Get with the Times and See Some Postmodernist Art
Visiting the art housed at Denver museums is sure to inspire even the most casual dilettante. Hours upon hours can be spent contemplating the city’s permanent collections and temporary exhibits, which run the gamut from American Indian art and Renaissance-era European works to African art and modern furniture design.
But even those who are sincere about their commitment to cultural enrichment might find themselves wandering through a contemporary collection with bemused expressions on their faces. Modern art, after all, is defined by pretty abstract concepts. Below, we’ve defined one such movement so that Denverites can take advantage of all their city has to offer.
What is postmodernism?
Postmodernism was primarily a reaction to the aesthetic trends that came before. Whereas modernism embraced humans' search for a universal, objective reality (see reflective impressionists and politically minded Picassos), postmodernism rejected such an ideal, arguing that individual experience was the only reality left. Simultaneously, the manmade chaos and upheaval of the 20th century convinced artists to question the virtue of modern society's ideologies, causing them to reject the notion that art was a commodity created by geniuses to hang above the mantels of the elite.
The distinction between high and low art was gradually erased, allowing artists to adopt production techniques beyond paint and canvas and to recast themselves, with more than a hint of irony, as creators of objects and products. However, this variance is postmodern media and styles—mixed media, appropriation, recontextualization, to name a few—makes the movement hard to define. But many works share similar features and starting points:
- Conception and consumption: The artists aim to alter both, transforming the work from something intended to please the eye to something that can be puzzling or even uncomfortable to view.
- Focus: The focus of a piece is usually less on its subject or craftsmanship than the concept or idea behind it, whether revealing social concerns or tackling murky philosophical questions.
- Form: Works take many forms, which is its own distinction given the narrow ranges of expression in previous eras. A piece might be faces flickering on a television screen, a stack of computers inside a black monolith, or a live, breathing group of nude models.
The beginnings of the movement can be traced to 1917, when artist Marcel Duchamp submitted his Fountain—a signed, unadorned urinal—to a gallery show. For the point at which modernism actually transitioned to postmodernism, at least in the US, many point to the Warholian pop art of the '60s. (Remember the blurring of the line between art and products for mass consumption.)
Where can you see postmodernism in Denver?
- Denver Art Museum: Its modern and contemporary collection includes over 12,500 works that feature in post-war movements like abstract expressionism and contemporary realism. Highlights include Duchamp, Robert Motherwell, Sandy Skoglund, and Charles Sandison.
- Museum of Contemporary Art Denver: There’s no permanent collection here, so visitors are guaranteed a changing selection of modern exhibitions and, therefore, a wide view of artistic experimentation.
- Biennial of the Americas: Beginning in 2010, this July festival seeks to bring to Denver the cultural dialogues occurring at similar events in Venice, Miami, and elsewhere. It hosts works by dozens of artists from around the world.
- Denver Central Library: One of the city’s most unique structures was designed by postmodern architect Michael Graves. Reacting to the minimalism and perfectionism of modernism, the design includes ornamentation and architectural forms that serve only an aesthetic purpose, not a functional one. (Check out those roof braces.)
- Denver International Airport: Seriously! It has a permanent art collection and an ongoing program to acquire new exhibits. You can’t miss Luis Jiménez’s giant blue Mustang near the entrance. Unconvinced locals call the controversial piece Blucifer and insist it’s cursed (it did literally kill the artist).