Five Questions: artist and curator Danette Montoya

(Photo: Courtesy of Sabin Aell)
<p>“What If…Direct Connect Denver: Berlin” Opening night March 14th, 6-10 at Groundswell Gallery, Hinterland Gallery, Showpen Gallery and Showpen in Denver and Neurotitan in Berlin on March 15th.</p>

This is the question that a bunch of Denver- and Berlin-based visual artists and curators asked of each other when they dreamed up a new project which pairs 53 Denver artists with 53 counterparts based in Berlin.

“What If…Direct Connect Denver: Berlin” involves a collaboration between Denver curators Danette Montoya and Rebecca Peebles (Groundswell Gallery) curator and artist Donald Fodness (Showpen Gallery) and curator and artist Sabin Aell (Hinterland Gallery.)

The Neurotitan Gallery in Berlin is coordinating the participants' work in Germany.

Artists involved in the project at the Denver end include John McEnroe, most famous in Denver for such eye-catching public art installations as “National Velvet,” a lava-like, red plastic structure that stands at the foot of the 16th Street Pedestrian Bridge, and Chinn Wang, a Boulder-based artist who creates colorful, newsprint and collage-inspired works out of paper and wood.

The result of the collaborations will be presented in Denver at three participating Denver galleries - Groundswell, Hinterland and Showpen - from March 14 to April 5.

To kickstart the process, the curators from both cities asked each of the participating artists in Denver and Berlin to compose a question in written form that starts with the words “What If?”

Denver artist Jacqueline Sophia Cordova sent the following question to Stephen Hiam, her partner artist in Berlin:

“What if this is all a dream and tomorrow we wake up to a brand new reality?”

Hiam responded to Cordova’s question by laying down a bed of weather-beaten looking newsprint, which he then layered with upside-down florescent pink triangles and childlike hieroglyphics.

Hiam then mailed his incomplete work to Cordova.

Cordova responded by adding a futuristic cityscape with black mushroom clouds and light-pink sea anemones erupting from buildings to Hiam’s canvas.

As a finishing touch, she added larger triangles that look like portals to another dimension.

Meanwhile, the Berlin artists also began with a written question.

Berlin artist Natsuyo Koizumi wrote: “What if you spend and sleep out alone the night before your birthday on a nature rich island?”

Denver artist Nathan Abel replied by drawing a young blond-haired woman reclining on a rock beneath a branch of tropical foliage. Natsuyo added more of the jasmine-like foliage, a tree of winding branches and gave the young woman a book.

CPR caught up with Montoya a few days before the launch of the exhibition.

CPR: How did this project come about?

Danette Montoya: Curator Sabin Aell from the Hinterland Gallery and curator Donald Fodness from the Showpen gallery originally proposed the collaboration with my gallery Groundswell. They valued what my partner Rebecca Peebles and I had done with our “Exquisite Corpse” exhibits at Groundswell the previous two years. Aell and Fodness participated in those exhibits as artists. “Exquisite Corpse” consisted of blind collaborations with local artists the first year and a nationwide blind collaboration the following year. Rebecca and I agreed that an international collaboration would unite artists and the community as well as elevate Denver internationally. We were also intrigued by the idea of the exhibits being at three venues throughout Denver: GroundSwell Gallery, Hinterland, Showpen and also at Neurotitan in Berlin. Viewers will get an opportunity to travel to each venue to experience the full spectrum of artwork while engaging with the city. And if they happen to be in Berlin they get to have a connection to Denver. With that in mind we titled the project “Direct Connect Denver.”

CPR: Why pair Denver artists with Berlin artists?

Danette Montoya: Berlin was chosen because one of the curators, Sabin Aell, is German. On her previous trip to Berlin in 2012, she found a gallery interested in partnering with her on an international collaboration - the Neurotitan gallery. Also, we were excited about the idea of Berlin being a cultural hotspot with its own renaissance in full swing and Denver really becoming and holding its own as an arts and cultural destination. We have so many wonderful local artists building the scene in Denver. Having a big event like this between both cities strengthens the community even further.

CPR: What kind of direction did you give the artists?

Danette Montoya: First, I will say that our selection process was careful. As a collective, we chose professional visual artists whom we feel best represent the incredible artistic energy in Denver. We started by asking each participating artist to create a “What if …” statement that they would send to their counterpart in Berlin and vice versa. The next step was to visually respond to the question with a drawing. From there the exchange took place via mail. We received the works from Berlin and vice versa to complete the visual response to the original question.

CPR: You are producing a piece for this project. What kind of dialogue have you had with the artist you were paired with?

Danette Montoya: Julienne Jattiot and I connected on Facebook. She shared her question with me via social media. Then, of course, there was the visual dialogue. I wanted to create a landscape for her to work within and she responded exactly how I had hoped. You have to approach these exchanges without any expectations of an outcome, which I think is probably difficult for many independent artists. It’s been great talking with the other participating artists and hearing about their process and reaction to the collaboration.

CPR: What are you hoping to achieve through this kind of collaboration?

Danette Montoya: We view the exchange process as a cultural event. It engages artists with other artists, fosters the international community and promotes Denver’s growing art scene. We wanted to explore the whole exchange as a quasi “happening” and intend to continue “Direct Connect Denver” in the future with an event each year that focuses on creating more collaborative ventures with different destinations.

“What If…Direct Connect Denver: Berlin” opens in Denver on Friday, March 15 and will run until April 5, 2014 at Groundswell Gallery, Hinterland Gallery and Showpen Gallery. The Berlin exhibition at Neurotitan also opens on March 15 and runs until April 4, 2014. For a full list of participating artists go to