BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
“Our gallery operates similarly to a museum. We are interested in supporting national, international as well as local artists.”
We are lucky to live in a city that embraces art and culture. With so many galleries at our fingertips it can almost feel overwhelming. However, the Vicki Myhren Gallery is right in our back yard, as the main contemporary art exhibition venue at the University of Denver School of Art & Art History (SAAH).
It is integral to the educational mission of the school and provides and opportunity for students to experience exhibitions and interdisciplinary programs exploring the visual arts. Exhibitions, free and open to the public, feature work by artists from SAAH as well as regionally, nationally and internationally known artists.
Named in honor of Victoria H. Myhren in 2001. Not long after completing her bachelor of fine arts degree with a concentration in art history at the University of Denver, Vicki and husband Trygve had funded a generous endowment to support the gallery. In addition, the Myhrens provided a challenge grant of $50,000 to remodel the lobby of the Shwayder Art Building, converting it into an exhibition venue for student work. Their generosity makes it possible for the gallery to mount major exhibitions and institute educational programming for the public and DU community.
Myhren has had a life-long love of the visual arts. As a young woman traveling with her aunt, a serious contemporary art collector, she had the fortune to meet both Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. After studying art history in California and at the Colorado Women’s College, Vicki became the director of the Joseph Magnin Art Galleries, later founding the Hamilton Lawler Gallery. She also serves as a staff aid in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum.
Myhren is a woman who has embraced a number of philanthropic causes outside the visual arts as well. She has led efforts in New York to raise millions of dollars for hunger relief and has promoted awareness of domestic violence and other women’s issues in Colorado and Rhode Island.
It was a pleasure meeting with the Assistant to the Director, Lauren Abman to learn more about the gallery and their future exhibitions.
What makes the Vicki Myhren Gallery unique?
We are a training ground for students in the school of art and art history. We showcase professional artists and curate live programs to support the academic rigor of the School of Art and Art History. We host an annual exhibition for our graduating BFA students, and work closely to coach them through the process of exhibiting their work- from label writing to lighting and display.
The Vicki Myhren Gallery is a resource for our Museum Studies graduate program, as well as the general public. Our exhibitions are all installed by graduate and undergraduate students, and we work with our graduate assistants throughout the entire exhibition making process.
In addition to the gallery, we house the University Art Collections where graduate students can conduct research on paintings (we recently received a large gift of Italian impressionist paintings and we have two Italian language students pulling together research from first-hand sources in Italian). Our gallery director, Dan Jacobs, teaches an exhibition practicum course in the School of Art, which has resulted in exhibitions at the Clyfford Still Museum, and an exhibit of Colorado Women Painters featuring many works from our collection.
Our gallery operates similarly to a museum. We are interested in supporting national, international as well as local artists, and try to incorporate all three into our exhibition programming.
Our connection to the university makes us a site for public intellectual life, we gravitate towards artists that bring a level of academic inquiry to their work. This year, we are kicking off an annual exhibition program showcasing creative research done by our faculty in both the School of Art and Art history as well as the Emergent Digital Practices program.
In the previous years the gallery hosted historic exhibitions as well as contemporary art exhibitions. Last year, the gallery returned to its original purpose: to show work by living artists with an emphasis on demonstrating the process for our students.
What can we expect to see from the Vicki Myhren Gallery this year?
This year, we’re exploring art in unconventional ways. What does art look like as a marketing campaign? As an interactive game? How do artists explore community building through their work?
Our first exhibition, Avalanche, is a collaboration with the Black Cube Nomadic Museum. Emulating a corporate product launch, the Institute for New Feeling will release a new product in their “wellness line” that explores how capitalism, technology and the ethics of pleasure come together in the enhanced beverage industry.
Our second exhibition, “Push Play” features artists using games as a medium. The show is interactive and visitors are invited to sit down and try out each game. Many of these are tongue-in-cheek reinterpretations of the games we are used to seeing. One work that I’m particularly excited about is a chess set designed by Yoko Ono. Her piece is called “Play it by trust” and features an all white chess set. As the players progress through the match, they must cooperate with their opponent to track which pieces they have moved, as they all look the same.
In tandem with the Push Play exhibition, we are working closely with EDP (Emergent Digital Practices) professor Rafael Fajardo, whose work focuses on diversity and inclusion in the gaming world. We are bringing together a speaker series and gamer series exploring these topics locally.
This spring we will work with artists who consider “Social Practice” as their medium, exploring the ways in which people interact with one another. Many of these artists focus on community building, design thinking and social spaces in their work. DU recently developed a strategic plan focusing on community outreach. We wanted to use this as an opportunity to showcase how artists are exploring these tactics through their work.
It so wonderful to have this amazing gallery so close to home. Ethics, social practice and interactive mediums put the Vicki Myhren Gallery exhibitions at the top of our list and we hope to see you there!