Visitors in western American art gallery on level 2 of the Hamilton Building

Western American Art on View in the Hamilton Building

In January we closed the western American art galleries on level 7 of the DAM’s North Building in preparation for an exciting revitalization project that will allow us to reimagine our collection gallery spaces. (Treasures from our level 7 collection are now on view at History Colorado Center in Backstory: Western American Art in Context.)

Western American Art in the Hamilton Building

But, for all of you fans of western American art, never fear. In the Hamilton Building we will soon open The Western: An Epic in Art and Film (May 27-September 10), and western works are still on display on level 2. There you will see a selection of paintings by early-twentieth century Taos artists including Victor Higgins, E. Martin Hennings, and Walter Ufer, as well as works by other American modernists including B. J. O. Nordfelt, Beatrice Mandelman, and Denver’s own Vance Kirkland.

While landscapes and portraits fall easily within people’s expectations of western American subjects, still lifes often do not. Two still life paintings currently on display challenge our expectations of what western American art looks like.

A painting of red poppies in a vase on a table
Andrew Dasburg, Poppies, 1931. Oil paint on cavas. Denver Art Museum; Funds by exchange, from Mr. and Mrs. Gibson Gardner and Mr. and Mrs. Bayard J. Young, in memory of Governor Oliver H. Schoup and Mr. and Mrs. Merrill E. Shoup; Helen H. Erickson; YWCA; Elizabeth Scanlan bequests; Art Americana Fund; A Wessenich Collection; and general accession funds. © Estate of Andrew Dasburg.

Andrew Dasburg’s Poppies (1931) and Maurice Sterne’s New Mexico Still Life ( about 1919) demonstrate the artists’ engagement with modern aesthetics, including the radical late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century work of French artists Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso. Here, there is less reliance on strict linear perspective, and more interest in the color and physicality of oil paint on a two-dimensional surface to create depth and texture. The mundane forms of peppers and flowers become highly engaging through unexpected surface treatment of the canvases.

A painting of red, yellow, and green bell peppers in a bowl on a chair
Maurice Sterne, New Mexico Still Life, 1919. Oil paint on canvas. Denver Art Museum; The William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, by exchange.

In the Hamilton Building you also can see a selection of contemporary artworks that adapt, reinvent, and update visions of the American West. Two favorites that remain on display include Don Stinson’s diptych Necessity for Ruins (1998), which presents a finely detailed western landscape that is as much about lush grasslands and expansive skies as it is about the ruins of a recent past, and Ted Waddell’s Motherwell’s Angus (1994), which pays homage to the artistic legacy of abstract expressionism and to a life spent cultivating livestock.

Theodore Waddell, Motherwell’s Angus, 1994. Oil paint on canvas. Denver Art Museum; Gift of Barbara J. and James R. Hartley.
Theodore Waddell, Motherwell’s Angus, 1994. Oil paint on canvas. Denver Art Museum; Gift of Barbara J. and James R. Hartley.

We are undergoing an exciting time of change at the Denver Art Museum, and the artworks on display on level 2 of the Hamilton Building will rotate more frequently than usual. Be sure to make it a regular stop on your museum visits!

Jennifer R. Henneman is assistant curator in the Petrie Institute of Western American Art. Jennifer has been at the DAM since 2016. She likes to point out that she grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana near where Charles Russell painted In the Enemy’s Country.