David Altmejd, Carlos Amorales, Candice Breitz, Rangi Kipa, Wangechi Mutu, Chris Ofili, Collier Schorr
Star Power: Museum as Body Electric inaugurated MCA DENVER’S building on October 28, 2007. The process for the project moved between public and private. For me the Museum, and therefore the title of this exhibition, announced a new focus for the institution as well as regenerative possibilities for museums that present the works of living artists.
Before the selection of architect David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates, UK was announced to design the Museum, I created a conceptual brief, as a guide to contextualize the ambitious of the institution’s future. This brief was directed towards artists and their artworks, future exhibition spaces for generations with deeper connections to one another through technology. I recognized that a type of ambient intimacy had arrived and that this would lead to uniquely dynamic interfaces between individuals and art. Ideas were beginning to constantly be in motion and creativity and ownership of content was growing softer or more malleable. The question that I began to concentrate the brief upon was how the decentralization of information, ideas, and ultimately concrete objects, would be dually accessible to an audience that was ambient, exchanging images and thoughts through technology, and a audience that was present, viewing works in the museum that was to be built.
In addition, I had discovered over twenty years in the museum field the physical failings of many exhibition spaces and the fulfillment and satisfaction of far few too many. Regardless of the curatorial program, the museum space needed to be satisfying and contain greater opportunities to promote relational experiences that were visual yet bodily and mindful. It was important to note, MCA DENVER’s begun during post-modernisms expansionary impact on architecture across the globe.
To map and connect my thoughts, I drew an abstracted star pattern that became a living model for the museum’s potentialities. Artists and art works, light, architecture, circulation and movement, and nature held the end-points of the star. At these points ideas could depart to bring about a satisfying forward-thinking institutional model. Within this diagrammatic scheme other ideas began to flow, the suggestion that equality amongst all—what I called units of experience as defined by the listed themes on the star point—was essential. This would insure that the museum would not suffer from a heavy handed architectural form, nor would it suffer from neglect of the audiences that were part of the future archipelago of individuals experientially and ideologically exchanging information in ways that were continuously evolving. While the star was simple it was complex, encoded with historical and scientific references. The ancient met the modern. It was a tool, an icon, a symbol, that became of greater relevance from the moment that David and I met in London to put the conversation in play to the materialization of the building.
The process of selecting an architect to design this new museum of migrating ideas was as complex as the potential it embodied. I put together a committee of thirteen people to make the final selection, and a program that involved working with the University of Colorado’s School of Architect and Planning, PS I middle and high school students. Overall 5,000 people came to hear lectures from six finalist and a group of equal size responded through a web-site. Notable the RFQ (Requests for Qualifications) was a statement and challenge to architects and to architectural trends in museum building that had born far too many projects that were encumbered by scale, costs and ambition at the expense of audience. The RFQ was developed in collaboration with Karl Kister, MCA DENVER’s Board President. This document described the overall use, exhibition space requirements, and the institutional values critical to its future success in the Denver community and beyond. It was to be a building that placed the mission first in direct opposition to signature architecture burdening cultural institutions from the outside in. It was to be sensitive to the environment, demonstrating sustainable practices to the Denver construction and architectural communities. At the time there was little interest in what has since come to known as the ‘green’ movement. And lastly to these principals was added that the project needed to be affordable, to challenge notations of costs and beauty—to create something meaningful regardless of pocketbook. This of course, given the modest age of the museum, less than ten years, was essential. However, synergy was on our side.
Importantly, David and I met when both of us were rejecting the routine spaces for artists that we had been experiencing. It was an open and easy conversation, full of excitement. We found in each other, from different perspectives in the art world, mirror appreciations and notations rooted in understanding the transformative potential of questioning all that had come before MCA DENVER. We advanced our conversation, moving through a process that allowed me to serve as the client on behalf of the institution, truly a gift from the Museum’s Trustees.
It was our shared viewpoints on; the need for intimacy in space; the exhaustion of overwhelming scale; the enduring potential of the artist’s studio; the relationship between the monument and the precious; the edge where rationale and organic abut; the artist as primary to communicating visual dynamism; light as place and thing, an essential marker of experience; divine portion; nature as visual relief to the matter of seeing; and a desire to remove the chatter of both curator and architect from the visitor experience back to art that we both wanted the building and its program to speak to.
To mark the completion of the building, and three full years of design and conceptualization, the opening exhibition was conceived under one title yet nodded to the future aims of exhibiting individual projects and works by artists in singular galleries. The opening concluded my years of curatorial practice combining ideas into thematic identities. Ultimately I had found this to be an unsatisfying effort. While over the years, having exhibited numerous artists under the construct of various explorations of social, political and environmental, conditions, thematics and reasoning, I had come to be more and more aware of the absence of exhibitions that truly fleshed out ideas, the lack of a means to communicate an idea wholeheartedly. In the end, and for MCA DENVER, I hoped to create a place that could stay experimental, not rote, in order to be truthful to the nature of the contemporary.
A series of individual exhibitions fell under the title Star Power: Museum as Body Electric. The works loosely represented my want to depart directly from my own past exhibition making experience. The star points offered potential themes—body, time, light, domestic environments, spatial relationships, nature, and poetics. Walt Whitman’s “I sing the body electric” was sent to all of the invited artists as well as the drawing of the star which had expanded to include other dynamics such as elements of communication between the museum and audience: light, nature, architecture, movement, and art. To these I added natural elements: wood, metal, water, fire, air and then body parts based on Chinese characteristics. I was to discover these ideas were Maori, Japanese, Native American, and more. Even to this day, there are homes portioned as collieries to the human figure.
This relationship to the domestic and the ancient was embedded in the building and in Star Power: Museum as Body Electric.