Modern & Contemporary Art

Renowned for its impressive collection of modern masterworks and outstanding contemporary objects, the modern and contemporary collection represents more than a century of artistic innovation. Encompassing over 12,500 works made since 1900, the museum’s collection includes works by such artistic luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as 33 paintings, drawings, and collages by the acclaimed abstract-expressionist Robert Motherwell. The collection also holds representative works from the major post-war art movements, including abstract expressionism, minimalism, pop art, conceptual art, and contemporary realism.

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Bonfils-Stanton Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery, Levels 3 & 4, Hamilton Building

Visitors may encounter Sandy Skoglund’s monumental installation Fox Games, Jim Dine’s sculpture Wheat Fields, or Tony Oursler’s Zero in the Vicki and Kent Logan Atrium. Modern masters may be viewed in the Merle Chambers & Hugh Grant Gallery. The Bartlit Family Sculpture Deck on the 3rd floor is the site of a Donald Judd sculpture. Additionally, the Martin Plaza welcomes visitors to the museum with monumental works by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Beverly Pepper, and Zhang Huan. Other sculptures sited around the plaza include For Jennifer by Joel Shapiro.

The Collection

Charles Sandison, Chamber, 2009. Video projection. Denver Art Museum; Museum purchase with funds from Polly and Mark Addison, Cathey and Richard Finlon, and Baryn, Daniel and Jonathan Futa.

Charles Sandison, Chamber, 2009. Video projection. Denver Art Museum; Museum purchase with funds from Polly and Mark Addison, Cathey and Richard Finlon, and Baryn, Daniel and Jonathan Futa.

Renowned for its impressive collection of modern masterworks and outstanding contemporary objects, the modern and contemporary collection represents more than a century of artistic innovation. Encompassing over 12,500 works made since 1900, the museum’s collection includes works by such artistic luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as thirty-three paintings, drawings, and collages by the acclaimed abstract-expressionist Robert Motherwell. The collection also holds representative works from the major post-war art movements, including abstract expressionism, minimalism, pop art, conceptual art, and contemporary realism. The Modern & Contemporary Department is also known for dynamic exhibitions, such as 2009’s Embrace! and 2011’s Overthrown: Clay Without Limits in which we encouraged artists to install across walls, ceilings, and floors. 

John McEnroe, The Bathers, 2009. Polyester resin, sand, nylon, and cable. Denver Art Museum; Museum purchase with funds from Tom and Noey Congdon and the 2009 Salon du Musée Fundraiser. (and) Katharina Grosse, George, 2009, at the Denver Art Museum.  © The artist; courtesy (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2009.

John McEnroe, The Bathers, 2009. Polyester resin, sand, nylon, and cable. Denver Art Museum; Museum purchase with funds from Tom and Noey Congdon and the 2009 Salon du Musée Fundraiser. (and) Katharina Grosse, George, 2009, at the Denver Art Museum.  © The artist; courtesy (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2009.

The Denver Art Museum was among the first institutions in the U.S. to collect a number of now-famous contemporary artists. The collection, which is global in scope, boasts superb works by artists such as Matthew Brannon, Jonas Burgert, Nicole Eisenman, Damien Hirst, Bjørn Melhus, Alan Rath, Neo Rauch, Charles Sandison, David Schnell, Beverly Semmes, Sean Scully, Sandy Skoglund, and Shinique Smith. Our contemporary art holdings are particularly rich in sculpture, installation, and time-based works.

While the Modern & Contemporary Department was not officially established until 1978, it has its roots in the 1950s, when the visionary Lewis Wingfield Story served as assistant director of the museum. Story’s commitment to contemporary art was profound, and for three decades he was almost solely responsible for keeping the spirit of contemporary art alive at the DAM. He was integral in the realization of the DAM becoming home to the Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive in 1980, a repository that counts over 8,000 objects in its collection today.  Story also successfully advocated that the modern and contemporary collection encompass photography, a field that was not particularly popular or even accepted as a serious art form by most American museums in the early 1970s.

Works by Jeanne Quinn, Martha Russo and Katie Caron, Kim Dickey, Del Harrow, Annabeth Rosen and John Ruloff.

Works by Jeanne Quinn, Martha Russo and Katie Caron, Kim Dickey, Del Harrow, Annabeth Rosen and John Ruloff.

In 1976, under the leadership of Story and the newly-appointed Director Thomas N. Maytham, the Board of Trustees made the critical decision to begin acquiring contemporary American art. Among the museum’s first major acquisitions was Frank Stella’s Warka I (1973). Two years later, Maytham appointed Dianne Vanderlip the museum’s first curator of modern and contemporary art and charged her with defining the newly-minted department’s direction and collecting efforts. For more than 25 years, Vanderlip built not only the collection, but also lasting relationships with artists, gallery owners, and influential collectors.

Modern and contemporary curator Gwen Chanzit arrived in 1980, first to work on the Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive, and then in a broader curatorial role that she maintains today. Christoph Heinrich—now the Denver Art Museum’s director— joined the department as a curator in 2007 and contributed mightily to the collection that has grown to more than 12,500 works in a variety of media.

Early donors Lucile and Donald Graham, T. Edward and Tullah Hanley, Marion G. Hendrie, the Charles Francis Hendrie Memorial Collection, Vance and Anne Kirkland, and Kimiko and John Powers contributed to the museum’s rich modern collection. More recently, donors such as Jana and Fred Bartlit, Merle Chambers and Hugh Grant, and the Eleanor and Henry Hitchcock Foundation have made major contributions to the expanding collection of contemporary art.

Logan Lecture Series

The Logan Lecture Series has brought more than 40 (and counting) contemporary artists to the museum to discuss their work and engage audiences in stimulating conversation about contemporary art. This  series is made possible with the generous support of Vicki and Kent Logan and DAM Contemporaries, a DAM support group.

Related Collections

Collection of Polly and Mark Addison

Among the early supporters of the newly-formed department were Polly and Mark Addison, who joined other enthusiasts to found the Alliance for Contemporary Art (now named DAM Contemporaries) in 1978, a group whose fundraising activities have helped the department underwrite many important purchases and programs. In the early 2000s, the Denver Art Museum’s acquisition efforts were enhanced when the Addisons initiated an active gift-giving program. Colorado residents and long-time museum supporters, the Addisons are passionate, intelligent collectors of contemporary art in all media who generously share their finds—from time-based work and sculpture to installation art and photography—with the museum. Audience favorites such as Jim Green’s Singing Sinks (located on level one of the North Building) and Charles Sandison’s Chamber (conceived of and installed for the exhibitions Embrace! and Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image) are among the many important works the Addisons’ support has brought to the museum.

Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan

Learn more on the Logan Collection page.

Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive

Bauhaus master Herbert Bayer championed a new direction in modern American art and design. He lived in Colorado for 28 years—some of the most productive and influential years of his career. When he left Colorado for California, he gave the Denver Art Museum the beginning of what would become the largest public collection of his work anywhere. The collection demonstrates the breadth of his work in all media and his lifetime commitment to the Bauhaus ideal of total design. In the 1940s, Bayer became fascinated by the inner structure of mountains, particularly the movements within the earth’s crust. This painting depicts an abstract vision of both the inside and outside of a mountain, including its snow-covered peak.

Herbert Bayer

American, 1900-1985, born in Haag, Austria

colorado mural

1948

Oil paint on unstretched canvas

Gift of Joella Bayer, 1986.1917

Herbert Bayer American, 1900-1985, born in Haag, Austria colorado mural 1948 Oil paint on unstretched canvas Gift of Joella Bayer, 1986.1917

The Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive contains over 8,000 works of art and design, along with extensive documentary material. This internationally important repository is dedicated to the legacy of the Austrian-born Bauhaus master who lived in Colorado for 28 years. The core of this collection and archive came through the artist’s bequest, and scholars visit from around the world to engage in research here. Selected works are displayed on the lower level of the Hamilton Building.

Born in 1900 in Austria, Herbert Bayer immigrated to the United States in 1938. He moved from New York to Aspen in 1946 at the behest of Walter Paepcke, chairman of the Container Corporation of America. Bayer’s influence is still evident today, especially at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies.

Publications

Unless otherwise noted, all publications were published by the Denver Art Museum. Many of the titles are available to purchase in the Museum Shop.

  • Companion to Focus: Robert Motherwell from the Collection, 2011.
  • Companion to Focus: The Figure, Art from the Logan Collection, 2011
  • Overthrown: Clay Without Limits, Volumes I and II, 2011.
  • Companion to Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image, 2011.
  • Embrace! Volumes I and II, 2009­–2010.
  • RADAR: Selections from the Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan, 2007.
  • Color as Field: American Painting 1950–­1975. New York, NY, and New Haven, CT: American Federation for the Arts and Yale University Press, 2007.
  • Daniel Richter: Die Palette, 1995–2007. Germany: DuMont Literatur und Kunst Verlag GmbH & Co KG, 2007.
  • From Bauhaus to Aspen: Herbert Bayer and Modernist Design in America, 2005.
  • Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late. Washington D.C.: Philip Wilson Publishers in collaboration with The Phillips Collection, 2002.
  • The View From Denver: Contemporary American Art from the Denver Art Museum, 1997.
  • Visions of America: Landscape as Metaphor in the Late Twentieth Century. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Published by the Denver Art Museum and the Columbus Museum of Art, 1994.
  • Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965–1985. California: Wight Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles, 1991. 
  • Colorado 1990, 1990. 
  • Making Their Mark: Women Artists Move Into the Mainstream, 1970–85. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989. 
  • Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive at the Denver Art Museum, 1988. 
  • Early American Modernism: The Lucille and Donald Graham Collection, 1988. 
  • The Photographs of Josef Albers: A Selection from the Collections of The Josef Albers Foundation. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1987. 
  • Frederick Sommer: The Mistress of this World Has No Name, 1987. 
  • Colorado Collects, 1985. 
  • James Rosenquist. New York: Penguin Books, 1985. 
  • Red Grooms: A Retrospective. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1985. 
  • Contemporary Chinese Painting: An Exhibition from the People’s Republic of China. San Francisco: Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco, 1983.  
  • Lucas Samaras Pastels, 1981. 
  • Philip Guston. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1980.
  • Poets & Painters, 1979. 
  • Reality of Illusion. Quaker Hill, Connecticut: Tom Kellaway, American Art review Press, 1979. 
  • 20 Colorado Artists, 1977. 
  • American Art Since 1945: From the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1975. 
  • The Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection: American Art Since 1960, 1975. 
  • Herbert Bayer: A Total Concept, 1973. 
  • Selections from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Edward Hanley. New York: Foundation for Modern Art, 1968.

Support Group

DAM Contemporaries (DAMC) is a membership group that supports the department’s acquisitions and programs and offers a wide range of educational initiatives, from studio tours and visits to collectors’ homes to travel opportunities in this country and abroad. In addition, DAMC supports Fuse Box, a gallery devoted to time-based media works by established and emerging artists, and the Logan Lecture Series, which brings important contemporary artists to the museum to talk about their work and engage audiences in stimulating discussion. Read more about it and all DAM support groups on the Support Groups page.

Current Staff

  • Gwen F. Chanzit, Ph.D., Curator of Modern Art and the head of the Modern & Contemporary Art Department
  • William Morrow, Polly and Mark Addison Associate Curator of Contemporary Art
  • Renée Miller, Curatorial Assistant
  • Jessica Brunecky, DAM Contemporaries
  • Julie Augur, Adjunct Curator, Drawings
  • Hugh Grant, Adjunct Curator, Kirkland Collection

Past Staff

  • Christoph Heinrich, The Polly and Mark Addison Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, 2007–2009
  • Dianne Vanderlip, The Polly and Mark Addison Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, 1978–2007

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