Mi Tierra at The Denver Art Museum
Gabrielle DeCristofaro • February 27, 2017 • Art •
Walking up to the Frederic C. Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum (DAM) on a warm February day, I was first introduced to Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place outside by a sculpture from the exhibition, as the DAM is wont to do. The sculpture, by Ramiro Gomez, is titled “Lupita” and is made out of acrylic paint, cardboard, duct tape, trash bags, cloth and plastic, and depicts the worklife of a Latina janitor of the Museum. Gathering the tone for the exhibit, we are made aware that we will be introduced to the lives and art styles of both new and established Latino artists and their relation to the American West.
The exhibition, presented by the DAM in sponsorship with Bank of America, is highly moving, modern and contemporary, and will be on display on the fourth floor of the Hamilton Building from Feb. 19 through Oct. 22. The exhibition features 13 artists, challenged to create “site-specific” pieces. Curated by the new curator for modern and contemporary art, Rebecca Hart, this is her first major exhibition. While “mi tierra” is translated from Spanish to English as “my land,” Hart describes the exhibit as an “exploration of place” representing a range of diverse and adamant voices through personal expression. To her it is a “truly American show.”
During a preview for the exhibition on Feb. 16, and introduced in opening remarks by Christoph Heinrich, the Frederick and Jan Myer Director of the DAM, we are asked to consider what it means to live both in the American West and so close to the border. According to Heinrich, this exhibit is used to “cultivate expression” and discuss themes such as “place, home, country, land and borders,” while also critically thinking about the “multi-layered expressions of labor, migration, nostalgia, visibility and displacement.” Heinrich describes the exhibit as a “little universe,” of both the expected and the unexpected, the folkloric and the contemporary.
The exhibition is unique in its bilingualness, as each artist has written words in both English and Spanish accompanying their work, making it more accessible to more people.
Upon walking into the exhibition, one of the first pieces on display is Daisy Quezada’s “Desplazamiento/Contencion (Displacement/Containment)”. The space is slightly dark and we are invited to sit and listen to audio recordings taken from along the US-Mexican border, while looking ahead at a box that is filled with clothes from both immigrants and first-generation young people. This sets the tone for the rest of the exhibit as hers discusses social issues and the displacement of the undocumented in America.
Several of the artists were highly innovative in their use of the space provided to them by the DAM. Gabriel Dawe’s “Plexus no. 36”, for example, is made of thread, wood and hooks, and shows both his mastery of the color spectrum as well as a creative use of the space and the way the architecture of the building allowed him to build his piece along the curve and angles of the walls. Justin Favela’s “Fridalandia” was inspired by Mexican artists Jose Maria Velasco and Frida Kahlo, and the Hollywood depiction of Kahlo’s home, to create a walkthrough space of impressive detail made exclusively out of paper, wood and glue. Additionally, Jamie Carrejo’s “One-Way Mirror” uses space with projected HD video on a slanted wall, reflecting off of glass to depict border fences as both physical and symbolic borders.
While there is plenty of commentary on high-visibility issues right now, such as immigration and immigrant contributions to America, a topic introduced that may not be thought of as much is Latino consumerism. Dmitri Obergfell’s “Federal Fashion Market” depicts this issue in a room lit up with bright white light, as if we were in a department store. Hanging on the left wall are grilles for cars, and in front of those are shirts. Surrounding the display are mannequin hands with long, gaudy manicured fingernails, and towards the front are a variety of liquor and beer bottles.
This is a highly engaging exhibition of contemporary artists that are expressing ideals that are at once so American, but at the same time are so deeply and uniquely Latino. The power of the voices and the subject matters tackled, as well as the presentation, makes this one of the most relevant exhibitions available to museum-goers in Denver. It is a great one to see if you are open and willing to be more aware of these themes and their relevancy to the world around us right now.
Header image is from Ana Teresa Fernández’s “Erasure”
All photography was provided by The Denver Art MuseumMi Tierra at The Denver Art Museum