From the Denver Art Museum to Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station, the Mile High City has earned a lot of international attention in the art world of late. And one of the stalwarts of the city’s art scene is the Emmanuel Gallery, a venerable art gallery located in the heart of the Auraria campus. For 50 years, the gallery has displayed a dizzying array of artist creations, from the bronze work of sculptor Dan Ostermiller to the rich botanical plant-based paintings of Trine Bumiller.
The gallery is based in a Romanesque and Gothic-style church that was built in 1876, the same year that Colorado became a state. Bishop John F. Spaulding oversaw the building of what was then called the Emmanuel Episcopal Chapel. It was converted into the Emmanuel Shearith Israel Chapel around the turn of the 20th century, and the synagogue served in this capacity until 1958, when the chapel was sold to artist Wolfgang Pogzeba. Pogzeba used the chapel as an artist studio for his Western paintings, sculptures, and photographs until 1973, when the building was purchased by the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) to become a nonprofit campus art gallery.
Five decades later, the gallery is free and open to the public. It hosts monthly exhibitions featuring students, professors, and other artists, and it maintains a deep connection to the Auraria campus. “Students are an important part of everything we do, from helping curate exhibitions, writing text, installing art, and collaborating with internationally renowned artists,” said Jeff Lambson, the gallery’s director and curator. He’s served in that role since 2017 and is internationally known for his work in the arts as a founding curator of contemporary art at the BYU Museum of Art (one of the most-attended art museums in North America). Over the years, the Emmanuel Gallery has hosted hundreds of different artists on timely topics that resonate with audiences, so we asked Lambson to pick six noteworthy exhibitions from that extensive history.
Ed Roth: “Rat Fink Revolution: Started With a T-Shirt, Now We’re Here” | 2022
Ed “Big Daddy” Roth is perhaps best-known for creating Rat Fink, the bizzarro anti-hero to Mickey Mouse. He drew Rat Fink in 1958 on a napkin while sitting in a restaurant in Los Angeles, California, in reaction to Disney’s Fantasia, which had recently been re-released. Wearing a plain white T-shirt was seen as rebellious at the time, and Roth decided to capitalize on this by spray painting Rat Fink on white shirts. These became some of the first iterations of now ubiquitous graphic T-shirts, and catapulted Roth to an influential spot in American culture. This exhibition includes Rat Fink hot rods, T-shirts, skateboards, toilet seats, and more.
Why Lambson Picked It: “We use imagery to define ourselves every day, and a big part of that is through clothing, which is exactly what Ed Roth was trying to do. Mickey Mouse was getting big, and there’s this mainstream, middle-class culture, and he’s saying, ‘that’s great, but that’s not me.’”
Jann Haworth: “Never The Less” | 2017
The “Never The Less” exhibition focuses first on Jann Haworth’s grandmother, the “Old Lady” and then works through six decades worth of artworks that ask important questions about women’s rights and women’s stories. Haworth is well-known for her work as co-creator of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, named by Rolling Stone magazine as the most important album cover of all time.
Why Lambson Picked It: “Humor can sometimes be taboo in art, but it’s a very effective way of getting your idea across, in particular, in asking probing questions. Jann does not like to be considered a pop artist, but she does deal with pop culture…There’s quite a bit of humor in her art, and I think it disarms you a little bit and makes you feel like it’s approachable.”
Gregg Deal: “Tutse Nakoekwu (Minor Threat)” | 2022
Deal’s work shines a light on the clash between stereotypes and assumptions of Indigenous peoples in the eyes of a traditional Western viewer versus his own lived experience as a contemporary artist and member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Much of the art depicting Indigenous peoples in the U.S. does so in a way that reinforces stereotypical tropes of the 19th or early 20th century, while Deal attempts to underscore the incredible diversity of the Indigenous peoples who live within the borders of the U.S. This exhibition features brightly lit neon signs, the statue The Space Where Spirits Get Eaten, a towering pile of chairs referencing Indigenous boarding schools, and appropriated comic book illustrations with the text replaced with punk rock lyrics.
Why Lambson Picked It: “Greg Deal likes to push people’s buttons. Again, another artist who uses humor and things that a lot of people understand, like punk and skateboarding, clothing, stickers, and leather jackets. But the topics are very, very poignant.”
Dan Ostermiller: “Wild Life” | 2021
Ostermiller is the son of a well-known taxidermist, and his work helped establish Loveland as a world-renowned artistic center for sculpture and metal work. Some of his most recognizable work is the Scottish Angus Cow and Calf statue, which can be seen on the grounds of the Denver Art Museum. In this exhibition, Ostermiller included bronze statues of a bear, pig, lynx, giraffe, cows, deer, and other animals. The statues ranged from small sizes to pieces that weighed 1,000 pounds. The lynx statue has since been permanently installed on the Auraria Campus near the City Heights Residence Hall and Learning Commons.
Why Lambson Picked It: “We had to build a crane inside the gallery that we could then lift the sculptures up [and] out of the cradle. It was a lot, a lot, a lot of work….I think he did such a great job because how do you sculpt an animal without it looking saccharine or sweet or cheesy, like it belongs in a zoo? How do you make something that looks like art? To me, [the lynx] looks like a sphinx from the Egyptians. Very stately, something you might expect to run into in a Greek temple.”
Andrew Krivine: “Too Fast to Live Too Young To Die Redux: Punk Graphic Design or Reversing Into the Future: New Wave Graphics” | 2021
The exhibition was loaned by Andrew Krivine, who is based in New York City, New York, and holds one of the largest collections of punk, post-punk, and new wave graphic art in the world. He collaborated with CU Denver College of Arts & Media students to curate the gallery through the lens of fashion and design. The ideas, from rock against racism and queerness to women’s rights, represented by these fashion items still resonate today.
Why Lambson Picked It: “This exhibition was a dual exhibition. It was “Punk Graphic Design,” and it was also “Reversing into the Future: New Wave Graphics.” This was the first new wave exhibition produced in the country, which is pretty cool….We looked at all these ideas in punk, like why they were rebelling and what they were pushing back against, and we asked ourselves, ‘Alright, well, how is this applicable today?’”
Tenzing Rigdol: “My World Is in Your Blindspot” | 2019
Rigdol was born in 1982 in Kathmandu, Nepal. He and his family were granted political asylum in the United States in 2002. He studied Tibetan sand painting, butter sculpture, and Buddhist philosophy during his formative years at CU Denver, and his work is now exhibited internationally in public and private collections. “My World Is in Your Blindspot” featured five large panels containing Buddha silhouettes that stretched across 30 horizontal feet and were enhanced by visual effects from silk and fire imagery. The pieces are personal and incorporate political components that bring to light difficult and controversial topics.
Why Lambson Picked It: “Tenzing Rigdol is one of the best-known living Tibetan artists in the world. He is the first Tibetan artist to have his works collected and exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Rigdol uses religious imagery combined with personal and political components to help us engage with controversial and difficult topics, such as Tibetans self-immolating in political protest, war, and government oppression. But his paintings are also peaceful and entrancing, both comforting and discomforting.”
As part of our 50th anniversary, we invite you to share your CU Denver story!