• July 21st, 2024
  • Sunday, 07:11:23 AM

DAM: Culture of Harlem to House of Dior

Photo: Image courtesy of The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York © Jordan Casteel. Jordan Casteel, Charles, 2016. Oil on canvas; 78 x 60 in. Collection of Jordan Casteel.

by Alexsandra Ruiz-Ortíz


Art represents and reveals communities, cultures, and lives. The Denver Art Museum constantly displays beautiful art work like Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place and Star Wars and the Power of Costume in 2017, Revealing a Mexican Masterpiece: The Virgin of Valvaner in 2018, and so many more throughout the years.

This year, the Denver Art Museum has displayed Dior: From Paris to the World and Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze. Two completely different exhibits, yet both of them share a common theme: a daring or small change can actually make a big difference.

Dior: From Paris to the World

Dior: From Paris to the World shows the revolutionary changes Christian Dior made after World War II in Paris. He stripped the masculine silhouette established for women and expressed modern femininity by featuring sophisticated designs. He featured soft shoulders, accentuated busts, and nipped waists. The Dior: From Paris to the World displays more than 200 haute couture dresses, as well as accessories, photographs, original sketches, runway videos, and other archival material. It also presents Dior’s subsequent artistic directors, including Yves-Saint Laurent (1958-1960), Marc Bohan (1961-1989), Gianfranco Ferré (1989-1996), John Galliano (1997-2011), Raf Simons (2012-2015) and María Grazia Chiuri (2016-present), who have carried Dior’s vision into the 21st century with their own flare.

The House of Dior takes inspiration from other art work, time periods, and places around the world. The House of Dior established on five continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, North América and South América. Within the continents, dresses were created to represent the culture and history of the people. There is a dress that is Día de los Muertos with vibrant colors and calaveras dangling as earrings. It represents México along with any other culture that celebrates Día de los Muertos.

The bold styles, designs, and attitude of the House of Dior could not be possible if Christian Dior didn’t take a chance and create a feminine look for women in Paris.

Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze

Jordan Casteel, a Denver-born artist but who is now based in Harlem, New York, on the other hand, changed the position and/or color of her sitters to create a more intimate look on her portraits.

Photo: James Florio; courtesy Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum has extended its hours for the Dior: From Paris to the World exhibit.

Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze contains 30 paintings of Casteel’s work from 2014-2018. Each one shows her community and the lives of people around her. “It is an honor to present Jordan Casteel’s first solo museum exhibition in her hometown and to share the power of her canvases with local audiences and visitors to our city,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM.

One particular painting is of her mother. Her mother drapes over a wall with her head resting on her hand and eyes closed. I thought of my own mother in seeing this painting. She would come home exhausted after a long day of work. Like this painting named “Mom”, her other painting shows business owners, family, friends, and community members all are, “Casteel’s stories of individuals based on personal experience, revealing the importance of human connection in our lives and elevating our everyday interactions through portraiture,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM.

Jordan Casteel said herself, “The intent of the paintings from my early works is to expose my vision of black men as a sister, daughter, friend and lover.” She continues, “That perspective is one full of empathy and love. I see the humanity and, in turn, I want audiences to engage with them as fathers, sons, brothers, cousins—as individuals with their own unique stories to share.”

Jordan Casteel’s art work shows people in everyday situations, but how she paints them and positions her sitters create an intimate look and as Becky Hart from Denver Art Museum puts it,  “Casteel has the power to capture our attention by posing her sitters so that they often look you directly in the eye, leading to deeper understandings of the intent behind the artwork.”

Hart continues in saying the importance of her art work. “By titling the exhibition Returning the Gaze, we acknowledge the levels of engagement within Casteel’s art: she gazes at the subjects, who often look out at the viewer with inviting eyes, which then prompts us to think about the sitter and consider the empathy that the artist has for the people that she paints.”

The Denver Art Museum displays beautiful and meaningful art work every year. Dior: From Paris to the World shows the fashion icon and his dramatic change that revolutionized female clothing. Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze shows community members in everyday situations but makes them gaze into the eyes of the viewer to show that they too are human beings.

There is still time to enjoy the dresses and the paintings that change the community in a stunning way.

The Denver Art Museum will keep Dior: From Paris to the World until March 17, and Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze until Aug. 18. The DAM has also extended its hours for Dior: Mar. 8, 91m-8pm, Mar. 9, 9am-5pm, Mar. 10, 9am-6pm, Mar. 11-14, 9am-5pm, Mar. 15-16, 9am-8pm and Mar. 17, 9am-6pm. The DAM is located at 100 w. 14th Ave. Pkwy, Denver. For tickets and information: 720-865-5000 or denverartmuseum.org.


Alexsandra Ruiz-Ortíz is student at Metropolitan State University and Intern at The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.