Category Archives: Art and Culture

Feed The Kids

Yesterday I posted this video on the website – to my mind it’s a document of a time in Denver, the early 1990s, when the downtown area was still pretty deserted. My buddy Ray and I used to do performance art around town under the moniker of Two Significant Guys; our general mantra was that “you are only as successful as you pretend to be.” This was the era of Bush the first, so it seemed appropriate. It’s interesting that we spoke so much about change – I guess we were before our time.

So, in this video the Two Significant Guys encourage the feeding of kids while speaking of the importance of family values. We also eat mexican food and report on the implosion of buildings, including the Truckers Terminal and Montgomery Wards. Recorded in Denver in 1991 and 1992 with Hugh Graham and Ray Schelgunov under the direction and camera of Mike Reddick.

DNC Arts Roundup

The city of Denver, led by the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, did a great job of bringing world class art to town during the DNC through the Dialog:City program. While I would have liked to have seen some additional involvement from local artists, the program offered a thought-provoking combination of installation and performance.

I had a conversation with Rudi Cerri of DOCA, and he pointed out that Dialog:City was intended primarily as a program for the residents of Denver, and not for the attendees at the Convention. It’s unfortunate (though understandable) that it took place during the DNC – many denverites were staying away from downtown and all the traffic hassles, so the events weren’t as well-attended as they might have been otherwise. Nonetheless, it was great fun for those of us who were able to make it.

I didn’t make it to everything, but the following are some thoughts and photos from where we did make it to.

Terra Nova: Antarctic Suite

On Sunday night in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, DJ Spooky (Paul Miller, formerly known as the ‘subliminal kid’) offered an hour or so of electronic soundscapes with imagery overhead addressing the issue of the antarctic ice shelf and global warming.

Although the political component of the imagery was a bit obvious and risked preaching to the choir (e.g., US residents create more greenhouse gasses than anyone else in the world), overall the combination of music and images had a hypnotic feeling that was reminiscent of old school performance art.

I snapped a couple of photos before I was told it wasn’t allowed due to potential copyright violations (which I found pretty amusing given Paul Miller’s writings on remix culture and the art of the mashup.

A Spiritual Singalong

On Monday, Jill and I headed down to the DCPA, where we caught part of Ann Hamilton’s performance piece entitle “O”. It involved a combination of adult and child choirs, including members of The Spirituals Project (started by the remarkable Dr. Art Jones of the University of Denver).

The work was essentially a choral singalong in a unique urban setting – the choirs were on the stairs in the stairs of the DCPA Galleria, while the audience were on the ground. The roundness of the long O sound that was used to anchor the singing, combined with the acoustics of the galleria, gave the event a fullness and richness that worked to complement the simplicity of the staging.

At the end of the performance, the chorus and audience joined in singing America The Beautiful. It was pretty emotional, and I although I’m not usually overly patriotic, I found myself choking up (twice in one night, actually – the second time was during Michelle Obama’s speech).

Jill and I had the chance to meet Ann on Tuesday; she was extremely gracious and easy to talk to. She said that music has been increasingly important for her work in recent years, including at her Acoustic Tower in California, where she has worked with Meredith Monk, among others. This photo doesn’t really do justice to the experience, but it gives some sense of what went on there.

Images from Iran

Over in Civic Center Park, just across from where the police and anarchists were having a bit of an altercation, there was an independently produced installation called “Pictures of You: Images From Iran.” The artist, Thomas Loughlin, wanted to show the connections between people from around the world; the portraits of iranians are printed on translucent fabric and hung on the walls and across the ‘halls’ of a mosque-like structure. All in all, quite a beautiful effect.

Luke Dubois: From Gentleman to Terror

Luke Dubois’ installation, called “Hindsight”, uses the familiar eye chart as the starting place to analyze the contents of State of the Union Addresses from Washington to Bush. He included a separate panel for each address. The results offers some fun and startling insights into the concerns of the country at different times in our history.

It turns out that “Gentleman” was the most common word in Washington’s speeches, while “Terror” was the most common in the shrub’s addresses. No big surprise there, I suppose.

During the course of the convention, there were docents available to explain the various works, and one of them (the best one, from my perspective) was my mom, who did her part to help explain the details of American history as explored by Luke Dubois. Here’s a photo of her in front of Bill Clinton’s State of the Union roundup. Oddly, she didn’t want her picture taken in front of George W Bush’s tablet.

We didn’t make it everything – I was sorry to miss Krzysztof Wodiczko’s ‘Veteran Vehicle Project’ (I just saw the humvee during the day, not while it was projecting at night, and only saw Minsuk Cho’s Air Forest in City Park from a distance. But still, it was great to see that culture can be explored in conjunction with the american political process.

DNC Saturday: Elitches Welcome Party

Thanks to our friend Jayne we got some tickets to the big press welcome party at Elitches (Denver’s biggest amusement park, located in the Central Platte Valley near downtown). Thousands of people, music, local politicos, free beer and food. Most of our evening was spent watching adults playing midway games for free, and then walking around like oversized 8 year olds with their collection of stuffed animals.

The welcome address was in the Elitches theater, where we were kept at a very safe distance from those making their presentations. Like, several hundred feet away. Apparently, the event was designed to cater to the 20 or 30 photographers with press passes.

Okay, you can’t see much in that panorama, so here’s as good a close up as I could come by from the cheap seats. If you squint you can see our governor Bill Ritter, mayor John Hickenlooper, Senator Ken Salazar, and attorney Steve Farber, who is apparently responsibly for raising a lot of the 50 million bucks it took to bring this party to town.

At least the speeches were mercifully short, and there was one of the best national anthems I’ve heard (sung by the performers at PhaMaLy), and some great dancing in full regalia by representatives of the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain, and Northern Ute tribes. Unfortunately, we were too far away to get a decent photo.

Once the official presentation was over we were treated to a performance by the Flobots. The Flobots offer a high energy combination of rap and rock with a classical flair (really!), and their politics are terrific. Fortunately, the crowd was allowed to get down to the stage during their performance.

Regarding their intentions for the convention, they put out this statement on their website:

During the DNC we will seek to embody the change we wish to see in the world by behaving as citizens of an America that does not yet exist. We invite you to join us.

You have to love a band that quotes Langston Hughes:

“America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath – America will be!”

The evening ended up with enough fireworks to scare the dog, who was cooped up in the house a half mile away.

DNC Opening Night Photos

JHH and I went to opening night of Dialog:City on Thursday, and took some photos along the way. We started off the evening at the Robischon Gallery. Here’s a shot of the gallery with DJ Spooky’s Terra Nova prints in the background.

Then we went on to the kickoff of the Karaoke Convention at the Supreme Court bar. Karaoke Convention is a pretty clever idea, here’s an image of a participant doing his karaoke to the dulcet tones of Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. You get the idea.

It actually wasn’t overly crowded downtown, which is a bit surprising, though I’m thinking that people are staying away from the city because they’re afraid of too much traffic. Of course, it’s going to get crowded soon – we’re lucky to be able to walk down to where the parties are. Assuming we find out where the parties are.

I posted some of the photos from the evening on Flickr, and plan to post some other updates this week.

Dialog:City – arts in Denver for the DNC

Denver is getting ready for the Democratic National Convention – and the city’s artists and galleries are hoping to get some exposure along the way. An article by Kirk Johnson in the New York Times today speaks to the broader ambitions and styles that are in place, especially as expressed by public art, including Lawrence Argent’s Big Blue Bear (“I see what you mean”) in front of the convention center and the Donald Lipski horse on a chair (“The Yearling”) by the Denver Art Museum, as well as architecture such as the Libeskind addition to the DAM and the (more compelling if less flashy) David Adjaye building for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

The gist of the article is that this city is willing to be less serious and more playful in the approach to public spaces. It’s always tough to pigeonhole a community into a single perspective, but it is certainly true that, as Jim Green points out in the article, Denver, at it’s best, combines “sophistication and informality.”

The most ambitious initiative in the whole DNC mix is Dialog:City, which involves nine internationally known artists – it’s been criticized (probably with some merit) for not including enough local talent, but it will be exciting to see how it all comes out. JHH and I are planning to attend the premiere of Terra Nova, DJ Spooky’s mashup/multimedia performance at the Ellie Caulkin’s Opera House on Sunday. Other than that, we’re mostly planning to keep our options open all week. Lots of walking around, a tourist in our own town.

The kickoff for the Dialog:City events is at Robischon Gallery tonight (Thursday, the 21st). Jim has done his part to include local artists, including Jill Hadley Hooper and 15 others, for a related show called My Yard Our Message in conjunction with the Walker Art Center’s Unconvention program. The works will be moving to Minneapolis for the Republican’s upcoming Dog and Pony show. Here’s Jill’s addition to the mix – it’s a consideration of the topic of Animal Rights called “Free Range?”.

Of course, not all work in Denver these days has to be either political or overtly humorous. We’re opening a show this friday at Ironton Studios (called Internal Combustion) featuring large scale drawing by Bill Stockman. These drawings (some are 10 feet tall) are all about gesture. Though they also have a certain amount of informal sophistication too.

STORY: at the metro center for visual arts

Hadley, along with Brent Green and James Surls, is exhibiting in the current show at the Metro State Center for Visual Art. Entitled “Story”, the exhibition “brings together three artists whose artwork has a tale to tell. The exhibition is a profound collection of works that delve into created realities and visually realized narratives of the strange and familiar.”

When I met hadley, 19 years ago or so, I was immediately struck by the incredible layers of meaning in her paintings and sculpture. I remember commenting that nothing in her work is what it seems on the surface. It’s not surprising I suppose, given my interest in stories, that I fell in love with a woman who is a better storyteller than I am. I’m sure the understanding of narrative is part of why hadley is such a successful illustrator, but her paintings are another level of expression, and really where she puts her heart.

Narrative in the visual arts has come back into style since the heyday of the abstract expressionists.Today, I don’t think many people would stand behind this quote from Clive Bell, which he wrote in support of the abstract expressionists non-objective paintings:

The representative element in a work of art may or may not be harmful, but it is always irrelevant. For to appreciate a work of art, we must bring with us nothing from life, no knowledge of its affairs and ideas, no familiarity with its emotions.

Like a good pop song, the best narrative paintings tell open-ended stories. As Mary Chandler wrote in her review of the show in the Rocky Mountain News, Hadley’s work consists of “lushly textured paintings – paint, ink and toner on Venetian plaster – that follow one of the big rules of art: that work should ask as many questions as it answers”

Kudos to the team at the CVA, who have paired hadley with Brent Green, who creates brilliant animations (as well as working with musicians like Califone and Giant Sand and Fugazi among others), and James Surls, who builds fascinating hanging sculpture; the show holds together really well.

The show opens with a public reception on Thursday, January 10th from 7 to 9pm. More information is available on the CVA website.