Impressions of Impressionist Exhibit

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I attended the final day of The Denver Art Museum's "Inspiring Impressionism" exhibit. I always try to attend shows the DAM brings in that showcase my sources of inspiration. The impressionists certainly fall into this category.

The premise of the show was intriguing, both from an artist's and enthusiast's point of view; the exhibit featured work from other artists that directly influenced the impressionists, in addition to the resulting impressionist paintings. The show was therefore set up generally in pairs, with the original composition to the left and its corresponding impressionist rendering to the right. It was interesting to see how through color alone the impressionists were able to transform selected darker, solidly composed predecessors into more vibrant, higher key paintings.

In viewing the exhibit, however, I felt there should have been two key factors made more apparent to the viewing public. The first is that "quoting" an older work is not something unique to the impressionists. Artists have been doing it as long as art has had a history. In fact, I am reading how Michelangelo quoted art from the Greeks in the book "Michelangelo and The Pope's Ceiling". In art school we were taught the same thing- learning by experiencing another artist's successes is how we become better artists. The second key I didn't happen to notice any mention of (though it is entirely possible that it was hidden somewhere in text or audio) was that part of the reason for the impressionists movement was the fact that the industrial revolution had generated new, vibrant pigments that had not existed prior to the impressionists. I believe knowing this would further add to the educational aspect of an already rich experience.

That said, I did find the exhibit to be engaging. Not only were the pairings a spark for discussion, but there were several interactive stations for folks who wanted to examine the work yet further. Each station included a touch screen monitor with a selection of half a dozen paintings to choose from. Upon selecting a painting, the viewer would then have the option to point anywhere on the artwork with their finger whereby a highlighted area would magnify that particular passage, acting as a virtual magnifying glass. I think for many, it really bridged some of the tactile aspects that are absent from the artist/enthusiast relationship through painting. In other words, for most shows, the viewer must refrain from touching the work while standing at a slight distance from the painting. As a result, some of the details and textures might be overlooked by the viewer.

All in all, I really liked the way the exhibit informed the audience, making it a learning experience in addition to a cultural one. A majority of the paintings were interesting selections, but I felt there could have been stronger pieces from the impressive list of artists such as Monet, Renoir, Manet, Cassatt, Pissaro and more. I give it five out of seven brushes.