Colorado in the Present Tense at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver presents the work of four Colorado-based artists responding to the events of 2020.
February 26–August 22, 2021
Colorado in the Present Tense presents the work of Colorado-based artists Narkita Gold, Rick Griffith, Nathan Hall, and Maia Ruth Lee. They were each asked by MCA curator Nora Burnett Abrams to create new or “reframe” older works that reflect “on our current moment of upheaval, uncertainty, and complexity.”
In the installation Tools, Rick Griffith lined the walls of a room with dozens of examples of his impeccably designed political flyers, signs, and minimalist collages. The nearly floor-to-ceiling text visually mimics America’s unending cries for social justice. Tools highlights the ethical imperative Griffith sees as intrinsic to graphic design and aims to teach us how to rescue design from capitalism by putting it into service for the people. Black in Denver is Narkita Gold’s vibrant series of photographic portraits of Black Denverites. Her project is a unique addition to the growing reclamation of the city’s rich Black history, which her striking photos show to be dynamic, vital, and as present as ever. Composer Nathan Hall’s sound-based work follows you through the museum’s spaces like a 2020 soundtrack. His compositions mix talking-head sound bites about the pandemic, the summer’s protests, and the wildfires with ambient sound and emotionally rending choral compositions. Maia Ruth Lee’s work is the most compelling in the show. Her conceptual work is a direct response to the emotional tenor of 2020. Its personal nature—one piece is a loop of home videos of her family engaged in routine domestic activities filmed in 2020—asks the viewer to re-experience the past year. Lee’s understated display of deconstructed electric blankets—a luxury designed for comfort made dangerous by exposed wiring—is a perfect analogue to the stay-at-home order. The comfort of home becomes menacing when forcibly sequestered.
Like so many other museum exhibitions in 2020 and 2021, Colorado in the Present Tense uses the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the presidential election as backdrops. In this show, it feels like a gimmick. Artists are always responding to shifting culture, political tyranny, and whichever zeitgeist is currently bulldozing us—these artists are no different. Unfortunately, brought together under the guise of “2020,” they have little to say to each other. The through-line in the MCA show feels as obligatory as a homework assignment. As often happens with assignments, the message, not to mention the joy, is lost.