Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book review: Companion to Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 4:54 PM

The book also covers textiles, ceramics, furniture and jewelry.
  • The book also covers textiles, ceramics, furniture and jewelry.

At the Prado in Spain, little cigarette-machine-like vendors dispensing thin books dot its numerous galleries. For a few Euros, little volumes in your language of choice pop out for an instant primer on the artist or period you’re touring. I fed my coins into the Velazquez vendor, largely to get a little souvenir image of his stunning portrait of the Infante Don Carlos (a life-changing painting, I promise).

The wee Velazquez book I still have, and it reminded me of the Denver Art Museum’s Companion to Spanish Colonial Art, a recently published guide to the DAM’s distinguished collection, housed on the north building’s fourth floor. Though more of a proper book — in line with its other recent publication, the fantastic Kress Collection catalogue by Angelica Daneo — this is a great beginner’s guide to all art Spanish Colonial.

... Which you can’t help but to love. On the one hand, it’s punchy, colorful and oh-so-dramatic. Yet those traits don’t relegate it to the telenovela of art history. Because there’s the other side, this artwork is the product of continental Spanish Conquest: Turquoise-green quetzal feathers mingling with the Baroque austerity of Spain, New World silver molded into Old World religions. Thousands of years of isolated histories clashing in a cultural supernova.

Art mirroring such a colossus is no easy feat to adequately explain, yet the author Donna Pierce does a great job for newbies. Aficionados will likely get less out of it, although I was pleased to find a great article at the end about Garden Party folding screens, products of cultural pollination from China and Japan. According to the book, the DAM possesses the only screen held in a museum in the U.S. There are about a dozen others known to exist, and they’re all in private collections. That means you can visit the real thing, just one hour from here.

Buy it here.

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