Denver’s ’80 Something’ art exhibit celebrates creative longevity

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In the heart of Denver’s Santa Fe Art District, the newest exhibition at Niza Knoll Gallery challenges conventional notions of aging and celebrates the enduring power of artistic expression.

Titled ’80 Something’, this vibrant and varied show showcases the work of seven contemporary artists in their ninth decade and beyond.

“I turned 81 in February and knew quite a few artists who were in their 80s and producing great work. I want people to know that we are here and that we are still making art,” says gallery owner and co-curator Niza Knoll.

Gallery owner Niza Knoll at the artist reception for the ’80 Something’ show, May 26, 2024.

Knoll developed the “80 Something” show with Damon McLeese, executive director of the nearby Access Gallery, a nonprofit organization focused on expanding access to art and the art marketplace for people with disabilities.

McLeese emphasized that the featured artists are all professional, practicing creatives who continue to push boundaries and challenge themselves.

“We have artists who have been involved in art all their lives and artists who have gotten back into it as they’ve gotten older and retired or had a different chapter in their lives,” he said.

As a ceramic artist, Macy Dorf has focused on functional works in recent years, so he said it was a “treat” to be able to show his sculptural work as part of the “80 Something” exhibition at the Niza Knoll Gallery, May 26, 2024 .

The art featured in the show is a testament to the artists’ lived experiences and perspectives, as well as the evolving nature of their creativity. Macy Dorf is a ceramicist whose work has graced galleries and homes for decades, but lately she has focused on production pottery. “It’s a joy to show this work in a gallery because most people just know my functional work. They don’t know me as my decorative pieces or sculptural pieces,” Dorf said.

Essie Perlmutter, whose work spans various media including oil, acrylic and charcoal, finds joy and purpose in her creative pursuits. Her current work features stylized renditions of concepts such as love, loss, freedom and activism.

Artist Essie Perlmutter features her work in the ’80 Something’ show at Niza Knoll Gallery, May 26, 2024.

“It’s very important to have creative people around you,” she says. “It really helps when you get to this age. It really keeps you alert and current and it helps you make new friends and all the things that are positive in a somewhat negative world.”

Leona Lazar, another ceramic sculptor, believes in the power of art to transcend stereotypes and inspire others.

“I do a lot of social commentary… I’m really excited to pick up the newspaper and see what I read, to know what’s happening in our world,” Lazar said, adding: “I I feel very passionately, and I want to make a statement with my art. And I start straight from my feelings and my heart.”

Lazar said it is especially important to counter the pervasive ageism and stereotypes about older people in society.

“When I look around at other artists in this show, and other artists that I know are over 80, it’s very inspiring. I look at our energy and our creativity and how we have turned our life experiences into what we produce.”

Ceramic sculptor Leona Lazar with her work at the Niza Knoll Gallery, May 26, 2024. “I want to make a statement with my art,” Lazar said. “I start straight from my feelings and my heart.”

Co-curator McLeese said there is a stereotype that older artists focus only on beautiful things, such as painting landscapes and sunsets. And while he says there’s nothing wrong with that, he would like to see more recognition of all contemporary artists who continue to push the boundaries of their art forms, even as they get older.

“The great thing about contemporary art is that everyone interprets it differently and people explore different mediums. I think the idea of ​​breaking down assumptions about what older people might be interested in, or the idea that people aren’t interested in learning new things , pushing back is maybe the common thread,” said McLeese. “Because these guys are always pushing themselves. They want to try new things, they want to try a different medium, and it’s really interesting to see how the work changes and evolves.”

Works in the ’80 Something’ exhibition at Niza Knoll Gallery in Denver, May 26, 2024.

The artists in the show ’80 Something’ invite viewers with their unique voices and artistic expressions to reconsider their perception of aging and celebrate the richness and resilience of the human spirit.

The show runs from May 24 to June 23 at the Niza Knoll Gallery and can be seen this week during the Santa Fe Art District’s First Friday Art Walk from 5 to 9 p.m.