Magazine article Artforum International

"Embrace!": DENVER ART MUSEUM

Magazine article Artforum International

"Embrace!": DENVER ART MUSEUM

Article excerpt

In the late 1990s, the Denver Art Museum sought to bring the "Bilbao effect" to Colorado. It selected architect Daniel Libeskind to oversee a $110 million expansion, and he designed a jutting, crystalline building with sharply sloped walls and ceilings. While some critics praised the unconventional structure, which opened in October 2006, others panned it, decrying in particular the challenges its angled spaces presented for the display of art. Not helping perceptions were a leaky roof and attendance that fell below optimistic projections.

In 2008, a year after his arrival from Germany as curator of modern and contemporary art, Christoph Heinrich announced his desire to hit the reset button. He conceived "Embrace!" an ambitious exhibition in which seventeen artists from around the world would create works responding directly to the building's architecture. These participants ranged from up-and-comers (Dasha Shishkin and Shinique Smith) to little-known locals (Rick Dula and John McEnroe) to blue-chip names (Jessica Stockholder and Lawrence Weiner). The offerings are boisterous and impressive, not only for the sheer physical breadth of the works but for the eclectic variety of materials, styles, and approaches.

Creating for visitors a kind of treasure hunt, the artists commandeered spaces on each of the addition's four floors--not just galleries hut, in some cases, unlikely nooks and walls. Shishkin, for example, seized on an oddly shaped, low-ceilinged niche on a landing for her enigmatic, wraparound mural Dying Christ Rushed to the Hospital (You Are Going to Need My Help, Sweetheart) (all works cited, 2009). A prototypical text piece by Weiner, emblazoned on a wall near the top of the building's irregularly shaped, 120-foot-tall atrium, reads as to be in plain sight. It helps make the show's point of rethinking the building and spotlighting areas that had gone previously unnoticed. No work is more front and center than Katharina Grosse's visually dramatic George, a soaring sixty-foot-high abstraction spray-painted directly onto a prominent slanted wall in the atrium. Its loops and swirls of bright greens, purples, and other colors exude spontaneity and energy.

Beyond merely asking viewers to look at parts of the addition that they might not otherwise have noticed before, the show pushes them to rethink the architecture and even the realization of the building. …

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