On a beautiful albeit very windy Spring afternoon, we made a pilgrimage to see Henry Moore (1898 – 1986) in the Denver Botanic Gardens and were blown away (very nearly literally). The show, the very first major outdoor exhibition of the artist's works in the American West, features 20 monumental sculptures, primarily bronze, some fiberglass, by the celebrated Brit, from a reclining " Naked Maya" stretching nearly 30 feet long and dominating a grassy knoll to an tender depiction of a mother cradling a child, standing under three feet tall, hidden in a clearing.
Henry Moore's earliest sculptures show the influence of pre-Columbian art, Japanese netsuke (on growth hormones) and European Futurism (an attempt to introduce kinetic energy into a Cubist idiom). By the 1930s, the artist moves into mainstream modernism, his work turning more dreamlike and surrealistic (that movement began about 1920) as human forms break up under the influences of Picasso and then Giacometti-like puzzle pieces. Eventually Surrealism yields to total abstraction.Throughout his long, rich career, regardless of shifts in style, certain themes, Moore's preoccupations, repeat like letimotifs in a symphony: the relationship between exterior and interior, strength and vulnerability among them. At Denver's Botanic Gardens, Moore's sculptures play against the backdrop of the natural world.
"Moore in the Gardens" runs through January 31, 2011 and should be seen again and again to pay homage to the impact of the changing seasons on the interaction of the landscape with Moore's organic forms, in the same way changing light transformed Monet's images of haystacks and cathedrals.
Monumental forms yield to a monumental idea at the current group show at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art. "Looking For the Face I Had Before the World Was Made" is, paraphrasing curator Adam Lerner, all about what happens when universal truths and the collective consciousness takes over and the "I" that tells personal stops its yammering. Of particular interest are the rooms featuring the work of Eric and Heather ChanSchatz, who share their creativity and authority with that of their subjects who document their intentions in surveys the artists use to develop of template for the interaction. Outsider artist A.G. Rizzoli – my bet is that the artist was autistic – magically transforms the human beings he met along the way as celestial architectural forms.
Full disclosure. One of the very first things that happened upon Telluride Inside… and Out's establishing a second home in Denver was to meet our neighbor, Ivar Zeile, his Plus + Gallery then located just across the street from our town home at 24th and Lawrence. The second thing we did was to begin to collect artwork from his formidable stable, a painting by the magical realist Riva Sweetrocket, another neighbor, and a second piece by portrait artist Jenny Morgan.
Ivar Zeile's Plus + Gallery is a beacon in Denver's contemporary art scene since 2001, offering solo shows of local and regional artists producing signature work with utter disregard for the "ism" du jour. Plus + is also a place for Denver's edgy, emerging talent and supporters to meet for experimental, educational and collecting talks. Now in a new location at 2501 Larimer, Plus + , on the site of the old Benjamin Moore building built in 1921, was voted the "Art Space of the Year" by the Denver Post in 2009.
Plus + is now hosting a whiz bang group show featuring brand spanking new works by its stellar stable of artists, including Bill Amundson, Tsehai Johnson, Frank T. Martinez, Karen McClanahan, Susan Meyer, Jenny Morgan, Kate Petley, Riva Sweetrocket, Mike Whiting and David Yust. Individually the works speak eloquently about uniquely different world views, although each and every piece is seasoned with irony. Collectively the show suggests Denver's instinctive cultural cringe in response to the country's historic art capitals, New York and Los Angeles, is an unwarranted defensive move: artists who make it here can make it anywhere. In fact, Jenny Morgan's career in New York is taking off like a rocket – but it all began with Plus +.
Don't miss the work upstairs in the lecture space, especially that of Austin Parkhill, whose narrative portraits capture "Kodak moments." Parkhill's work is currently included the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute. In Nick Musealian's thoroughly disarming play mobile paintings, the artist riffs on Nietzsche.
Plus+ would be a plus in any community. The city is blessed that Ivar's address is Denver.
(photos by Clint Viebrock, except MCA by Dean Kaufman)