Intriguing exhibitions coming to Denver Art Museum

Postwar American design, European Old Masters among planned attractions

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In May, the Denver Art Museum will open an exhibit called “Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America.” It will feature post-World War II architecture, design and graphics from the museum’s growing collection.

Included will be an Eames Storage Unit circa 1949 — birch plywood, laminate plywood, enameled Masonite, fiberglass and enameled steel, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, perhaps the most famous of American midcentury furniture designers. Cabinets like this one were far less expensive than the solid walnut or cherry cabinetry that preceded them — affordable for young families — though now they have become sought-after collector items. The museum says the colorful panels reflected Ray Eames’ admiration for painter Piet Mondrian, inspired by her time as a New York painter in the 1930s. The Eames cabinet was purchased with funds donated by a number of DAM supporters.

Not only does a large museum care for and exhibit objects, paintings and sculptures and decorative items collected during its past, but it is continually acquiring additional material to fill gaps in the collection — ancient to contemporary.

Opening on March 2 will be an exhibit of a major donation: “British Masterworks from the Berger Collection Educational Trust”: the largest gift of European Old Masters since the museum received the Kress Collection in the 1950s. Sixty-five works are included, adding to the holdings of paintings and sculptures of the 14th through 19th centuries. Artists include Gainsborough and Constable, as well as non-British artists who spent time in Britain, such as Flemish Anthony Van Dyck and Americans John Singer Sargent and Benjamin West.

In May, an exhibit called “The Light Show” will open a first segment on symbolic lights, and in June, a second part on physical light. Included will be at sculptural chandelier designed by Fred Wilson for the 2017 Istanbul Biennial, reprised from a design he first made for the Venice Biennial in 2003, called “The Way the Moon’s in Love With the Dark.” It is crafted in black Murano glass, surrounded by clear glass lamps based on mosque lights in the Muslim tradition. It was acquired by the modern and contemporary art department, as were paintings from exhibitions.

“A Little Medicine and Magic” by Julie Buffalohead, who uses storytelling narratives in her work, recently featured in “Eyes On: Julie Buffalohead,” is one of two of her works added to the museum’s well-regarded Native Arts collection.

An embroidered textile work, yet another art form, the Tillett tapiz, is a 100-foot length of handspun cotton cloth, embroidered with vignettes telling of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, by British-born American designer Leslie Tillett. It records moments of Cortez’s conquest and the death of emperor Montezuma II and is added to the New World collection.

The 2019 exhibits follow a dynamic 2018. In spring and summer of 2018, visitors enjoyed an exhibit called “Drawn to Glamour: Fashion Illustrations by Jim Howard.” Howard, who was nationally recognized for his skill, provided illustration of current fashions that were used for department stores’ newspaper advertising. Howard, now a Denver metro area resident, included drawings of accessories as well and donated his works to the museum for its permanent collection.

From another time and place came donations for the Asian Department. Justine Kirk donated Chines artworks in memory of her mother, Justine Sarkisian Rodriguez and her uncle, H. Medill Sarkisian: a Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) sculpture of Guanyin, as well as vases and bowls from the Kangxi period (1662-1722).

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