Adam Lerner on The Artification of the World at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

The director of Denver's contemporary art museum was in Scottsdale tonight to share his sometimes hilarious secrets to engaging community.

Museums here in the Valley have increased attendance with events that bring together cocktails, DJ music and fashion shows. This guy mixes show tunes and aquatic plants or hot sauce and Jewish mysticism.

And it works.

Adam Lerner is not your typical stuffed-shirt museum administrator. As head of The Lab at Belmar -- an experimental art space in Lakewood, Colorado -- he messed around with all kinds of ideas. Lectures tying advice from his nutty Aunt Miriam in New York to the meaning of art in Colorado didn't always work so well, but Mixed Taste -- in which two disparate topics are brought together for an evening -- has become a Denver mainstay. Hence, side by side lectures on absinthe and Arctic ice caps, with a question and answer session mixing the two afterward.

These events sell out a month in advance.

Lerner, who is now director of  Denver's

Museum of Contemporary Art

 (the museum and The Lab merged last year) admitted that he was dismayed when he noticed that his ironic, DIY approach to making art accessible had become downright trendy -- resulting in the emergence of things like "craft beer" and "latte art," and that he even lost his own passion for fine art for a while. He's clearly not a fan of what he calls "the artification of the world." 

Ultimately (and ironically), he said, he learned that "it's precisely the fragility of art that makes it so special to us." 

That does not include fingernail "art". 

But Lerner still whole-heartedly embraces the notion of doing what it takes to get folks in the doors of the museum (though he made it clear he doesn't support dumbing down the nature of what's actually hanging on the walls). 

Lerner was too polite to tell Scottsdale what to do -- even when asked directly. And he made it clear that what flew in a "lab" setting (like a post-event survey asking attendees to grade an event on a 1 to 8 scale, with the lowest labeled "big waste of time" and highest, "I almost peed my pants") won't necessarily be embraced at a major museum. 

But he offered a lot of food for thought -- including the notion that food can be a way to access an appreciation for art -- hence Mixed Taste lectures including olives, sausage and whole hog preparation. And always, a healthy dose of humor.

"For a Jew from Queens," he said, "it's funny that I built this program on the backs of pigs."

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