"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times"--this is how the year 2009 is characterized by Denver's Plus Gallery director, Ivar Zeile, and in a year where a worldwide economic downturn dominated the headlines, it seems the worst of times have overshadowed the bright spots. Then again, we've entered a new decade, and a feeling of overriding optimism for 2010 is taking over an ever-expanding art world, as we witness the opening of new markets and satellite galleries in cultural art centers emerging beyond the big cities like New York and London. It seems the laws of entropy might apply to the art world as well.
We asked the directors of some of the top galleries about their opinions on 2009 and forecasts for 2010 in some of these emerging cities: Denver and Portland in the United States; and Leipzig, Cologne and Düsseldorf in Germany. We wanted to know what 2009 was like in their city--the good times and the challenges--and asked about what 2010 held in the future--new artists, exciting exhibitions, and new trends.
We received a range of responses, both emphatic and sobering. Here are the highlights: Ivar Zeile and Jennifer Doran in Denver; Martha Morgan, Jeanine Jablonski and Anna Solcaniova King in Portland; Emmanuel Post and Sabine Aichele-Elsner in Leipzig; Kasper König in Cologne; and Michael Beck and Marion Ackermann in Düsseldorf. Many thanks for contributing!
If you would like to include your voice in the discussion, we invite you to please leave a comment below.
--Natalie Hegert, a writer living in New York City.
(Image: David Kroll, Three Birds on a Globe, courtesy of Robischon Gallery, Denver.)
Ivar Zeile--"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....."
That is really the only way to describe the year for Plus Gallery and I'm sure much of Denver's art scene. As for the worst, many if not all the notable dealers experienced a tremendous drop in business and local artists with extraordinary exhibitions found only slim audiences with few sales. We personally experienced some major blows from good artists who rejected our long-term support. I've heard of the same from others, it was really revealing about the human condition and made trust a very tricky issue! The city lost one of its major art-critics in the newspaper flush that appeared like a tsunami but fortunately only hit like a small hurricane, so far. The major institutions continued to ignore what's happening at good galleries, though they certainly had their own hands full trying to bolster operations that were undergoing transition. Most troubling was receiving major recognition for our artists and gallery all year long and still having only a handful of visitors from outside the state, an ongoing battle that plagues much of this market.
But none of the worst could possibly detract from the positive elements that we experienced. We brought in more new clients and collectors than previous years, the result of opening a singular new space that garnered high recognition from the other two major local art critics including "Art Space of the Year" by the Denver Post. Our exhibitions could not have been better and more inspiring, of particular note the return of Karen McClanahan and Jenny Morgan, two artists who started their careers in Denver and maintain positive strides towards major national careers. Colin Livingston turned in the exhibition of the decade, a mind-f#%*ing installation that also serves to commence 2010 and has received more press than any other show in town. The schedule was rounded out by strong efforts from Jean Arnold and R. Justin Stewart, both of which would have been major successes in better economic times. We produced a fantastic show in conjunction with the City of Denver featuring pastel artist Riva Sweetrocket with accompanying booklet, she is probably one of the most unique and collectible talents in the region utilizing a medium in a very spectacular and unconventional way. The few out of state visitors that managed to find the gallery showered us with compliments and even bought work, including our single most significant sale to date. One of our biggest accomplishments of the year was utilizing new publishing technology such as Blurb.com to create significant books for the gallery available to clients and the public, including a comprehensive 240 page tome on Jenny Morgan who stands to be one of the biggest breakthrough artists to have ever started in the Denver market.
2010 should be a great year for our program as well as efforts within the city. We are looking forward to our first curated exhibition that brings significant career artists from New York to the gallery this month, including Joanna Pousette-Dart, Joe Fyfe, Judith Linhares, John Newman, and Jessica Weiss. We'll follow that up with a solo by Denver painter Bruce Price, certainly one of the most prolific and intriguing abstract painters in the region if not the country. This summer the city is hosting the first "Denver Biennial of the Americas" which strives to bring in an international audience to the city through a focus on ideas and the arts. We are pursuing an exhibition that will feature some very original contemporary artists from Canada for the Biennial with the help of the Canadian Consulate. Finally, the fall will feature a solo from Bill Amundson who is easily one of the most original talents in the country and one of Denver's most beloved personalities. Our program continues to face the challenges of being in a remote market that is making inroads on the national scene yet still suffers from extreme personality disorder! Every minute we are a part of it motivates us to work harder and be true to our instincts.
Ivar Zeile is the owner and director of Plus Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in downtown Denver.
(Image: Installation view, "Everything has its place" featuring new paintings by Karen McClanahan, March 2009. Image courtesy of Plus Gallery and Wes Magyar)
Jennifer Doran--"In trying times, economic or otherwise, this is precisely when we need art the most. "
By and large, 2009 Denver didn’t see the severe lows that might have been felt elsewhere, but neither did it experience the highs of previous years. As further reference to the business of art---and since the Robischon Gallery has been in existence in Denver for almost 34 years---our particular business has evolved over time to reflect more of an international or global economy rather than an exclusive reflection of Denver or Colorado. As far as art in Denver in general, the museum exhibitions (Denver Art Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art Denver) continue to present more adventurous exhibitions which always benefit the art dialogue. Like elsewhere, we lost one of our newspapers (Rocky Mountain News) which has impacted the discourse. Yet on the positive side, we recently had the ground-breaking for the new Clifford Still Museum which promises the city even more cultural dimension.
The gallery had a tremendous year for noted and progressive exhibitions. To mention a few of our shows from 2009, we began with Robert Rauschenberg’s final body of work, “The Lotus Series,” alongside a few recent acquisitions of A+New+Year" rel="nofollow">Chin
ese contemporary works; the wonderful expansive show of work by the collaborative duo Kahn + Selesnick; a strong Colorado artist Kevin O’Connell show in conjunction with his solo exhibition of photography on the subject of energy at MCA; an astounding show entitled “The Witness Archive” by Iraqi artist Halim Alkarim and finally towards the end of the year we presented a show in conjunction with the DAM’s exhibit of installation works entitled “Embrace!” which featured the pioneering work of internationally-known artist Jessica Stockholder and noted Colorado artist John McEnroe.
Exhibiting work of this caliber is always challenging, but we enjoyed creating and continuing to build on the momentum of past years. Like a lot of galleries across the country – up until October of 2008--- it hasn’t been easy to see our audience return suddenly to a kind of conservative or anxious mood. This refers to our clients globally, as well. Despite such challenges, we strived to maintain a visually-optimistic and progressive tone in our exhibition program throughout 2009.
We are looking forward in 2010 to less anxiety and less tentative responses from art audiences in general and specifically from collectors. We know we are not alone in this hope! In trying times, economic or otherwise, this is precisely when we need art the most. And in turn the arts need to be supported on all levels. All those who can, should try to find a way to assist, so that we never find ourselves without challenging art. The best of art provides the kind of clarity that we need and long for during difficult periods in the world – offering solace to a kind of honest reflection to even defining a way to look toward what’s ahead.
We always offer a variety of programming – all artists of integrity from a range of views. We have always enjoyed a kind of pluralism and have never felt compelled to only operate in one specific arena of art. We also find that it is more helpful and interesting to provide our Colorado visitors and collectors abroad with the unexpected. This year we are not only working on exhibitions that are anchored in late American modernism such as the paintings of New York artist Gary Komarin, but also group showings which include Kiki Smith and Chinese sculptor Yu Fan, intimate and psychological views of nature by David Kroll and Karen Kitchel, followed by an exhibition featuring prominent artists from the Middle East. For a broader view of what we do please visit our ever changing an extensive website www.robischongallery.com
Jennifer Doran is the director of Robischon Gallery, which has been an integral part of Denver’s contemporary art community for 34 years.
(Image: Installation view, Halim Alkarim, The Witness Archive, August 8 - September 12, 2009; Robischon Gallery, Denver.)
(Image at Top: Riva Sweetrock in her studio, 2009, courtesy of the artist and Plus Gallery, Denver)