Crowd at 2017 DAM Key Awards

'Why Me?' The DAM Key Award & Denver’s Contemporary Art Community

The Denver Art Museum Key Award began with a building. On October 3, 1971, DAM director Otto Bach officially opened the Gio Ponti-designed museum with a celebratory oversized key. Just over a decade later, Alliance for Contemporary Art (AFCA)—the predecessor to DAM Contemporaries—adopted the key symbol and created the eponymous DAM Key Award.

Since its inauguration in 1984, the DAM Key Award has been presented to individuals and organizations that have dramatically impacted the contemporary art community in Colorado. The award recognizes the giants of Denver’s contemporary art world who curate, collect, create, cultivate, and critique. Past recipients have included donors like Vicki and Kent Logan, journalists like Michael Paglia, and nonprofits like RedLine.

2017 DAM Key Award Recipients

On October 18, DAM Contemporaries bestowed the 2017 DAM Key Awards on Simon Zalkind, a curator and collector, and Devon Dikeou, an artist and editor.

The DAM Key
The original Key resides in DAM’s Bannock Building.

Zalkind used his acceptance speech to consider the waves he has made in the Denver art community. Reflecting on his work as a collector beginning in the 1980s, Zalkind discussed Denver’s contemporary art as representing a “peculiarly southwestern ethos,” that has since evolved along the city’s own development. Likewise, he marked the improvement of his critical writing as correlated to the moment he started embracing burgeoning local artists in his work as a collector.

Dikeou kept her address short (but not so sweet), turning a vintage ad for Campari into a metaphor for her journey as an artist:

"It has a rather unique bitter flavor, and as a consequence it is something of an acquired taste. In other words, if you try it, the first time you may be somewhat ambivalent about it. But, perhaps, the second time you drink it you get to like it a little more… The objective of the copy, therefore, was to really make the point, if you try this, you may feel a little ambivalent about it, but you’ll kinda get to like it. And if you take it a second time, you may get to enjoy it even more."

Looking back at her first exhibition in 1990, Dikeou related her conceptual art as leaving a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth of the art community, but, just like Campari, with subsequent tastes, her work started gaining positive recognition.

For both recipients, the news that they would receive the 2017 DAM Key Award prompted the question, “Why me?” Zalkind and Dikeou regarded their DAM Key Awards as an opportunity to evaluate their own work and activity within the Denver contemporary art scene, to step back and ponder their own careers from a community perspective.

Rebecca Hart Devon Dikeou and Simon Zalkind
Rebecca Hart with 2017 recipients, Devon Dikeou and Simon Zalkind

Katherine Uhlir has been writing for DAM Contemporaries since March 2017. Her favorite Denver Art Museum exhibitions to date are Shade: Clyfford Still/Mark Bradford and Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective.