by tiers of clear glass lamps based on mosque lights in the Muslim world. The conceptual artwork will debut at the DAM in The Light Show, opening a floor of symbolic light on May 19, 2019, and physical light on June 2, 2019.
The modern and contemporary art department also acquired three works featured in Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place, which was on view Feb. 19–Oct 22, 2017.
Daniela Edburg’s 2016 mixed media installation, Uprooted, was purchased with funds from the bequest of Lloyd M. Joshel by exchange. Also joining the collection were two 2015 works by Ana Teresa Fernández—the video Erasure and Erasure 4, a hyperrealist oil painting sourced from a still of the Erasure performance video.
Both Fernández artworks were purchased with funds from Vicki and Kent Logan; Suzanne Farver and Clint Van Zee; Sharon and J. Landis Martin; Craig Ponzio; Ellen and Morris Susman; Devon Dikeou; Baryn, Daniel and Jonathan Futa; Andrea and William Hankinson; Arlene and Barry Hirschfeld; Lu and Chris Law; Amanda J. Precourt; Judy and Ken Robins; Annalee and Wagner Schorr; Judith Zee Steinberg and Paul Hoenmans; Tina Walls; and Margaret and Glen Wood.
Other works acquired by the modern and contemporary department after exhibitions were Judith Godwin’s 1954 painting Woman (Women of Abstract Expressionism) and two works by Xiaoze Xie—a 2017 oil on linen painting, Through Fire (Books that Survived the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance at Tsinghua University, No. 1), and Transience, a 2011 single-channel video that was gifted by the artist (Eyes On: Xiaoze Xie).
The Native Arts collection added two contemporary oil paintings by Julie Buffalohead (Ponca), A Little Medicine and Magic and Blood and a Single Tree, from the recent exhibition, Eyes On: Julie Buffalohead. Buffalohead uses metaphors, iconography, and storytelling narratives in her artwork to describe emotional and subversive American Indian cultural experiences.
Another significant acquisition for the department was Dyani White Hawk’s (Sicangu Lakota) monumental canvas, Untitled (Quiet Strength Series, II). The textural surface of this painting evokes the formal motifs of Lakota beaded and quilled hide clothing, adorned with geometric and curvilinear design elements. The subtle combination of traditional Lakota patterns and modernist concepts of form and abstraction calls attention to the simultaneously intersecting and divergent ways in which Native and non-Native peoples experience the world.
Two paintings by Rick Bartow (Wiyot), Crow Dance and Masquerade, also entered the collection as gifts from Loren G. Lipson, M.D., who generously contributed funds to acquire the Buffalohead and White Hawk works.
In 2018, the DAM was the recipient of a major gift of British masterworks from the Berger Collection Educational Trust, the largest gift of European Old Masters since the museum received the Kress Collection in the 1950s. The gift consisted of 65 works, which dramatically increased the department of painting and sculpture’s holdings of 14th through 19th century European art.
Highlights include works by the greatest artists of the British School—including Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence and John Constable—as well as by non-British artists who spent significant time in Britain, such as Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck and Americans Benjamin West and John Singer Sargent.
Several DAM visitor favorites are included in the gift, including The Radcliffe Family by Thomas Hudson, Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VI) by Hans Holbein and studio, and the anonymous Portrait of Three Girls. Works by British artists rarely found in American collections are also included, such as Papirius Praetextatus Entreated by His Mother by the Royal Academy founder Angelica Kauffman and Sir John Ashburnham by the Tudor-era painter Hieronimo Custodis.
A selection of these works will go on view at the DAM in Treasures of British Art: The Berger Collection, opening March 2, 2019.
The Sun Vow is the first sculpture by Hermon Atkins MacNeil to enter the DAM’s Western American art collection and is a wonderful complement with other American sculptors in the collection. Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, American artists and critics were deeply concerned with developing a “national” school of art. Artists including MacNeil trained in Europe but turned their attention to the Far West in search of uniquely American subjects.
MacNeil’s The Sun Vow builds a visual bridge of this artistic tradition into the 20th century. The sculpture presents a distillation of many of MacNeil’s personal and aesthetic interests: indigeneity as a hallmark of American art; an aesthetic ideal achieved through the classicized human form; and focusing on such universal themes as generational passage to transcend differences in culture and time.
The New World department added a notable textile to their collection with the Tillett tapiz. Designed by Leslie Tillett, a British-born American textile designer, the Tillett tapiz consists of a single length of handspun cotton cloth that depicts a series of vignettes detailing the two-year Spanish campaign to conquer Mexico.
Designed as a visual narrative, Tillett drew from both pre-Columbian and post-conquest manuscripts, honoring the indigenous mode of pictorial storytelling. The tapestry records key moments of the conquest such as the departure of Cortés’ ships from the island of Cozumel and the death of the Mexican emperor, Moctezuma II.
As the quincentennial of the Spanish conquest of Mexico approaches, this work speaks to the lasting impact of the event both artistically and culturally. The tapiz provides valuable historical context for the New World collection, serving as a bridge between past and present.
The Spanish Colonial art collection acquired a fine coquera. These carved hardwood coca-leaf caddies or coqueras were produced in the various Jesuit missions that were scattered among the eastern Andean foothills in Alto Peru (now Bolivia). Coqueras were typically used to store coca leaves or yerba mate, both of which were consumed as herbal infusions for dealing with high altitude in colonial times.
In 2018, in addition to other pieces, the photography department acquired a selection of photographic works previously on view in Common Ground: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh, 1989-2013 and New Territory: Landscape Photography Today.
Ether is a poetic series of photographs created by Fazal Sheikh in Benares (Varanasi), India, a city on the Ganges River that is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Muslims. Ether is a reflection on sleeping and dreaming, death and transcendence that evokes the universal mysteries underlying human belief.
Abelardo Morell has adapted an ancient technology to make surprising and unique photographs of urban and rural landscapes. His image of Cathedral Rocks acquired in 2018 is one of a series of tent-camera pictures Morell made at National Parks throughout the U.S. It relates directly to the mid-19th century photographs of Carleton E. Watkins, whose grand style views of the Yosemite Valley have been a touchstone for American landscape photographers for 150 years.
Matthew Brandt’s triptych, Lake Isabella CA TC 2, incorporated water from the lake depicted in the image into the ‘development’ process and is an example of Brandt’s highly experimental approach to the photographic medium. Throughout his work, Brandt manipulates historical processes and occasionally invents new ones to make photographs using a wide variety of materials.
Following Drawn to Glamour: Fashion Illustration by Jim Howard, the artist gifted more than 100 of his fashion illustrations to the textile art and fashion department. Jim Howard’s generous donation of materials from that exhibition places the department in a unique position to document this particular area of fashion history, which has been largely unrepresented in museum collections.
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