“Mi Tierra” has been three or four years in the making, according to Denver Art Museum Director Christoph Heinrich, inspired to an extent by the experience of “Embrace,” which challenged artists to design site-specific works as feedback in the then-new Hamilton Building, with its angles and oddly shaped display spaces.
“Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place,” in the fourth-floor gallery through Oct. 22, is the first major exhibit curated by Rebecca Hart, new curator of modern and contemporary art. Thirteen emerging and mid-career Latino artists were invited to create site-specific installations that express experiences of a contemporary life in the American West, near the border, in Mexico, in Latin America, Hart said.
“Some worked in the public eye the last three months,” she said. (As with “Embrace,” the public was invited to watch as installations were created, and talk with the artists.) “Place, home, country, borders, migration, labor, memory, visibility, displacement, expected and not, traditional and not. Diverse creative voices to the front,” Hart said. “No single viewpoint can represent being Latino in America today.”
Hart arrived in Denver 18 months ago and Latino leaders helped her, as did a committee of advisors. The all new large scale installations are in many media—“some bilingual, some dissonant, some harmonious …”
The entire fourth floor is filled by “Mi Tierra” and each installation is distinctive and in most cases, colorful. As one enters from the elevator, Los Angeles sculptor Ruben Ochoa’s galvanized metal and concrete, ”Ever since I was little, it looked like fun” a large, abstract piece that looks ready to move along with one, dominates the initial view into the gallery.
Walk on in toward the distinctive prow of the building to find light from the narrow window shimmering on Gabriel Dawe’s intricate, extensive “Plexus No. 36,” which required many miles of multi-colored thread. Dawe is from Dallas.
Justin Favela, Las Vegas, created “Friedlandia,” a brilliantly hued and remarkable fantasy garden made with colored paper strips and glue that really invites the visitor to stroll inside.
By contrast, Los Angeles artist Carmen Argote’s “Live/Work” shows a tightly-organized conglomeration of cabinets, school work, photos, fabric, artwork. Not a spare inch anywhere.
Mexican American Denver resident Dimitri Obergfell `s creation is called “Federal Fashion Mart,” in a cube based on small markets found in Denver’s Latino neighborhoods, filled with clothing, polished auto accessories, speakers, beer, cosmetics (a set of praying hands has colored nails), religious figures and other items to appeal to a contemporary city customer.
In the Fuse Box is an animated video, by John Jota Leanos (San Francisco) dealing with the Manifest Destiny approach of Americans who took over much of the West — from an indigenous and Mestizo point of view. It begins with a prairie filled with bison, a lone Indian singing by a campfire, arrival of pioneers, later a city … dramatic statement of a familiar story …
“Mi Tierra” will be included in next summer’s “Biennial of the Americas” celebration, which draws artists to comment on experiences in the Western Hemisphere.
If you go:
“Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place” fills the fourth floor of the Hamilton Building, Denver Art Museum, on 13th Avenue, a block west of Broadway. Admission is included with general admission to the Museum. (Children visit free.) A catalog of the exhibit was still at the printer when we visited, since many of these works were “in progress” until shortly before opening and not ready for the photographer, but there will be a bilingual catalog available in the Museum Shops soon, lending more insight into the 13 artists represented. Denverartmuseum.org.