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For art’s sake

DU art students handpicked 22 pieces from the collection of Vicki and Kent Logan to display in a student-curated exhibition, “In Limbo.” The exhibition runs Jan. 13–March 11, 2005, in DU’s Myhren Gallery.

Inside the well-ordered slide library at the University of Denver School of Art and Art History, faculty member Gwen Chanzit points to the flat expanse of a computer screen. “That one,” she says. Beth Kellogg, a second-year graduate student who oversees the library’s digital images, expands the picture—a portrait of a couple cutting their wedding cake.

“They don’t look very happy, do they?” Chanzit observes. The painting, The Wedding Picture by Bo Bartlett, places the couple against a backdrop of sky. The groom seems resigned and the bride appears preoccupied. The tension in the piece—the overriding sense of ambivalence and emotional distance—is emblematic of the works selected for an upcoming student-curated exhibition in DU’s Victoria H. Myhren Gallery.

Titled “In Limbo,” the exhibition of works collected by Vicki and Kent Logan will open in January 2005. It is the result of a unique collaboration between the University of Denver, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) and the Logans, world-renowned collectors of contemporary art who have “fractionally gifted and promised” more than 200 works to the museum.

The three-way partnership expands the long relationship between DU and DAM, which historically has consisted of leveraging the intellectual resources of both institutions for mutual benefit. For example, Chanzit maintains dual roles at both the University and DAM. (Chanzit is a senior lecturer of modern art and museum studies at DU as well as curator of modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum.) Other DAM curators teach at DU in an adjunct capacity.

The synergies between the two institutions are obvious: DU students have the chance to intern at the museum, and some ultimately gain full-time employment there. Students also get behind-the-scenes knowledge of how the Denver Art Museum works. Museum curators, in turn, have access to DU’s slide library, Penrose Library and a pool of educated volunteers and interns.

The Logan-DU connection is not so much one of six degrees of separation but one or two. Victoria Myhren, BFA ’00, chair of the Myhren Gallery Advisory Board and wife of DU Trustee Trygve Myhren, initially suggested the partnership. Soon, a retinue of DU emissaries was heading to the Logans’ home to discuss possibilities. Given the University’s history with the Denver Art Museum, the expanded relationship seemed natural.

Out of that summit came the first DU-DAM-Logan exhibition: “Robert Colescott and Glenn Ligon from the Logan Collection,” which opened at the Myhren Gallery last January and was curated by Gallery Director Shannen Hill.

“Art that’s made today doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight,” Kent Logan says. “It needs to be shown. We want exhibitions staged from the collection. We want fresh eyes to look at the collection and see what they see in it.”

Although they had lived most of their adult lives in New York City, it was when the Logans moved to San Francisco that they immersed themselves in contemporary art. The way Kent describes it, he and Vicki were on an afternoon gallery walk in San Francisco when they began their “descent into the quicksand.” Starting with a selection of works by local figurative artists, the Logans amassed about 250 pieces between  1993 and 1997. At the end of that year, the Logans made their first gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

In ensuing years, the Logans’ collection exploded to about 900 pieces—representing the work of 200 artists—two-thirds of which were created in the 1980s and 1990s. Although the collection includes more than 30 pieces by the late Andy Warhol, the Logans focused their acquisitions on living artists, making their collection a kind of “Who’s Who” of American, European and Asian contemporary art.

Largely autodidacts, the couple has picked through the landscape of the contemporary art world without the help of art consultants and made remarkable choices along the way.

They bought art they enjoyed, assuming, Kent Logan says, that it would have little or no value. But, the Logans estimate that their collection has since tripled in value, thanks largely to a rebounding contemporary art market.

“They’re prescient,” remarks Dianne Vanderlip, the Addison Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum. “They often come across people before I do, and I’m very up on things.” The magazine ARTnews regularly lists the couple in its annual tally of the top 200 art collectors in the world.

In 2000, after Kent Logan retired from the San Francisco-based Montgomery Securities, the couple moved to Vail, Colo., and in December 2001, they made their gift to the Denver Art Museum.

Students in Chanzit’s spring quarter curatorial practicum course experienced the complete process of designing “In Limbo”—the University’s first student-curated exhibition based on the Denver Art Museum’s Logan Collection and the Logans’ personal holdings. Students handled the entire exhibition process, from choosing the theme and building a tabletop gallery model to developing a press kit and arranging art loans. Working with images from the Logan Collection that had been scanned into the University’s online art and image organizer, students created individual virtual exhibitions on their own before coming together to hash out the specifics of their group exhibit. The Logans and DAM experts visited the class to discuss different aspects of mounting an exhibition.

It took a few late nights, but the 15 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the course ultimately agreed on a final checklist of art for “In Limbo.” They settled on 22 works by 13 artists, including the Palestinian-born feminist Mona Hatoum and U.S. artists Cindy Sherman and John Currin.

“There were definitely times of frustration,” explains Kellogg, who took the class. “It was a practicum in every way. We’re all very proud of what we’ve done. It was an amazing experience.”

Opportunities abound for the DU-DAMLogan triptych, including future classes, joint exhibitions and research projects. Moreover, when “In Limbo” opens, it will afford DU’s entire community—students, faculty and staff alike—the chance to view art history in the making.

“First-year writing classes typically come to the gallery and write about images,” explains Annette Stott, director of DU’s School of Art and Art History. “Art classes visit the gallery to discuss many different aspects of the exhibitions that relate to the topics of their classes. Having the work of world-class artists right here in our own gallery provides a great opportunity for students to study first-hand the ideas and techniques of artists worldwide.”

Kent Logan views his collection not as a personal stash but as a resource to share. And bringing the bright, ingenuous eyes of freshly trained curators to the collection is part of his mission.

“If half of our collection stands the test of time, we will have done really well,” he says. “But, it has to be shown to contextualize anything.”

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