New museum exhibits are well worth dawdling over

Summertime offers opportunity to absorb intriguing shows

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The Denver Art Museum has opened two recent exhibits that offer another way to spend summer hours, when one can enjoy an up-close experience of color and light, in contrast to the truly exceptional vistas and outdoor experiences that we enjoy close to home or within a few hours’ drive. Exhibits are in the Hamilton Building, while the Gio Ponti building to the north is closed for renovation.

“Way cool,” one might observe!

“Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America” opened on the second floor early in May, running through Aug. 25, and might be of special interest to residents of Arapahoe Acres in Englewood and Arapahoe Hills in Littleton, who live in midcentury communities. Many other homes in our south area carry similar architectural design, and midcentury furnishings find their way into buildings of every style in the area. It’s said to be a first with its strong emphasis on play, as well as design. Playful objects for adults are multiple, as well as child-sized furniture and playthings.

Co-curated by Denver Art Museum’s architecture and design curator Darrin Alfred and Monicka Obniski, curator of 20th and 21st century design at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where it debuted, the exhibition includes over 200 items in a variety of mediums: paper, textile, metal and wood furniture, toys, clocks and many other accessories. Items on exhibit are designed, among others, by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller Furniture Company, Irving Harper, Alexander Girard, Anne Tyng, Henry P. Glass, Estelle and Erwin Laverne and sculptor Isamu Noguchi, whose curvy, sculptural red playground piece is so inviting. Stop by the table full of tops you can spin.

Playful related films show in several locations, recognizing the need to escape Cold War anxieties that were in and on the air daily … New manufacturing techniques made ownership of many items affordable — and a different attitude on child-rearing reflected the inclination to interact with good design.

One finds a choice of sets of “House of Cards” available in the special gift shop where one exits, as well as handsome design books and assorted toys for kids and grown-ups. A related project is “Make a Card, Build a House,” where visitors will decorate Eames cards for a giant house of cards.

Also at the DAM is the just-opened “The Light Show,” co-curated by modern and contemporary art curator Rebecca Hart and Spanish colonial art curator Jorge Rivas Perez. It will run through May 3, 2020 and warrants more than one visit to let your mind play with a variety of experiences.

It illustrates how artists have used light (and shadow) over time to present symbols, images of physical light in the natural world as well as metaphorical, spiritual and divine representations of light. The museums’ vast collection was the source for objects in this exhibit. One has to reset the brain a bit to process the works in perhaps a different perspective from simply looking at a series of items in a row on a wall.

Rivas said: “The exhibition will explore and raise meanings about the emblematic meanings of light and darkness, including a section about the underworld.” Altars and deities appear as well as abstract patterns and the installation, “Corridor #2” by Lucas Samaris, last seen in 2003. (Take time to walk through this tunnel and experience it.)

A major recent acquisition (2017) by sculptor Fred Wilson: “The Way the Moon’s Afraid of the Dark,” is a good place to begin one’s visit on the fourth floor. It’s a huge chandelier, 4 1/2 feet wide and 6 1/2 feet tall, made with Murano blown glass, clear brown glass and steel. Created for the 2017 Istanbul Biennial, Wilson incorporated Ottoman and Venetian lighting traditions — historically opposed to each other.

Next to Wilson’s work — and illuminated by it — is the massive and elegant “Rain Has No Father?” by African artist El Anatsui, with glitter reflecting light — and incorporating found materials: bottle tops and copper wire. (153 by 239 inches.) It was included in and purchased from an exhibit of his work at the museum in 2008 and we were so pleased to see it again.

Absorb works on the fourth floor, then descend to the third floor for more images of light and dark, ranging from Tres Birds Workshop’s “Infinity Screen Prototype for Lumina, Denver CO, 2014,” created with anodized aluminum and lighted dramatically. (Figuring out the display logistics for this one piece took several days, Rebecca Hart said.) It’s a model for a panel that decorates a Denver building.

Walls also hold traditional religious paintings — many with reflective gold paint, that speak to a different sort of illumination. Or, enjoy a Japanese lantern, a contemporary “Ashoka Lamp,” 1981, by Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsas and a gilded traditional Mexican altar (1958 — “an important conservation project” per Perez), as well as a handsome — and unexpected — contemporary altarpiece by American pop artist Keith Haring. A glance in any direction yields a new discovery.

Don’t miss photographer Ansel Adams’ famous “Moonrise Over Hernandez, New Mexico,” 1944!

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