Monday, October 23, 2006

Giulia and the new Hamilton Wing of the DAM

Gina's (that's my wife) cousin Giulia works at the Denver Art Museum. Giulia has a couple of degrees in art history, and she has a gift for describing art in terms that the average man (that's me) can relate to.

For example, her family has lived in Rome for years, and Gina had a small family reunion there a couple of years ago. (Gina's entire extended family is quite small, less than 20 people. I probably have twice that many cousins that I haven't even met. The Earles clan knows a little something -- or maybe not enough -- about procreation.) Giulia guided the family on a spectacular tour of the Vatican. If you have never been to the Vatican, it is filled with art, to the point where it all starts to look the same. By telling stories about the artist, the era in which he lived, and what he tried to do with the piece, Giulia was able to make each piece come alive, and weave all of the pieces in to a tapestry of culture and history. By the end of her tour, our little eight-person family group had swelled by 20 or 30 eavesdroppers.

I experienced something similar with Giulia at the grand opening of the DAM's new Hamilton Wing, the architectural marvel designed by Daniel Libeskind. We went to the event with several friends, none of which are particularly art-inclined. We saw some interesting, odd things, none of which we really understood. For instance, we spent some time in the Vicki and Kent Logan Collection, which is full of some truly bizarre, if not a little disturbing, pieces.

For instance, there's a large installation piece when you enter the room that has about two dozen headless, lifesize, identical Buddha (?) statues that look just like the two-thousand-year-old ones. In the place where the head should be, there are tiny little doll and action figure heads, suspended a couple of inches above the Buddha's necks. While all the statues were identical, each head was unique.

I'm looking at this thing, not knowing what to think. And the whole room is full of wonderfully bizarre pieces like this. Then Giulia gathered us together and explained that the Logans assembled pieces that illustrate the artists' interpretation of modern mixing of cultural or racial backgrounds and influences. For instance, the artist that created the Buddha piece is Asian, but raised in a Western environment, and was trying to comment on the Western influences on Asian culture. When viewed in the light of this tiny sliver of knowledge, the entire collection came alive for me, and I can't wait to return and spend more time with it.

I can't wait for my next opportunity to experience some of Giulia's enlightenment.
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