Atmosphere

Bringing the Biennial

Young curator Paola Santoscoy woos some of the most accomplished artists in the Americas to Denver.

June 2010

For students of the arts these days, a postgrad gig slinging cappuccinos at the local coffeehouse might be more realistic than working in a coveted position at, say, a major museum. Paola Santoscoy, a 35-year-old Mexican contemporary arts scholar who last year earned a master's in visual and critical studies from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, may not have landed the latter—yet. But as the lead curator for the main stage of July's Biennial of the Americas, a monthlong celebration of the arts and culture of the Western Hemisphere to be hosted by Denver, Santoscoy has certainly avoided the former.

Santoscoy's task—and the abbreviated time frame in which she's labored to bring a roster of high-caliber and emerging artists, architects, thinkers, and designers to the Mile High City—is nothing if not monumental. Big-time museum exhibitions often take years to produce; Santoscoy first visited Denver and learned of the Biennial in October of last year, when Adam Lerner of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver invited her to participate in an MCA event. Three months later, she accepted the position of lead curator for the main exhibition, which is showing at the Civic Center's renovated McNichols Building.

The theme Santoscoy settled on is "The Nature of Things," a nod to the first-century poem by Lucretius that addresses how humans perceive the world. "The title is a point of departure," Santoscoy says, "that will allow the artists and artworks to bring different perspectives and voices to the same space." Jerónimo Hagerman, a Mexico City-based installation artist (see sidebar), is creating a large-scale piece that will appear on the façade of the McNichols Building—a commentary on the structure's Greek Revival architecture. "Denver is open to a project of this scale, one that has a lot of potential for the future," Santoscoy says. "A lot of other cities already have established artistic platforms in place. But we're building one here, and that's very exciting for me."