Denver Art Museum to Unveil Re-imagined Hamilton Building Collection Galleries in May 2023
New African Arts, Modern and Contemporary Art, and Arts of Oceania Galleries Mark the Completion of DAM’s Multi-Year Campus Transformation
The Denver Art Museum (DAM) today announced that it will unveil three newly reinstalled permanent collection galleries in its Frederic C. Hamilton Building on May 14, 2023, reopening its African Arts, Modern and Contemporary Art, and Arts of Oceania collections to the public for the first time since campus construction preparations began in 2016. The updated installation will feature notable new and recent acquisitions, alongside a selection of collection favorites. The project marks the completion of the DAM’s transformation of its permanent collection installation, the first phase of which was presented in October 2021 with the opening of the Lanny and Sharon Martin Building.
The Hamilton Building reinstallation highlights the continuation of the DAM’s ongoing commitment to showcasing a broad range of art, centering artists as storytellers and creating an inclusive, thought-provoking environment for all visitors. In an extension of an initiative undertaken with the Martin Building reinstallation, all gallery labels and wall text in the reinstalled galleries will appear in English and Spanish to offer a bilingual and accessible campus to museum visitors.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to reimagine our African Arts, Modern and Contemporary Art and Arts of Oceania galleries, sharing highlights of these significant collections with visitors. Together, they represent key components of the museum’s global holdings, encompassing art and culture from across the world,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the Denver Art Museum. “These galleries have been reinterpreted through a new curatorial lens that elevates the diverse voices and dialogues of our current times.”
The DAM’s African Arts gallery will showcase highlights from the museum’s collection of African arts, which encompasses approximately 1,000 objects, largely from the 19th and 20th centuries, across media—including painting, printmaking, sculpture, textiles and jewelry, as well as recent acquisitions of contemporary art. The updated presentation, spanning 2,300 square feet on level 4 of the Hamilton Building, centers a collection that illustrates the diversity, relevance and dynamism of creativity and culture across Africa. For the first time, the gallery will present an expansive and inclusive view of the arts from the African continent with works from the sub-Sahara, Egypt and North Africa.
The presentation will be organized around three anchoring themes: the self, power and transformation and manifestation. The first section, exploring the self, will examine how beauty is portrayed and communicated through the objects, clothes and accessories in the collection, throughout history and in the present day. Works presented will include ancient and modern hair picks, ceremonial headwear and textiles. Among several pieces featured will be a new acquisition by Ethiopian artist Selome Muleta.
The second section explores forms of power and how power is distributed and expressed. Objects on display, such as figures gifted as wedding presents and highly decorated furniture, will tell stories of wealth and commerce in pre-colonial Akan cultures, while contemporary works on view will address the effects of colonialism’s legacy. This section will feature several recent contemporary acquisitions by the museum, including works by South African artist Phumelele Tshabalala and Ethiopian artist Merikokeb Berhanu. Titled Untitled LXX, Merikokeb’s 2022 painting was recently featured in the main pavilion of the 2022 Venice Biennale. Other significant recent acquisitions of contemporary art by African artists are also included in the neighboring Modern and Contemporary gallery reinstallation.
The final section will unite works from across time and place to explore the twin concepts of manifestation and transformation, with an eye towards universal themes of religion, tradition, birth, death and rites of passage. Objects highlighting these concepts will include female fertility figurines from Ghana, ancestor masks and spiritual text fragments, among others.
“In thinking about how to present the museum’s collection of African arts, it was critical for us to center community perspectives and incorporate feedback from African immigrants, Black Americans and local stakeholder groups,” said Adekunle Adeniji, the Anderman Family Fellow for African Arts at the DAM. “By uplifting an abundance of voices, the new gallery presentation will encourage visitors to perceive African cultures as living and diverse, as well as how to appreciate the contemporary and local relevance of African arts.”
Modern and Contemporary Art
The Modern and Contemporary Art galleries reopen with a broad survey of the art of our times. Encompassing 16,000 square feet across two floors, the newly installed galleries feature selections from the museum’s collection of approximately 8,000 artworks made between 1900 and today, as well as from collecting areas in African arts, Indigenous arts of North America, Latin American art, photography and textile art and fashion. Featuring artists from around the globe, the reinstall looks anew at the work of historically recognized figures, established contemporary artists and important emerging voices.
Organized by theme rather than by chronology, the reinstallation acknowledges and transcends art historical movements, showcasing visual connections and common interests. Thematic groupings include Uncanny Objects, Renegade Bodies, Intimacy + Intuition, Precarious Life, Gravity + Gesture, Resplendent Terror, Elemental, Material Matters, Truth + Beauty, Metamorphosis and Kinship. A dedicated gallery will highlight the work of American artist Manuel Neri, featuring two examples of his life-size figurative sculptures alongside several of his daring drawings of the human body.
Artworks by notable artists represented in the galleries include a headless and hollowed humanoid made of burlap by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Mark Bradford’s poignant abstractions comprising torn paper, Robert Colescott’s painting of race-relations, Elaine de Kooning’s monumental painting of a bullfight, the quiet and minimalist lines of Agnes Martin, a double portrait by Henri Matisse, Julie Mehretu’s symphonic interpretation of a Wagner opera, a beguiling still life by Joan Miró, Robert Motherwell’s triumphant abstractions, a haunting dreamscape by Stacey Steers, an installation of Toshiko Takaezu’s sensuous ceramic vessel forms and Dyani White Hawk’s blend of modernist abstract painting that honors beadwork and porcupine quillwork by Indigenous women, among others. Recent acquisitions on view include works by Cornelius Annor, Federico Herrero, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Raquib Shaw, Emmanuel Taku and Sandra Vásquez de la Horra.
Returning visitor favorites that have been off view for more than a decade include Jennifer Bartlett’s Plaid House, Dan Flavin’s illuminated and fluorescent sculpture Untitled (for A.C.), Jennifer Steinkamp’s mesmerizing Rock Formation, a digital video projection depicting a waterfall of fabric gliding over unseen rocks. Richard Serra’s monumental steel sculpture Basic Maintenance will be a welcome surprise to visitors old and new.
“The reinstallation of the Hamilton Building galleries is an opportune moment to rethink how modern and contemporary art is experienced at the DAM and to consider how we can tell the story of our times through our collection,” said Rory Padeken, Vicki and Kent Logan Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “In recent years, the DAM has acquired significant new works by Trenton Doyle Hancock, Julie Mehretu, Emmanuel Taku and an incredible series of portraits titled Land of Dreams by Iranian American photographer Shirin Neshat. Presented in dialogue with existing works in the collection, these recent acquisitions help us to broaden our perspectives on our contemporary moment.”
Arts of Oceania
The Arts of Oceania gallery will reopen with the presentation of a new temporary exhibition, titled Islands Beyond Blue: Niki Hastings-McFall and Treasures from the Oceania Collection, that showcases the work of celebrated contemporary artist Niki Hastings-McFall in conversation with works from the DAM’s Arts of Oceania collection. The first exhibition to center arts of Oceania at DAM since 2016, Islands Beyond Blue will be situated on the third floor of the Hamilton Building across 1,700 square feet and remain on view for a full year.
The exhibition will be anchored with site-specific work by Niki Hastings-McFall, who is of Sāmoan and Pākehā descent and has been credited with shepherding contemporary Pacific art onto an international stage. Known for her large-scale “lei bombing” installations, Hastings-McFall will use hundreds of synthetic lei, garlands of flowers, to create an installation. Her work, courtesy of Whitespace Contemporary Art, NZ, will be presented in dialogue with approximately 30 treasures—Pacific Peoples prefer the term “treasures” over “objects”—from the DAM’s Arts of Oceania collection that illustrate regional historic arts alongside new innovations.
“Hastings-McFall’s immersive, meditative installations promote a sense of human connection through universal themes of loss, resilience and artistry, while visitors are at the same time confronted with the details of a history not often taught in the United States,” said John P. Lukavic, PhD, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts, whose department includes the Arts of Oceania collection.
“Through this inaugural exhibition, DAM aims to dispel romantic notions of the Pacific Islands as a tourist’s paradise through a nuanced exploration of the area’s vibrant cultural landscape, challenging visitors to examine their perception of this vast and extremely diverse region,” added Emelihter Kihleng, PhD, the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow for Native Arts at the DAM, and curator of this presentation.
A full re-installation of the Arts of Oceania galleries, scheduled to open in 2024-2025, will further highlight the museum’s holdings of approximately 1,000 treasures that represent the vast artistic heritage of Oceania.
The African Arts, Modern and Contemporary Art and Arts of Oceania collections are part of the DAM’s larger holdings of more than 70,000 works of art representing global artistic traditions and cultures from across the world. The collection spans 12 departments, also including architecture and design, art of the ancient Americas, Asian art, European and American art before 1900, Indigenous arts of North America, Latin American art, photography, textile art and fashion and Western American art.
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About the Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum is an educational, nonprofit resource that sparks creative thinking and expression through transformative experiences with art. Its mission is to enrich lives by sparking creative thinking and expression. Its holdings reflect the city and region—and provide invaluable ways for the community to learn about cultures from around the world. Metro residents support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), a unique funding source serving hundreds of metro Denver arts, culture and scientific organizations.