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Modern Masters: Icons of the 20th Century at the Denver Art Museum

Tasha Brandstatter takes a look at the Denver Art Museum’s exhibit: Modern Masters showing works from Warhol, Rothko, Matisse, Dali and others.

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“My kid could do that,” and “That’s not art,” are  accusations that have been hurled at modern art for over a century. Ever since Édouard Manet displayed “Luncheon in the Grass”—what many consider to be the first modern painting—at the Salon des Refusés in 1863, the public and art critics have been riding modern art for its lack of skill and beauty, claiming that it’s not art at all. And while most people today will readily accept the idea that Manet’s “Luncheon” is a work of art, more abstract work like that of Agnes Martin is less accepted. In Modern Masters, the Denver Art Museum attempts to subtly argue against that attitude with modern masterpieces from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. The official title of the exhibit—Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery—is a bit of a misnomer, as there are several pieces from the late 19th century and no pieces dating later than 1980. The show opens with “Peasants in the Field, Eragny,” by Camille Pissarro and “Sequel,” by Bridget Riley displayed side by side. At first glance, these two paintings seem to have nothing in common. In Pissarro’s piece, the softly bending backs of the peasants echo the rolling hills of the field and soft blues of the sky. Riley’s piece, on the other hand, is completely abstract, a series of vertical pink and green lines that appear to bow in the middle. However, as the audiotour explains, both “Peasants in the Field” and “Sequel” are similar in one major respect: the artists are playing with the science of optics. Pissarro, a pointillist, was exploring the way the eye reads color from a distance by painting with tiny dots of pigment. Riley, an op artist, was creating an optical illusion—the lines aren’t actually bowing in the middle of “Sequel,” they only appear to do so. Op art may not be directly related to post-impressionism, but both artists had a similar purpose. With that in mind, the exhibition opens to a gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist pieces. There’s a sculpture by Edgar Degas, as well as paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Rousseau, and Édouard Vuillard. But by far the most impressive piece in this gallery is Paul Gauguin’s “Spirit of the Dead Watching.” Seeing an image of this painting in an art history book or online can’t prepare one for the absolute menace it exudes. According to the audiotour, Gauguin said he used purple to create a sense of terror, reflecting what Gauguin considered to be the girl’s irrational fear of spirits. The girl in question was 14 years old, Tahitian, and had just miscarried Gauguin’s baby, which makes the atmosphere of “Spirit of the Dead” even more disturbing. In the next gallery, we’re taken into the twentieth century and introduced to the heavy hitters of modern art: Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse. The Picasso piece, “La Toilette,” is a very early example of his work from 1906. It’s not what most people think of when they think of Picasso, but that might be a good thing for some. Matisse’s “La Musique,” on the other hand, dates to just before the Second World War and is a clever play on the vertical and horizontal lines that make up sheet music, with the feet and hands of the women pictured resembling musical notes. But the real stand-out piece of the room, especially after “Spirit of the Dead Watching,” is Amedeo Modigliani’s “The Servant Girl.” The quiet dignity of the figure, along with the overwhelming use of grey and the girl’s blank eyes, implies a form of psychological and societal erasure that’s almost chilling. The next gallery focuses on the -isms of the 1910s, with pieces by cubism’s co-founder, Georges Braque, as well as Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, and Robert Delaunay. Giacomo Balla’s “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” is absolutely delightful, a perfect example of both futurism’s fascination in capturing movement and the effect photography was exerting on modern artists. From there it’s a quick jump to surrealism, and Modern Masters delivers pieces by all the famous surrealists: Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo, Yves Tanguy, and the joyful and endlessly fascinating “Carnival of Harlequin” by Joan Miró. The Harlequin was a stock character in the Commedia dell’arte who was known for being constantly depressed and suffering from a broken heart. Ironic because, even though Miró probably was depressed when he painted “Carnival,” that’s not reflected in the piece at all. Instead, it emanates the same kind of frenetic energy and uninhibited joy as a playground full of children. Another important piece in this section is “The Anguish of Departure” by Giorgio de Chirico. De Chirico is usually clumped in with the surrealists, although he wasn’t one. His metaphysical paintings, inspired by a combination of mythology, philosophy (de Chirico was a huge Nietzsche fan), and visions that may have been brought on by epilepsy, were a major source of inspiration to the surrealists, as well as Der Blaue Reiter group in Germany. He’s probably the most important 20th century artist most people have never heard of. “The Anguish of Departure” isn’t an outstanding example of his work, but it does have the arcaded buildings, towers, corners that seem to lead nowhere, and trains blowing smoke that are the building blocks of his metaphysical paintings. It’s between this section and the next of Modern Masters that the story the curators are trying to tell begins to feel a bit disjointed and abrupt. It’s quite the jump from surrealism to abstract expressionism, and a piece by Max Beckmann and a painting by the always cheerful Francis Bacon do not a connection make. Suddenly we’re presented with the work of Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann and Joan Mitchell (whose painting “George Went Swimming at Barnes Hole, but It Got Too Cold” is the best of the lot). Regardless of the quality and importance of these works, it’s impossible to understand where the artists were coming from and why art moved to the purely abstract without first understanding expressionism and surrealist painting techniques, which the audiotour doesn’t touch upon. Of course, any showing of abstract expressionism would feel incomplete without an example of Jackson Pollock’s work, and Modern Masters has a decent one: “Convergence,” an 8 x 13 foot drip painting of yellows, whites, oranges, black and blues against a neutral light brown. Pollock was actually inspired to start drip paintings by Ernst, who was already using drip techniques in the ‘40s as a way to unlock his subconscious. Any painting by Pollock is all the argument one needs to justify abstract expressionism as an art movement. When Pollock’s at his best, it’s almost impossible to look away from his paintings—they’re breathtaking, a truly raw expression of power, energy, and artistry. And perhaps, as Ernst believed, the inner psychology of their creator. More flavors of abstract expressionism are presented in the next room, with a monumental piece by Clyfford Still and work by Franz Kline and Helen Frankenthaler. A piece unfairly dwarfed by the sheer size and prominence of the Still painting is Grace Hartigan’s “When the Raven Was White.” But the real showpiece of this gallery is Mark Rothko’s “Orange & Yellow.” Rothko’s color field paintings, like this one, are meant to “express . . . basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom,” and are actually very spiritual. Standing close to the canvas, the colors pulse against your retinas, sending a sizzle of energy down your skin. It’s an experience, like staring at the sun or being in the temple of Amun Ra. After the highs of Rothko, Modern Masters moves on to its final gallery and the precursors of minimalism. Known for her delicately colored grid paintings, Agnes Martin is represented with “The Tree,” which she said was a metaphor for innocence. Just like a piece of blank, lined paper. According to the audiotour, Martin spent a lot of time and patience drawing the lines on this piece in pencil (with the help of straight-edge, of course). So give the woman a medal. The sculptor Anne Truitt, meanwhile, has two pieces in the show. Although they were made more than twenty years apart, they’re basically the same thing: a painted 4×4 post. The only difference between them is that they’re painted different colors. From this one can infer that Truitt spent twenty years or more creating the same exact work of art over and over. How creative of her. The audiotour informs us that Truitt put a lot of work into painting these posts numerous times to get the right color—totally necessary, undoubtedly—and that these pieces were laden with her memories. Memories of painting the same exact post in different colors for more than twenty years? Good times. Mercifully, Modern Masters ends with pop art and pieces by Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol’s “100 Cans.” Pop artists pushed against the idea of fine art as something rarified and inaccessible by using images and techniques everyone was familiar with from their daily lives. “100 Cans” is really the stand-out example, an unexpectedly compelling painting Warhol created using stencils, inspired by the wall o’ Campbell’s Soup cans displays in grocery stores. It’s familiar, comforting, funny, ironic, entertaining and strange all at once, and a breath of fresh air after the oppressive self-importance of the ab ex-ers and minimalists. In many ways, Warhol and the other pop artists were bringing modern art back to its roots: removing all pretension toward work or skill and creating accessible images that still challenged the definition of art. Whatever you think of modern art, Modern Masters is definitely worth seeing. Works like Gauguin’s “Spirit of the Dead Watching,” Pollock’s “Convergence,” de Chirico’s “Anguish of Departure,” Warhol’s “100 Cans” or Miró’s “Carnival of Harlequin” don’t come to Denver often, and the exhibit is worth seeing just for that. But Modern Masters excels in other areas as well: the audiotour is actually pretty informative and interesting this time around, there is a good selection of work by women artists, and the first half of the exhibit tells a truly compelling story about the evolution of art in the early 20th century. Modern art, despite a lack or imagined lack of skill involved in creating it, is art. That argument’s been made and won for more than 100 years. But just because it’s art hanging in a museum doesn’t mean you have to like it. Challenge yourself to judge these paintings based purely on instinct and your own response to them, and you may be surprised by how your opinion has changed once you’re done. Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery will be open in the Hamilton Building until June 8th, 2014. For more information, visit www.denverartmuseum.org.

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Denver’s Wes Watkins dynamic new future-funk EP is from another planet

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Future-Funk Party Starter | Wes Watkins

Dreams Out from Denver’s best kept secret Wes Watkins wears so many musical hats it needs a rack; downtempo G-Funk homage and sweltering nee-Soul / Rn’B are all over this release, all covered with a thicc pop glaze and a penchant for electronic-sonic experimentation that keep every song fascinatingly adventurous while maintaining a danceability and groove that easily, easily warrants multiple listens. Don’t sleep on this one.


Lo-Fuzz Folkie | Hoi Ann

The beauty of Hoi Ann’s Tangenier lies in both what you can hear and what it may want you to not hear. Lo-fi folk and bedroom-pop are easily tangible on its surface, but the buzzy electronic tones that sparingly flourish the 5 songs of this release lie low and create a unique aural atmosphere for listeners, like hidden secrets for your ears only.


Indie-Punk Sweeties | Gestalt

The pop-punk shred-bois in Gestalt are back at it again; The irresistible combo of the Get Up Kids earnest midwestern-emo and smart pop-punk wit of the Wonder Years is strong on the tracks that encompass LongBoix, as is an acute fondness and growing appreciation for the finer indie rock of yesteryear. Well I guess this is growing up.


Psych-Rock Screamcore | Gone Full Heathen

On their criminally good self titled EP, Fort Collins heavies Gone Full Heathen friggin dare you to try and trap them in a single genre. Nice try, but they’ll just chew right through your puny ropes using a gnashing blend of crushing stoner-rock laced hardcore punk and overdriven psych-rock / post-metal induced bite like the righteous rock and roll wolves that they are.


All releases available for purchase now thru Bandcamp. Go Local!

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The Haze Craze for Lazy Days

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There are many different styles of beer. Ranging from light lagers (think Bud Light) and ales to sours, stouts, and IPAs.

Within those styles, however, are varying styles.

For example, one would think a sour beer is a sour beer, right? Wrong. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, which defines every style of beer, there are six recognized European sour styles.

For IPAs, there are seven. American beers have four; stouts have three… You get the point.

Even with viewing the list of recognized styles, it’s not a complete list.

Take New England IPAs (NE IPA), as a prime example. Many breweries are currently mass producing this style of beer, and it’s selling like crazy.

You may have heard one of your annoying beer loving friends talk about drinking a “juice bomb,” or a requesting a “hazy IPA” at the pub, and shrugged it off. It turns out, they (sometimes) know what they are talking about.

What makes NE IPAs so popular when compared to a more traditional, West Coast IPA? NE IPAs have all of the hop flavors, without an overabundance of bitterness.

Instead of constantly adding hops throughout the boil to achieve a fruity flavor balanced by bitterness, the NE IPA has a small hop addition at the begging, and then nothing else until after the boil has finished.

That translates into a beer with very little bitterness, and plenty of hop aroma and flavor. Hops like Citra, Mosaic, Mosaic, Galaxy, and El Dorado are most common in NE IPAs, according to the Homebrewers Association. Those hops tend to impart a fruity, and dare I say, juicy flavor profile.

Between the juicy flavor and the seemingly natural haziness to NE IPAs, it’s not far fetched for an NE IPA to look like a tall glass of orange or grapefruit juice, only carbonated and full of alcohol.

NE IPAs are starting to gain momentum here in Colorado, with breweries turning their focus to the haze craze. Specifically, Odd13, WeldWerks, and Epic Brewing coming to mind.

Odd13 is based in Lafayette, Colo. and has a long list of NE-inspired IPAs constantly rotating through the tap room and distributed throughout the state. Codename: Super fan and Noob are two beers that are found in cans, and both offer a different approach to the haze craze.

WeldWerks is based in Greeley, Colo. and has accumulated a cult-like following in just a few short years for its Juicy Bits NE IPA. The brewery just started self-distributing locally, so you’ll have to make the trip to the brewery and pick up a crowler or four. Be sure to check the WeldWerks Facebook page for availability and limits. Yes, they have to place per person limits on how much you can purchase.

Epic Brewing recently announced its NE IPA, which will rotate between four different flavor profiles throughout the year. The cans will look the same but will be different colors as a quick way to tell identify which version you have.

So the next time you walk into a brewery or liquor store, it’s OK to ask for a hazy or juicy IPA. It’s a thing, and, frankly, they are damn good.

On Tap: By the time this hits newsstands, ThunderZone Pizza & Taphouse will have opened on the CSU-P campus. Located at 2270 Rawlings Blvd., the ThunderZone features 32 taps, a carefully curated tap list, and is locally owned.

At the opening, the tap list includes tasty brews from the likes of Florence Brewing and Lost Highway.

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Senators upend GOP health care bill in true Trump style… Twitter

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WASHINGTON — When Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran decided they were in ready to disrupt the GOP rewrite of the health care law, they chose President Donald Trump’s favorite medium.

They could not support Senate Republicans’ plan, the somewhat unlikely pair of conservatives tweeted at 8:30 p.m. Monday night, giving no heads up to the White House or Senate leaders before pressing send.

The story behind the statement reveals two senators willing to be branded as bill killers and seemingly unconcerned with trying to soften the blow with party leaders.

The announcement, coming after some 10 days of conversations between the men, stunned official Washington and left Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate from being able to move forward with the GOP bill, effectively sinking the measure. It landed shortly after Trump dined with a group of senators to discuss strategy – unwittingly plotting a plan that would immediately become outdated.

Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican leader, found out about Lee’s defection after the White House dinner of rosemary-grilled rib eye and summer vegetable succotash. He “had no idea it was coming,” Cornyn said.

Another Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, found out from TV news.

Moran, a second-term lawmaker from Kansas who isn’t known for making waves, and Lee, a two-term senator from Utah who has clashed with Trump, have been talking over the past 10 days about the health care legislation and agreed the GOP bill did not go far enough to repeal Obamacare or address rising health-care costs. They decided to announce their position to make the bill’s fate clear and allow senators to move on, Moran said.

“It could have been prolonged for days or weeks while no one said anything,” Moran said in an interview.

Moran, who oversaw the Senate Republicans’ 2014 election campaigns, concluded last week he wouldn’t vote for the latest version of the bill but “gave myself a weekend in Kansas to think about it,” he said.

Lee had helped draft an amendment, along with fellow conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones to lower costs. Cruz agreed to some changes in wording by GOP leaders, but Lee thought the new language allowed too many Obama-era regulations to remain in place.

After talking again, Moran and Lee agreed Monday night on a statement drafted earlier in the day. They issued their statement shortly after a White House dinner attended by seven GOP senators – all likely yes votes on the health care bill. Neither Lee nor Moran attended.

A Lee spokesman said the statement – and its timing – “had nothing to do with the White House dinner. It was not a reaction in any way.”

The statement was made public as soon as it was ready, the spokesman said.

Neither Trump nor McConnell received advance warning about the statement, although it’s likely that neither the president nor the Senate leader was completely surprised.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spent the weekend calling lawmakers, including Lee and at least seven other GOP senators, according to the administration. Trump talked politics, while Pence discussed policy.

Trump called Lee on Saturday, and Lee told the president he was leaning against the bill, for the reasons he later made public.

Lee told Utah’s KSL Newsradio that he had a great conversation with Trump, when he told the president his “consumer freedom” amendment had been weakened and that he wasn’t sure that he could support the bill.

“He was encouraging to me and said, you know, ‘Just see what changes you can make to it,’ ” Lee said.

Lee and McConnell did not talk over the weekend, but Lee spoke twice to Cornyn, R-Texas, the majority whip.

Trump, who frequently takes to Twitter to announce proposals or denounce opponents, was blindsided by, of all things, a tweet.

He told reporters Tuesday he was “very surprised when the two folks came out last night, because we thought they were in fairly good shape. But they did. And, you know, everybody has their own reason.”

Moran said while he remained committed to repealing the health care law, Congress needs to make a “fresh start” on writing a replacement bill in an “open legislative process.”

“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” he said, in a statement that followed the tweet.

In his own statement, Lee said the GOP bill does not repeal all the Obamacare tax increases and “doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

Both explanations were issued on social media.

“Twitter is a nice medium to get your message out,” Lee’s spokesman said.

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