Throughout 2016, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) continued to strategically enhance the breadth and depth of its collection through a variety of major acquisitions, both purchases and gifts from donors including artists and generous museum supporters. 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. Selected acquisition highlights from 2016 include:
Daniel Richter, D.P. II, 2007–08. Oil on canvas; 110-3/8 × 137-3/4 in. Gift from Vicki and Kent Logan to the Collection of the Denver Art Museum.
Dancing between nightmare and fantasy, Daniel Richter’s belligerent brushwork conveys a complex web of anxiety and popular imagery, taken from comic books and newspapers and intertwined with art historical references that aim to transport the viewer into a timeless universe. While his technique is skillfully controlled, his work reflects an apocalyptical panic, alienation and mistrust of the contemporary world. In D.P. II, Richter’s dark, somber colors are intensified through bright neon pops of color, providing enough light to make out shapes, but not enough to decode the identity of the figures. His feverish layering of paint mimics the morphing of metaphors, parable and characters of the past with those of the present.
Sonia Gechtoff, Blue Two, 2016. Acrylic paint on canvas; 48 × 48 in. Gift of Sonia Gechtoff.
One of the most successful Bay Area Abstract Expressionist painters during the 1950s, Sonia Gechtoff’s work has been exhibited widely. One of 12 artists featured in Women of Abstract Expressionism at the DAM in 2016, she also was shown in James Johnson Sweeney’s “Younger American Painters” at the Guggenheim Museum in 1954 and participated in the inaugural exhibition of the famed Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, curated by Walter Hopps. Like most of Gechtoff’s recent work, Blue Two is composed of predominantly flat planes overlaid with some sweeping gestural strokes. Its title, Blue Two, refers to the fact that the canvas originally was a blue composition; when she returned to it, she completed it in a mainly green palette.
Other significant works that were added to the modern and contemporary art department include Jonas Burgert’s Zweiter Tag Nichts (Second Day Nothing), a gift from Vicki and Kent Logan; Mona Hatoum’s Keffieh II, a gift from Baryn, Daniel and Jonathan Futa; and Jasper Johns’s The Critic Smiles, a gift from Polly and Mark Addison.
Ansel Adams, El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California, c. 1930. Gelatin silver print; image 3-15/16 × 6-1/16 in. Denver Art Museum collection: Funds from the Photography Acquisitions Alliance, 2016.8.
Ansel Adams’s vision of the North American landscape, conveyed through almost luminous black and white prints, has fueled the mythos of American wilderness and galvanized environmental sentiment for nearly 80 years. This print of El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California, dates to the first half of the 1930s—a pivotal period in his career. Adams’s work from the early 1930s, more intimate in scale and composition than his awe-inspiring views from the 1940s, is relatively little known.
A few years after making this print, Adams was instrumental in the formation of Group f/64: an association of seven California photographers, including Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Willard Van Dyke, which established a framework for the practice of photography in keeping with the modernist pursuit for material purity. By emphasizing a truthful presentation that revealed the essential nature of the medium through sharp images with a full range of tones, glossy papers that reduced surface aberrations, and the rejection of manipulation intended to make the photograph look like something it was not, they proposed that an emotional experience could be rendered from form alone. To a much greater degree than his mature work, Adams’s photographs from the 1930—such as El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California—exemplify the approaches of Group f/64.
Penelope Umbrico, 18,297,350 Suns from Sunsets from Flickr (Partial) 04/16/14, 2014. 192 4×6 in. Chromogenic color prints assembled with tape; 49-3/4 × 96-1/2 in. (framed). Denver Art Museum collection: Funds provided by The Mark & Hilarie Moore Family Trust. 2016.37
Penelope Umbrico’s photographic artwork quantifies and questions the ubiquity of electronic media and mass imaging in contemporary society. Umbrico used an elaborate conceptual strategy to create 18,297,350 Suns from Sunsets from Flickr 04/16/14. Without photographing the sun herself, she searched the photo-sharing website Flickr for photographs tagged "sun" and downloaded a representative sample of the whole, noting the total number of images tagged "sun" that day for use in the finished artwork's title. The resulting colorful aggregation of snapshot-sized prints is fun to look at, but the individual photographs that comprise the artwork are mundane and interchangeable. Umbrico's point is that as exciting as it may be at first blush, what she calls the "digital torrent" may ultimately have a leveling effect on human visual experience.
Other photography department acquisitions in 2016 include works by Mary Peck (gift of Teresa and Paul Harbaugh), Alison Rossiter (gift of Polly and Mark Addison) and Aaron Siskind (gift of The A. E. Manley Photography Collection), as well as museum purchases of photographs by Carol Golemboski (funds from Brian Morgan), Ralph Eugene Meatyard (funds from the Photography Acquisitions Alliance [P2A]), and Paul Strand (funds from P2A and The William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, by exchange).
Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), Ensemble: Jacket and Skirt, Spring–Summer 1997 collection, “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body.” Nylon/polyurethane stretch gingham with padding. Denver Art Museum: Neusteter Textile Collection, 2016.50A-B. Purchased at auction with various funds
The impulse to redefine the existing concept of feminine beauty reached an apex with Rei Kawakubo’s “bump dress.” With its interior padding, the monstrous contours of what some called the “Quasimodo” dress produced curves in unexpected places and dramatically contorted female proportions. The result, more a conceptual experiment than a new definition of feminine beauty, is on view in Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s-90s through May 28.
Among noteworthy works that entered the Spanish Colonial art collection last year were several gifts from the collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer.
Mateo Pérez de Alesio (born 1540, Alezio, Italy; died around 1628, Lima, Peru), Virgen de la Leche, Lima, Peru, circa 1600. Oil paint on copper panel; 21-7/8 × 16-1/4 in. Purchased with funds from Frederick and Jan Mayer, Alianza de las Artes Americanas, Carl Patterson, David and Boo Butler, Spanish Colonial Acquisitions and Deaccession Funds including by exchange the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art, made possible by the Renchard family; 2016.213
Pérez de Alesio trained and painted in Italy, Malta and Spain before moving to Peru around 1590. He continued his artistic career in Lima and is considered one of the founding fathers of the art of painting in Peru. Imagery of Mary breastfeeding Jesus was common in the Middle Ages, but fell out of favor in the 1500s after the Council of Trent discouraged nudity in art. In the 1600s, however, the subject was revived by Spanish missionaries as a way of demonstrating the humanity of the Holy Family.
Chest with animal scenes, Colombia, 1700s. Wood with silver, barniz de pasto and silver leaf; 15-1/4 × 22-1/2 × 10-1/4 in. Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer; 2015.545
The surface of this chest is decorated with barniz de pasto—a pre-Hispanic, lacquer-like technique named for the original center of production in San Juan de Pasto, Colombia. To create the lacquer, gum from the Andean mopa-mopa shrub is chewed, combined with pigment and stretched to create a thin resin, which can be applied to wooden surfaces. In the Spanish colonial era, silver leaf was used in tandem with the resin to create a lustrous surface. This chest, which features exotic flora and fauna along with original silver hardware, was a luxury item enjoyed by the elite.
Other 2016 gifts from the collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer were a painting of St. Hyacinth of Poland by the well-known Arellano family of painters, active in Mexico City in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and a nun’s badge (a small painting used as a personal devotional object, sometimes worn on the body) attributed to José de Paez. This painting on copper with a tortoiseshell frame depicts the coronation of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception by the Holy Trinity, surrounded by the three tiers of the saints and the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Marie Watt (Seneca, b. 1967), Butterfly, 2015. Wool, satin, cotton, metal cones. Funds from Vicki and Kent Logan and Loren Lipson, M.D., with additional funds from Brian Tschumper, Nancy Benson, Jen & Mike Tansey, and JoAnn and Bob Balzer, 2016.1A-B
This sculptural hung textile by Marie Watt was started during the artist’s residency at the DAM in the summer of 2013. She was inspired by two young female powwow dancers who described how they felt when dancing. Large abstract triangular motifs reference one of the girls who described feeling like a butterfly, floating, while fancy shawl dancing. The vivid color and visual frenzy of motion in the work also connect to this fast and colorful dance. A large panel in the middle is composed of the types of tin jingles that are often used to make a jingle dress—the type of dance regalia worn by the other girl. The cloth portion is made of reclaimed blankets, a recurring media used in her work.
Focusing on community and social interaction, Watt invited visitors who attended the DAM’s 2013 Friendship Powwow to participate in a sewing circle to work on this piece. Her approach to art-making is shaped by the proto-feminism of Iroquois matrilineal custom, political work by Native artists in the ’60s, and a discourse on multiculturalism, as well as abstract expressionism and pop art.
Significant other works were added to DAM’s native arts department in 2016, including six paintings by Fritz Scholder and 21 sculptures by Virgil Ortiz, gifts from Vicki and Kent Logan; ceramic sculptures by Nora Naranjo-Morse and Christine Nofchissey McHorse, gifts of Nancy and Hamilton Harris; a basket triptych by Shan Goshorn and a bronze sculpture by Allan Houser, gifts of Loren G. Lipson, M.D.
Born in Italy to American expatriate parents who encouraged their son’s artistic talents, John Singer Sargent moved to Paris in 1874—a time when the city was the artistic capital of the world, attracting artists from the continent and across the ocean. Sargent entered the teaching atelier of Carolus-Duran, whose emphasis on loose brushstrokes and the free application of color on unprimed canvases had a lasting impact on the young American.
In The Black Piano, the artist sums up the many artistic influences he encountered: Degas’ unexpected compositions, Manet’s generous use of black, a Japanese aesthetic shown by the inclusion of the red screen and Frans Hals and Diego Velázquez’s painterly techniques. The confidence of the artist’s brushstrokes and the spontaneity of the composition (heightened by the detail of a top hat casually left on top of the piano) contribute to the charm of this small yet captivating painting.
Gio Ponti (Italian, 1891–1979) and John Prip (American, 1922–2009), The Diamond Flatware, 1958. Sterling silver and stainless steel; varying dimensions. Manufactured by Reed & Barton, United States. Funds from Design Council of the Denver Art Museum, 2016.224.1-5
In 2016, the architecture, design and graphics department acquired a collection of 30 sets of flatware, ranging in date from 1953 to 1990, which includes important designs by Gio Ponti, John Prip, Carl Auböck, Irving Harper, Takenobu Igarashi, Jens Quistgaard, Don Wallance, Tapio Wirkkala and Lella and Massimo Vignelli. This acquisition more than doubled the DAM’s collection of 20th-century flatware, giving the museum a broad range of designs by country, time period and style.
While the Ponti/Prip set is sterling silver, the majority of the pieces are stainless steel. Stainless steel flatware was used primarily in institutions and lower-end restaurants and for informal family dining until the late 1940s, when stainless flatware patterns were introduced as a viable, stylish alternative to sterling or silver-plated utensils. Stainless steel flatware designs of this period showed a preference for clean, simple designs with minimal decoration. Instead of surface motifs, stainless flatware relied upon expressive lines and surprising divergences from traditional flatware patterns.
Valentina Gonzalez Wohlers (Mexican, b. 1977), Prickly Pair Chair, Gentleman's Style, 2009. Banak wood, MDF, polyurethane paint and upholstery; 71 × 47 × 20 in. Acquired by exchange, 2016.2
Like Valentina Gonzalez Wohlers’s biography and career, her Prickly Pair Chair, Gentleman’s Style, represents a mixing of cultures. Wohlers took a ubiquitous historical European chair type, the Louis XV armchair, and combined it with the Nopal cactus, or prickly pear, a symbol of Mexican heritage and national pride. The combination of cultural inspiration is drawn from her own background, being born in Mexico City and studying and working in England since 2005.
Wohlers’s Prickly Pair designs are a playful exploration of Rococo themes of natural motifs and asymmetry. Even the title of the chair, playing on the name of the cactus, may indicate a discord between the Mexican and European cultures, reaching back to the colonial period. The bright colors come from its namesake cactus’s green body and pink fruit. The prickly pear is also a symbol of Mexico, appearing on the nation’s flag. According to legend, the gods advised the Aztecs to establish their city when they saw a place where an eagle was perched on a prickly pear tree, devouring a serpent. This mythical space is now the main plaza of Mexico City.
Wohlers’s work is also reminiscent of the neo-Dada/Surrealists of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which included designers who thought of their work as metaphors rather than useful objects and often displayed a sense of irony or humor in their works. Prickly Pair Chair, Gentlemen’s Style, joins a design collection notable for its representation of historic and contemporary chairs.
Lidded Wine Vessel, China, Western Zhou dynasty, about 1050 BC–221 BCE. Bronze; 12-3/4 × 8 × 5 in. Bequest of Bernadette Berger. 2016.12a-b
This Western Zhou Dynasty vessel is an excellent example of bronze work from this period in China, and significantly enhances the DAM’s collection of ancient Chinese bronzes. The detailed bands that encircle both the body and lid of the vessel, and the animal head-shaped lugs through which the handle is attached, are beautifully rendered. This piece is made more valuable by its inscription, which reads "Chen Chen Xian Fu Yi," linking it to bronzes in the Harvard and Freer Museum collections from the same archaeological site. The inscription indicates it was commissioned by Chen, an official of the Xian clan during the Western Zhou Dynasty. Scholars believe that this Xian clan was a foe in the Shang Dynasty (about 1600–1045 BCE), and they likely joined the battle led by the Zhou to overthrow the Shang Dynasty around 1045 BCE. Afterwards, many Xian aristocrats were awarded important positions in the Zhou court, and this Fu Yi was one of them. This vessel is one of a fine group of Chinese art objects left to the DAM by Bernadette Berger, a long-time supporter of the museum.
Other significant acquisitions in the Asian art department include a group of Southeast Asian bronzes from long-time department contributor Emma Bunker, a group of 18th century shipwrecked porcelains from the collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, and gifts of an ornate Burmese sutra box and ceramic flower vase by artist Kitaoji Rosanjin from the family of John and Celeste Fleming.
Alexander Phimister Proctor, Indian Warrior, c. 1922. Bronze; 31-1/2 × 10 × 39-1/2 in. Museum Purchase with funds from Sharon Magness and the Harry I. and Edythe Smookler Memorial Endowment.
The Petrie Institute of Western American Art acquired an exceptional cast of Indian Warrior, one of American sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor’s most important works. Proctor grew up in Denver in the 1870s before traveling to the east coast and abroad for academic training. Before leaving New York for Paris in 1896, he traveled to the Blackfeet Reservation near Browning, Montana, where he made portrait studies. One of those studies would later be used for Indian Warrior in 1898. Modeled and first cast in Paris, Proctor entered this statuette in the Paris Universal Exposition in 1900, where it won a gold medal for sculpture.
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The Denver Art Museum is an educational, nonprofit resource that sparks creative thinking and expression through transformative experiences with art. Its holdings reflect the city and region—and provide invaluable ways for the community to learn about cultures from around the world. Metro citizens support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), a unique funding source serving hundreds of metro Denver arts, culture and scientific organizations. For museum information, call 720-865-5000 or visit www.denverartmuseum.org.