Jordan Casteel at Denver Art Museum
I first heard about Jordan Casteel when she was still an MFA candidate at Yale School of Art. In the intervening years, she's popped up periodically (The Studio Museum, Sharpe-Walentas), most recently some strong work at Art Basel Miami (2018). While I haven't followed her closely, I was thrilled to learn she would be having a solo show at Denver Art Museum. I wasn't able to make it to the opening night (gallery duties), but honestly it was better to go a few days later when the museum was largely empty, and I was able to spend some quality time with the work.
There are a few reasons to celebrate the show at DAM (apart from the strength of the show itself). First, Casteel is a young black female artist. All other things aside, this is huge. Women and POC artists continue to be massively underrepresented in the arts, especially at the institutional level. For a museum of the level of DAM to present a solo show of her work is a major step. Prior to the show, I didn't know that she was from Denver, but all the more reason to celebrate the show - it is celebrating the artistic talent that originated here.
Second, she paints the world around her, one that is predominantly of color as well. She paints every day life, moments between individuals, loved ones, friends, and strangers. She celebrates the success of the women and people of color who are supporting and growing her community - something she started way back at Yale.
The artists who she learned with and from, the entrepreneurial immigrants and women whose businesses she frequents. These are historically not the faces, and hands, and bodies that you would see represented in this way in a museum. The show's title, Returning the Gaze, is in and of itself a commentary on the unique posture Casteel gives her subjects. As she's shifted away from her early New York cityscapes and subway scenes and back to portraiture, Casteel gives her subjects agency as she paints them looking forward, directly at the viewer, with pride.
I still love some of those cityscapes though - her subway hands pulling some particular New York heartstrings of mine.
Even in her newer portraits, it was some of the details that I was most drawn to. The care and attention given to moments and people who largely go unnoticed (unless you follow @subwayhands on Instagram) is touching and intense.
All in all, definitely a must-see show at the moment! I'll be going back again at the end of the month, and I'm looking forward to exploring it again. These are definitely paintings that deserve time and attention. I have no doubt that I'll see new things to love the second time that I missed the first time.