CMP: The exhibition was called Decades of the Influence. It basically had two incarnations. The first exhibition looked at twenty artists who had influenced and shaped generations of artistic practices since the mid-80s. In Extended Remix, I added more artists in order to build on that narrative of progenitors. The exhibition took place in three locations: MCA DENVER; Metropolitan State College Galleries; and the park at Union Station. For the publication, I gathered some critical art historical voices from artists and writers.
AG: There are some really excellent essays. Finding the catalog was actually very encouraging. In your essay you quote “Why Not Here” by Sidney Goldfarb from one of the old Criss-Cross magazines. I have become very curious about him. He was writing about art in the late 70s. And reading it, this could have been yesterday. His words are still absolutely applicable. It was a seminal publication.
CMP: There needs to be a re-issuing of the Criss‐Cross editions into a singular catalog. It was an important effort, which at its nexus was to build a dialogue between artists in the west and artists on the east coast working with patterned and mathematical structures. It was a successful dialogue between a collective of like-minded artists.
AG: It’s exciting to find evidence of a concerted artist group that's making work that could be considered much broader in its scope than say what Colorado is more traditionally known for which is the landscape. I'm sure all those artists were influenced by the landscape; that's why they moved here. But this hard edge abstraction based in logic really does have a more universal appeal. At the same time it's so great that there was a focus on the location behind this really great document.
CMP: I think it’s an important history. The building of an art historical foundation in Colorado has been inconsistent. With Decades of Influence I made a concerted effort to assert a history. I don’t think it held. Certainly it was subjective, but it covered a lot of ground that could be built upon. This paradox of wanting to make historical statements and the lack of recognizing their agency seems to be a phenomenon of Colorado. I would say that Devon Dikeou is an exception. In San Francisco, there's a great reverence for even more recent history with artists and art movements, especially the conceptualists such as Terry Fox, Tom Maroni, and David Ireland and the funk artists such William Wiley, Jess, Bruce Connor, and Jay DeFeo of the 60s and 70s. The more recent Mission School is still being built.
AG: The art world in general has a short memory, and that's anecdotal. There are cycles of remembrance. There’s almost a certain required vigilance for there to be a collective consciousness about the history of a region and as you were saying, rather than somebody doing something once like an island for it to have continued influence on exhibitions or publications. I would say in some ways that is happening right now in our conversation. And through some of the conversations I've had with Clark Richert and other artists. The threads are a little more delicate, dependent on one or two people picking it up versus the information being so readily available.
CMP: A collective understanding?
AG: Like a library. For example I would never have found Criss-Cross—well I mean, not never, but it was through conversation that I discovered a document, versus the other way around. I’ve taken on a project to digitally archive all of the Criss-Cross issues. I took some issues to New York. People are still interested in the ideas that were disseminated through this publication. Current age is more appropriate to put it in a flattened landscape rather than building an actual library.
CMP: That's true. Clark Richert seems to be a generational through line. In Decades of Influence the criteria for the selection of artists was that they sustained an impact on the art scene. Clark was a great example both as an artist and through his students so many are following in his theoretical footsteps like Sterling Crispin. At the time of Decades, I was of course, very interested in Nicolas Bourriaud’s writings on Relational Aesthetics.
Colorado is an unfinished project for me, at least intellectually. Not only is it that the artistic community artistic history still unpacking its archive and documentation with galleries and museums but the architectural history of the city is in flux. The built environment in a newer city like Denver is more about erasure than stabilizing a certain point of view of modernism. When you lose critical architectural markers in the landscape you also lose their connection to visual art developments that coincided with their arrival. Denver’s urban plan has not significantly held together a past picture of modernism and late modernism that mirrors what happened in the art scene. There is of course a Victorian presence that comes forward but nothing modern. In other words, there's limited representation in the landscape of the mathematical and logical perspectives that Criss-‐Cross was driving at.
AG: Do you feel like at the time there were buildings that were reflective of that?
CMP: I do think that the IM Pei parabola on Denver's 16th Street Mall came from the same place then was eradicated for mall structures. If it was still present there would be a type of visual relief on the urban floor that could be drawn into argument with Criss‐Cross. I'm making a case for a relationship between urbanization—the urban plan and the city—and erratic histories and artistic practices.
AG: I don't think Denver has had very many architectural exhibitions within the visual art context. At least in my time, obviously I'm sure there have been. And I think it's an interesting connection to reflect the physical landscape of buildings to the landscape of production in the visual arts. The type of architectural features that are emerging in the city are extremely utilitarian. I wouldn't necessarily say there's any uniqueness or longevity to them.
CMP: They're not buildings that are meant to last. They're 50-year buildings, maybe 25‐year buildings. That’s an oversight. Denver is this growing city and I believe it's drawing the Millennials like no other city in the country. If you're presenting art in that environment, what kind of responsibility do you have?
AG: I'm just thinking the most sort of egalitarian form of expressing history is through spaces. Even more so than the paintings or the objects, they're a rarified form. Everybody experiences architecture at some level. It at least crosses your visual plane. I'm worrying about Denver becoming an ahistorical city, a place that's disconnected from itself or from it's path. And in some ways maybe that's part of its history, as a pioneering place.
CMP: With a boom or bust history! The city used to be codependent with the oil and gas industry. There were economic surges and then downturns.
AG: I would argue marijuana is our oil and gas right now. It has had a huge impact on artistic production since warehouse and large-‐scale spaces are gone.
CMP: Legalization came after I left, but with or without marijuana, space for artists is at a premium.
AG: You are one of the few people that could relate to the experience of having the commercial and the institutional background. It really changes the parameters in interesting ways—the venue or the organization that you're working on behalf of. I've always been curious what that transition was like for you, moving from the gallery sector into museum directorship.
CMP: At the Cydney Payton Gallery, before it was Payton Rule, I was experimenting with the gallery as platform of social encounter. The gallery presented Art Bar, public lectures, events in public spaces like Art in the Streets. I was already questioning my path and contribution to the larger cultural landscape. The evidence of an institutional or more public centered model is there in documents, invites and newsletters that the gallery was generating.
AG: I'm always very wary of institutional models. The scope of the exhibition can really expand beyond the need to sell which opens up a full range of content. But what I have always appreciated within at least the small galleries is that if you have an idea it just happens. Just like I want to do this, we're doing this. I'm sure you've had experience yourself when you're running Payton Rule Gallery. You're like cool, we're going to do this lecture, this program, this show and if I want to change it tomorrow well so be it. That shifts when you go into running a whole organization.
CMP: I'm a strategic thinker. Even at the gallery, I had multiple years of exhibition planned out. I was always interested in creating a master curatorial project that spoke, through multiple presentations, to a larger place-making strategy. Again, Decades was a thematic presentation under was a two-‐year rubric of exhibitions that looked at the history of Colorado art. I thought that that needed to happen before MCA moved into a new building. To your point about spontaneity as an advantage, the planning calendars of non‐collecting institutions compared to the collecting institutions are much more spontaneous. At both BMOCA and MCA DENVER I was able to present many artists before they became incredibly famous. That's even true of the gallery—one of the most important exhibitions at the gallery was a show called The Nature of Things, which had artists such as Fischli and Weiss, Sandy Skoglund, Ellen Driscoll, and Alan Scarritt before they garnered the attention that followed.
CMP: One of the things I thought was valuable about the experience of working in non‐collecting institutions was that you could go out there and you could see and think about things that might be of interest to the future. That kind of thinking is no longer part of most institutional mandates. They now lean towards donor and collector driven ideas about relevancy. There are exceptions of course. Concern for the future has been sidelined for globalization, a culture of celebrity museums. The experience of the viewing art is the same in each city. Certainly in the early 2000s—what was very interesting about the museum world was that there were so many different types and a kind of support, even through the AIA, for a national identity built on eclecticism. The conceptual dialog now seems to be both historical—looking back at past models—and a confirming of the market place anxiety.
AG: That takes us full circle back to what we were first talking about, which is the word “provincial.” That has come up a lot for me recently. It seems right to maybe re‐contextualize that phrase. When you said the word eclectic, it really made me think that maybe that's part of the draw of the provincial—without the pejorative it normally takes on. Criss‐Cross ended up being a gem within a region, but at the same time reached outside the region. So maybe provincial was not the correct word to describe them. That sense of eclecticism in the museum world in some ways may be a function of that as well, like these directors or institutions sort of operating on their own agenda versus having to feel that pressure of the global market or whatever you want to call it.
CMP: What's wonderful is to go to a city and discover what that city is about, not to go to a city and see the same things that I can see in any other city. I think that the opportunities in the art world now are to, in all systems—galleries, universities, and public institutions—build more unique pictures of their sites, places, and geographies. Denver is situated for this with MCA DENVER, the Clifford Still Museum and forthcoming Kirkland Museum. Instead working towards the metrics and immediacy of attendance numbers why not engage with the reality that contemporary art is not for everyone.
AG: One day I'm going to do a show called that!