The Denver Art Museum is one of the few luxuries Colorado residents and tourists alike, have the pleasure of experiencing. It is truly a world class facility, from the outside in. Within the confines of its walls reside masterpieces from the likes of Monet, Degas, and Picasso. There is a broad spectrum of art from all corners of the globe represented here. This includes art from various European nations, as well as that of far eastern cultures to American Indian design.
Each exhibit presented work which seemed to grasp and shed light onto the respective time period or culture represented. I found three particular compositions to be representative of their era or genre. The first of which is an oil painting on a wood panel by an Englishman named William Larkin to be completed in 1610. This piece, entitled Mary Radclyffe, is a portrait of King James’s wife, Mary Radclyffe. It is very obvious to see, after reviewing the Roman artistic style of idealizing an individual in a realistic way, that this is a idealized view of Radclyffe.
As a matter of fact, William Larkin was one of the last artists to work in this refined, elegant portrait style of Elizabeth I. The clothing Radclyffe is donning in the aforementioned painting is typical of the high class during the time it was completed in the early 17th century. This piece can also be classified as having a Baroque nature about it. The Baroque cultural movement pertained to not only art, but music, dance, and literature as well. The artistic style emits a sense of awe and a tremendous attention to detail which is seldom mistaken for any other method.
This Idealized style derives from Plato and the “higher reality of eternal truths” which he refers to in his book, the Theory of Forms. “Plato’s theory of forms proposes that all sensory objects are imitations of Forms, which, like the simplest mathematical equations, are imperishable and forever true. ” (Fiero I: 98) The next piece which caught my attention is a sculpture I have always been intrigued in. Shiva, King of Dancers, or Shiva Nataraja, comes from Tamil Nadu during the Chola Dynasty, in India. The Chola Dynasty enjoyed a long ime span of power from the late 9th century all the way up to the 13th century. The bronze sculpture standing 36’ 7/8” tall, encompasses radial balance contains a strong symbolic message, typical of most Hindu art. This iconic statue portrays Shiva dancing, with his right foot supported by a crouching figure, and his left elegantly raised in the air. The figure appears to have four arms, so it is clearly not meant to be realistic. Shiva is understood to be two conflicting things. One side of him signifies total tranquility, whereas he is also filled with total activity and energy on the other side.
Not only does this depict what many people from this culture aspire attain, but people in many different cultures all over the globe as well. Although this particular work was made centuries after the Greeks revolutionized portraying the human body in sculpture, this freestanding figure was almost directly influenced by the Greeks. Not only for the fact that it is freestanding and praises the individual, but also because it pays homage to something greater than the human. As it says in the text, The Humanistic Tradition, “they paid perpetual homage to the gods. (Fiero I: 109) Not only that, but the perfection of the piece also comes from the Archaic period in Greek sculpture. More specifically, “the quest for realism was offset by the will to idealize form. (Fiero I: 109) This is also an idea from the philosopher Plato in his book, Theory of Forms. At the end of my journey of cultural enlightenment, I felt an obligation to take a gander at the African art exhibit because of how unique the style is compared to the rest of the museum. While there were many interesting works in the gallery, a certain piece done by Moyo Ogundipe caught my eye from a distance.
Perhaps one of the better known images within the gallery, Soliloquy: Life’s Fragile Frictions was completed in 1997 and was done in acrylic on a 54’ x 78’ canvas. The cool collection of analogous colors really drew me into the image. The content in the piece is said to be inspired by the Egungun Festival in the village where the artist grew up. Some of the influences were drama, acrobatics, poetry, mime and pantomime, and black magic all play a role in creating the mood and atmosphere of this piece.
Although this piece isn’t an ancient African work of art, it embodies my view of African art for its vivid color selection, organic shapes, chaotic nature, and intricate detail in the patterns. To me, this composition is reminiscent of an Egyptian scene done on the tomb walls in the 14th century. It tells a story in a similar fashion which the Egyptians did and depict the importance of the figure by size in a comparable way as well. This style is referred to as conceptual — “that is, based on ideas — rather than perceptual… based on visual evidence. ” (Fiero I: 34)
Each piece I reviewed from the Denver Art Museum clearly depicted the transcendent nature of how art progresses. Each culture and movement reflect the ideals of the past through either subject matter, content, style, or technique. In many cases, philosophy and literature influenced the development of art — especially Plato’s teachings. Overall, I felt more comfortable when I was in the North building because of not only the subject matter, but the architecture as well. Call me old fashioned, but I find that I appreciate art in a more intimate setting like the North building provides.
From the wood floors, to the tighter confines of the vicinity between each piece, and the amount of information provided for each exhibit, I felt like I walked away with a deeper appreciation for the art in this building. The Hamilton building gave a unique presentation of each exhibit, though. I enjoyed the abstract architecture — although I don’t think it is very practical for a museum. The next time I venture out to the museum, I will definitely spend more time in the temporary exhibitions, as I did not even scope that specific area out.