The Rapidian

How I Learned to Look at Art: An interview with Adam Lerner

In efforts to better educate the public on the principles of contemporary art, ArtPrize has invited Adam Lerner, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, to help develop an Art Fitness Program.
Underwriting support from:

/Kevin Buist


This past Saturday afternoon, ArtPrize hosted Adam Lerner, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, at the HUB to discuss How [he] Learned to Look at Art

Initially creeped out by the barrage of greetings from HUB volunteers, I felt at ease as I got all nostalgic walking into what was once the UICA’s film theatre. Surprised by the low attendance I was taken aback to not see more students, professors, artists and arts organizers in all the empty seats. As I’m sure Dr.Lerner shares similar concerns, questions and hopes for a bright future for the arts, I wish more people took the opportunity to learn from such an influential leader in contemporary art.

Prior to the lecture that afternoon, I had the opportunity to talk with Lerner about his work and perspectives on contemporary arts practice.

Mike Wolf:  In recent years, DIY as a practice and aesthetic have become increasingly popular. Resources like Sunday Soup, Bandcamp, Facebook, and You Tube have created opportunities for the masses to create and share with anyone and everyone around the world.  As a Director of public institution, how do you see this affecting the future of arts education, the MCA Denver, and similar institutions?

Adam Lerner:  I would say most institutions are holding onto a traditional definition of art, focusing more on the academic side with an allegiance to a field, but what we are trying to do in Denver is bridge that gap. We are looking to find the outer lining connections that have taken place the past hundred years in art history to capture the spirit of art.

Also experiencing something like the “Call Me Maybe” phenomenon gave me so much pride in the next generation. When I was a teenager I would never had thought I could publish anything like that. Its exciting that all these kids would do this.

 As far as the role of Institutions, they are no longer in a hierarchy. Everyone is a player on a horizontal field. The Internet has created a whole ecology of tastemakers. I think that every institution should be more like restaurants by developing their own personality. Everything is wide open now.

MW:  From the text I read and few youtube videos I watched on Mixed Taste I found it interesting that by pairing two subjects from unrelated disciplines it seemed to place everyone at ease because its so unlikely that anyone would be an expert in both subjects. So from that I was curious about the strategies of Art Fitness in getting participants comfortable and confident to use the specialized language found in contemporary arts practice.

AL:  The program is really about shifting away the pretension of art. We teach people to put aside categories and make use of their basic looking skills. You dont need prior knowledge to have a meaningful experience with an artwork. I would say that it actually gets in the way. When you introduce terms like appropriation you’re creating blockers for the viewer.

If there was an art work with two turn tables we would have people ask what the turn tables are doing in the artwork rather than tell them it is an example of appropriation.

MW: Several years ago, Renny Pritikin outlined a twenty-three point prescription for a healthy art scene. Recent exhibitions/conferences like Living as Form, Massive Change, Heartland, Open Engagement and Hand in Glove Conference show that the conversations within contemporary art are becoming increasingly multi-disciplinary where there are more and more people in various demographics that are interested in engaging in a conversation about cultural production. Would you say Pritikin’s prescription is universal, regional or irrelevant? 

AL: I would agree that those things make up for a healthy art scene, but they seem a little field specific. It's important that the focus is not just on an arts ecosystem, but the whole ecosystem. I think what Grand Rapids is asking is what makes a better city? Going back to the DIY spirit, one should ask how do I apply these creative strategies to the way I live?


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