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Trygve and Victoria Myhren: The gift of a gallery

Trygve and Victoria Myhren aim to play a decisive role in Denver’s — and DU’s — emerging contemporary art scene. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

He is inspired by intersections, by the marriage of communication, technology and creativity. She is drawn by color and abstraction and the expression of artistic passion.

Together, Trygve and Victoria Myhren are a mixed-media portrait in innovative arts philanthropy. Within Denver arts circles, they’re celebrated for their support of cutting-edge enterprises with far-reaching impact. They aim to play a decisive role in Denver’s — and DU’s — emerging contemporary art scene.

At DU, that means backing the School of Art and Art History’s gallery space, named after Victoria in 2001 in recognition of her financial and time commitments to the space. In 2008, the Myhrens added to their earlier gift with a $1 million donation. Victoria (BA ’00) hopes the funds will help the gallery build an international reputation.

“My aspiration for the DU gallery would be that it become a destination gallery. And the definition of a destination gallery is that we have destination shows, blockbuster shows once a year, so that people come to the city of Denver and the show would be their destination,” she explains. (The upcoming Warhol in Colorado, opening Jan. 20 and featuring photos and other works by famed pop artist Andy Warhol, promises to be just such an exhibit.)

She also envisions artist-in-residence programs and collaborations with the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Trygve endorses her big thinking. He is, after all, no stranger to ambitious plans. In addition to chairing DU’s Board of Trustees, he serves as a trustee of the Denver Art Museum, and his resumé testifies to a career of entrepreneurship. To name just two of his many accomplishments, he co-founded the Food Network and served as chairman and chief executive officer of American Television and Communications Corp., the cable television subsidiary of Time Inc. (now Time Warner Cable).

Victoria’s vita is just as packed. A Californian turned Coloradan, she has launched and operated galleries, consulted for corporate art collections and served in myriad capacities for such diverse groups as the Colorado Contemporary Arts Collaboration and Opera Colorado. In her 50s, she enrolled at DU to pursue a degree in art history — a venture that cemented her relationship with the School of Art and Art History.

Victoria traces her enthusiasm for the arts back to an unconventional aunt. “When I was 15 years old,” she recalls, “I went on a trip to Europe with my grandmother and her sister. Her sister’s name was Etta, and she was my Auntie Mame. She was a very active contemporary art buyer in the ’50s. She would arrange for us to visit various artists’ studios. In those days, I had no idea who Picasso or Henry Moore were. When we visited Picasso’s studio, Etta would say, ‘This is my friend Picasso, and this is what he does.’ I was young; I don’t remember who else we met, but I do remember those two.”

That same aunt, Etta Steinberg, played a large role in developing an art gallery at Washington University in St. Louis. She was, Victoria says, inspiration for her own work in arts philanthropy: “In the back of my mind, I kept thinking, you know, I could do an art gallery at the University.”

Dan Jacobs, director of the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery and curator of the University’s art collections, considers the couple role models for other arts philanthropists. Their most recent gift, he says, “raises the bar for donations and allows us to think about a scale and quality of programming that wasn’t accessible a few years ago.”

What’s more, he says, the Myhrens work hard to help the University connect with artists and collectors who can improve the educational experience for students. For example, the Myhrens helped the school build a relationship with world-renowned collectors Vicki and Kent Logan, who have allowed DU students unprecedented access to their works. The Myhrens also helped bring German artist Jonas Burgert to campus in fall 2008 to serve as an artist in residence.

“We created a space for him to paint in the gallery,” Victoria recalls, “so the students could come and talk to him, and he would go off and critique their work in the classroom.”

The Myhrens look at the gallery as an incubator for creative interactions. As Trygve notes, “It’s a wonderful educational tool. We’re very conscious of that, that students can display, that faculty can display and all of them can enjoy the entire range of exhibits every year.”

Trygve looks to art and arts education to spark creative impulses across the University. His own work in the media business capitalized on what he calls “the nexus between creativity in art and media.” In the future, he adds, education will need to draw on diverse influences — art, technology, communications, genetic research and brain biomechanics, among others.

“We all know that the intersection between mathematics and music is profound,” he says, “and I think that intersection is an example of what we must think of as we go forward in education.”

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