Times of turmoil are likely to herald in new waves of creativity. We experienced this in full force last year, especially in the streets, when artists responded to events faster than anyone else. Just in Denver alone, artists like Austin Zucchini-Fowler, Thomas “Detour” Evans and Hiero Viega made national headlines with impactful murals aimed at healthcare workers and victims of police brutality.
And yet, we are clearly not done with the turmoil. As the pandemic continues to impact every aspect of our lives, it’s important to enjoy and contemplate the creations of our artists and makers. Without them, the world is a more hopeless and dreary place.
In order to stoke excitement about what to experience this year in Denver, we looked ahead at some of the art not to miss in the next few months and are happy to report that there is no lack of creativity in 2021.
Completed last year, these five new Denver Public Art projects are almost all located outside, making them COVID-friendly to visit, and an excuse to leave your house.
“I’m proud to report Denver Public Art has been able to accomplish a great deal during an otherwise very challenging year with several newly completed artworks, and even more coming in early 2021,” said Michael Chavez, the Denver Public Art program manager, although the 2021 projects haven’t been announced with more detail yet.
The 2020 projects are located in a variety of different Denver neighborhoods from Elyria-Swansea to Overland, with the hopes of spreading art throughout the city rather than focusing it on one area.
Silent River by Resa Blatman is located at the Denver Health Outpatient Medical Center. Made of many layers of hand and laser-cut materials, adorned with oil and acrylic paints, this indoor installation calls to mind an underwater landscape. Meant to be contemplative and enchanting, Silent River is also a feat of handiwork and precision.
Commerce City-based artist Andrew Dufford created Connecting Points and Community Fountain, a series of four stone benches and a sculpture found at various locations throughout Red Rocks Park. If you aren’t looking for them, you might miss them since they’re made of similar stone to the Red Rocks themselves, and meant to connect visitors to their surroundings by mirroring the natural aesthetic.
Take a trip to Grant-Frontier Park to see the newest work by Salida’s Mike Buckley, called Infinite Span. Symbolic of time’s duality of fleeting moments and endless expanses, a mirror-polished stainless steel diamond-shaped sculpture is suspended by cables. The diamond-shaped sculpture changes depending on your relative position to it as well as the various lights and reflections due to weather and time of day.
If you’ve driven on I-70 in the last few months, you may have already noticed the newest mural project by renowned Denver street artist Anthony Garcia Sr, called Bridging the Community. Located at the 47th and York Pedestrian Bridge on the north side of I-70, this massive chromatic undertaking was completed with help from community members and friends of Garcia Sr., embodying the motivation behind it — bringing communities together in a positive way.
Nikki Pike, also based in Denver, created a spherical sculpture at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science that measures over seven feet in height called Rondure. With help from tree bark, the bronze sphere has an organic texture that undermines the metal it is forged from. But this is no lifeless sculpture — when a motion detector inside the sculpture is activated, it plays sound gathered from Colorado’s wild places. Pike collaborated with bARTer Collective on this piece in order to offer outreach opportunities with the community and at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in relation to wildlife in Colorado.
Zanele Muholi at the Center For Visual Arts
The Center for Visual Arts (CVA) presents an exhibit with more than 80 self-portraits by South African artist Zanele Muholi, created between 2012 and 2019. In these photographs, contemporary identity politics are explored and manipulated, with Muholi offering their own body as the canvas. With works from their ongoing series titled Somnyama Ngonyama, which translates to “Hail the Dark Lioness” in the South African language isiZulu, this is a striking exhibition that showcases Muholi’s artistic talent, intellectual prowess and activism. Based in Johannesburg, Muholi has helped start a few different organizations for the empowerment of Black South African women, queer and trans visual artists.
A quote from Muholi greets visitors in the gallery and it reads “I’m reclaiming my Blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged ‘other.’ My reality is that I do not mimic being Black; it is my skin, and the experience of being Black is deeply entrenched in me.”
Every portrait is rendered in a highly-contrasted black-and-white photograph which is manipulated by Muholi themself to intensify their own dark complexion. The accessories, postures, facial expressions and makeup vary dramatically, addressing critical themes related to social and climate justice, the Black body, sexuality and human rights. By creating such rich and layered photographs, Muholi embodies these different experiences unapologetically, exposing the beauty or the tragedy of each one.
Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness is on view from January 8 through March 20, 2021, with free admission. Masks are required inside the gallery.
One of the most popular public art displays during the pandemic was the projection-mapping project Night Lights Denver on the Daniels & Fisher Tower on 16th Street Mall. Impressive to all ages and walks of life, Night Lights served as a shining beacon (quite literally) of hope and creativity to the local community, and it will continue on in 2021 and beyond. Although it is a digital project that uses sophisticated projection mapping equipment, it offers a chance for creatives in any field to digitally express themselves on the enormous tower.
Throughout January, viewers will see an 18-minute program played on a loop Tuesday through Sunday nights (usually starting after 5 p.m.) featuring over 35 individual creatives. The vast majority of those artists this month are represented by the Denver Collage Club — started in 2013 by Mark Sink and Mario Zoots — with recognizable names like Koko Bayer, Tya Alisa Anthony, Drew Austin, Chris Bagley and Suchitra Mattai. The artists not involved with the Denver Collage Club are Andi Todaro, Eliza Struthers-Jobin and the dance academy Royal Essence Elite.
Untitled: Creative Fusions
The Denver Art Museum thankfully won’t let a pandemic keep them from supporting and elevating local artists with their Untitled: Creative Fusion series. Although these events are usually one-night in-person extravaganzas inside the DAM, they will be virtual for the time being. However, the virtual format still allows for interaction with the artists and a one-of-a-kind experience that won’t happen again.
The first fusion of artists occurs on January 29 with painter Adri Norris and playwright and spoken word artist Kenya Fashaw. Working under the theme “Bodies of Liberation” and inspired by the DAM’s exhibition of Senga Nengudi: Topologies, Norris and Fashaw will create an “evening of aligning the mind and body through the Black experience.” An additional eight collaborators will assist with this one-night event, including Moe Gram, Lady Speech Sankofa and CU Denver’s Dr. Rachel Harding.
There will be three more Untitled events before the year is over, with more information about whether they will be virtual or in-person as the dates approach. For now, put the following dates in your calendar.
April 30: Katy Batsel and Chris Bagley
July 30: R. Alan Brooks and We Were Wild
October 29: Alejandra Abad and Felix Ayodele
Keith Haring, Colorado Artists at MCA
Start getting excited about the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver’s 2021 exhibition offerings because it will certainly be a highlight of the year. Starting February 26, all three floors of the MCA will showcase three different shows, with all Colorado-based artists, except for the legendary Keith Haring.
Haring fans will be excited to learn that the Grace House Murals will be on view as a series of 13 separate panels that have been excavated from their original location. This site-specific project was completed in the early ’80s after Haring befriended members of the Catholic youth organization that operated inside the building. The mural originally spanned 85 feet, covering three stories of walls inside a stairwell, and produced some of the most iconic Haring motifs like a barking dog. Although it was once an elusive Haring production, due to its location inside a building, Grace House is now closed and Ascension Church — the building owner —needed to sell the property. Thankfully, painstaking work to preserve each panel by “peeling the painted plaster away from the terra cotta backing,” was completed according to an Artsy article published when the panels went to auction in 2019.
As a group show, Colorado in the Present Tense: Narkita Gold, Rick Griffith, Nathan Hall, and Maia Ruth Lee presents new and reframed work that “responds to our current moment of upheaval, uncertainty, and complexity” from four Colorado-based artists, according to the MCA. Each artist will present their own exhibition separate from the others, but together they represent the complex and boundary-pushing art that Coloradans can produce. Gold’s Black in Denver features 100 portraits of citizens who identify as Black; Griffith will showcase previously made paintings alongside newly commissioned work specifically for the MCA exhibition; Hall is using sound to explore the events of 2020 and Lee plays with the failures of language to express our emotions fully.
The third exhibition comes from a Denver-based artist, Jaime Carrejo. Titled Waiting, this body of work acts as a conversation between confinement and duration, where Carrejo creates an environment meant to evoke the inner experience of a waiting room. Of course, this speaks to the containment we’ve all experienced during the pandemic, but it also looks ahead to what is next. Carrejo uses visual layering techniques to express the multifaceted nature of complicated relationships, and in this series, you’ll see hints of Southwestern symbolism, mid-century design and quotidian objects from everyday life.
These exhibitions are on view from February 26 through August 22, 2021. Tickets (purchased in advance) and masks are required.
Rainbow Militia x Prismajic
In March, two of Denver’s most immersive companies will join forces to create something quite special — Celestial Chaos. Set in a mystical world built by Prismajic, Celestial Chaos crafts the story of gods and celestial beings who want to make a better world, with help from the audience. Rainbow Militia is in charge of the performance aspect, gathering actors and performers from other groups such as the Black Actors Guild, Circus Foundry and Spirit of Grace.
This collaboration comes at the heels of an almost devasting year for Rainbow Militia and Prismajic, companies that rely on in-person interactions. Both groups ended 2019 with highly successful projects — Prismajic’s Natura Obscura at the MOA was extended multiple times due to popular demand and Rainbow Militia’s efforts included the interactive circus show Zabiti, a traveling circus wagon and partnerships with groups all over Colorado. Given the constraints of 2020 and the pandemic, what both companies did manage to accomplish last year shows their resolve to continue bringing artistic experiences to the people of Denver. Prismajic opened the sequel to Natura Obscura, called Shiki Dreams in February, and lowered the number of attendees from 20 to six at a time once the stay-at-home orders loosened. Rainbow Militia still managed to organize two shows — Gnome Away From Home in August and Death’s Unraveling in October.
Where Prismajic excels at world-building and design, Rainbow Militia provides top-notch entertainers from actors to acrobats. Working together is a smart move for these groups as the landscape for performative shows constantly evolves, and it may prove to be the new norm.
Celestial Chaos will occur March 4 through 28, 2021, at EXDO Events Center on 35th and Walnut. Tickets that cost between $55 and $150 per person are required.