The Hidden Face of Denver Artists

The Hidden Face of Denver Artists

 by Tracy Shaffer

Image002 When the Denver Theatre District launched its Outdoor Art Gallery in September of 2009 it offered a means to showcase Denver’s prestigious artists, galleries and institutions, in an effort to raise the profile of our local arts community. During the first year the city was gifted by the works of Vance Kirkland, Riva Sweetrocket, Mel Strawn, Bill Amundson, and Angela Beloian along with others from Denver’s creative talent pool. Two-dimensional artwork is a bit of a rarity in public display which generally favors large-scale sculpture; mosaic and mural being the exceptions.

This year, the DTD decided to “push the limits” a bit with its recent offering, “Faces of Colorado Art”, discretely placed on the back side of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at 14th Street and Champa. The project, curated by Plus Gallery owner, Ivar Zeile, is a large-scale quilt of portraiture, representing the influential people who’ve put the “thrive” in our thriving visual arts scene. Faces of independent, gallery, and museum collected artists, sit squarely next to one another. Including the faces of art dealer, Michelle Mosko, artist and RiNo founder/director, Tracy Weil and Denver Art Museum Director, Christoph Heinrich, brings these sometimes disparate streams together as one.

Style and medium vary, mixing photography, oil, acrylic, and pencil. Artist Lauri Lynnxe Murphy is portrayed in a graphic piece by Westword Magazine art director, Joy Volmer that graced its cover, and four large black and white portraits done by Sharon Brown offset uniformity while maintaing balance. The billboard successfully braids our community together with an effect that is both singular and unified.

Further into the “Bright Lights District” the addition of motion LED billboards has drawn mixed reviews, especially from the residents of the Spire. Rotations of art and advertisements are vibrant, colorful eye candy, an expression of our current cultural current of art and commerce. But does the public art display open the door for more commercial uses? Sure looks like it. Do they make our city feel more cosmopolitan or create more visual clutter and light pollution? That’s a matter of opinion. I don’t mind the art/ad mix in motion but with the static pieces it is sometimes difficult to separate the art from the ads unless one is walking through the DTD. I drove by the parking structure at the Denver Center of Performing Arts to show a guest the commissioned piece by Amundson; it had been replaced by an ad for a wireless phone.

It seems ironic to honor the best and brightest among the artists who chose to live and paint in Colorado and then tuck them away on a side street. A bit of the cultural cringe? Perhaps not, but surely those who artfully craft our cultural landscape deserve a more prominent place in our urban one. At the very least, the piece should be made permanent.

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