Known for its brilliant solo art exhibitions and impressive installations, K Contemporary gallery in Denver features an array of exceptional artists from around the world.
K Contemporary is an alluring place where art lovers, collectors and curators come to admire unique art exhibitions. Alas, these captivating, aesthetically pleasing art displays and installations are none other than a culmination of talented artisans enlisted from across the country—coupled with the gallery owner of K Contemporary’s artistic vision.
I first met Doug Kacena in 2021 at the opening of Hunt Slonem’s first solo exhibition “Curiouser and Curiouser” in which Kacena co-curated with Denver-based artist Jonathan Saiz. The world-renowned art gallery housed more than 200 of Slonem’s ICONIC pieces, including neon, glass, painting, bronze and outdoor sculptures.
The exhibition boasted bright colors and a whimsical vibe—true to Slonem’s artistic vision and reflective of Kacena’s free-spirited personality. The same year, K Contemporary was named one of the Top 10 Booths at Untitled in Miami, and facilitated numerous museum shows in 2022, placing its artists into numerous prestigious collections.
So, as you can imagine, I was instantly drawn to Kacena’s vast portfolio of work; as well as his obvious sense of style and individuality. With an unprecedented admiration for the artists and exhibitions he unveils, I was more than happy to find out what’s next for this inspiring gallery owner.
Q&A WITH THE GALLERY OWNER
ICONIC LIFE (IL): How did you get your start in the gallery business?
Doug Kacena (DK): “I come from an art background as much as I do the gallery side. I’ve done a little bit of everything in the art realm. I owned my first gallery when I was 23 years old, which was 24 years ago now, and I’ve just progressed ever since. In college, I studied studio art, specifically painting and art history.”
IL: You have such an expansive art repertoire. What kind of projects have you done?
DK: “I have done every kind of project you can imagine. From designing patches for NASA or rugs that were made in Tibet to PBS creating a documentary special about my own personal artwork.”
IL: How do you work with your artists?
DK: “I work with artists by creating a specific context for how the art is going to be seen, which I believe is equally important as the art itself because it’s how people will approach it, absorb it and how they think about it. I approach the gallery from the perspective of ‘making’ practice.”
IL: In your opinion, what makes an outstanding gallery owner?
DK: “For me, the gallery is an extension of myself. I look at the building it’s in, built in the 1880s, as a church. The artwork is a form of prayer. I’m the crazy monk that lives upstairs. I’m stewarding this artwork, the artists and the aesthetics. The way we present it is an extension of myself. It’s the way I want to look at the world. Sometimes my clothing even seems to match the artwork! The aesthetic is that deep—it’s how I show up in the world.”
IL: Why are artists drawn to K Contemporary?
DK: “I think that part of the reason artists are drawn to working with me is because I do come from an art background and that resonates with them. I can speak ‘artist’ but I can also translate what’s happening in the gallery to a collector because I collect art. I speak three languages: artist, collector and gallerist. The best gallery owners are passionate about the art and championing their artists.”
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IL: What inspires you the most as a creative?
DK: “Chasing one’s curiosity. That is really inspiring for me and is something that bears talking about. Good contemporary art seduces you into having difficult, layered, nuanced conversations. Some of my artists deal with social justice issues like post-Colonialism, the idea of being the ‘Other,’ diaspora, hate crimes… but all of the works that they’re creating are aesthetically stunning and they invite you to spend time with them and be present so that their messaging has time to settle in and to resonate. To me, that’s incredibly important because I think we can talk about difficult subject matters through artwork in a way that we can’t on other platforms.”
IL: What makes your gallery so intriguing to visitors?
DK: “Not only do we have amazing artists; we also offer an amazing experience. Most of our exhibitions are solo presentations where you can see a vision of how they wanted to present the work in context to themselves or to itself. Whether an artist is exploring the complexity of American values, the subtle power of iconography, technical processes and materiality, personal histories, human connection, or contradiction and perception—visitors always return to a similar conclusion: that art, no matter how it is rendered, provides a sanctuary for the soul. On the other hand, we’re also known for innovative art ‘interventions.’ During the pandemic, we rented billboard trucks, printed artwork that was 9×18 feet high, and drove around the city of Denver as a gift of beauty in a tough time.”
IL: What are your most memorable installations?
DK: “We have had a world-renowned performance artist who had a show at the Guggenheim and at the Crystal Bridges Museum do performances at K Contemporary. We’ve also projected art onto buildings throughout Denver. I love creating a way for art to feel inclusive, where you feel welcome when you walk in the door and art catches you off guard. There’s no pretense here. We’re not trying to create a barrier at the gallery. We want you to come in and fall in love and we want to make that easy for you.”
IL: Why is Denver the newest arts and culture destination?
DK: “Well, that hasn’t always been the case, but we have a fabulously talented pool of artists. Denver is a great stopping point in the middle of the country—our airport is now one of the busiest airports in the world. One thing to note is that we also have a diverse range of art practices and artists that are engaging. For instance, there’s a lot of synergy with various art programs at RedLine Contemporary Art Center (where I’m a Board Member) that operate like a think tank for artists; giving them the space and freedom to explore… We have great museums as well, which are the backbone of an art community. The partnership between museums and galleries allows for a way of working together that may not exist elsewhere. We have the largest art scene in the region and we’ve had an influx of people moving here from across the country, and a lot of them are young people.”
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IL: People travel long distances to see your exhibits. How do you attract such a vast audience?
DK: “We represent artists from all over the world including Viktor Frešo, who is incredibly well-known in Europe. We have artists from Cuba, France, the Caribbean, Latin America and across the country. Tenets of the gallery have always been, ‘How do I bring really engaging contemporary art to Denver?’ and ‘How do I help regional artists show up on national and international stages?’ We do that by bringing in world-renowned artists and having museum-level exhibitions.”
IL: What’s new for your gallery this year?
DK: “We are continuing to represent our fantastic roster of artists including Daisy Patton, Andrew Jensdotter and Shawn Huckins, and we’re excited to add artists like Marc Dennis, who has exhibited at Frieze London and Art Basel; and Elizabeth Alexander, a renowned mixed media artist whose incredible pressed-paper installations have been exhibited in museums around the country. Closer to home, we’ve added Kristopher Wright, a Colorado artist who has his first museum show at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.”
IL: Any travel plans for your exhibits?
DK: “This year we plan to exhibit at Intersect Palm Springs, Intersect Aspen and Untitled in Miami. MCA Denver is having a show celebrating RedLine’s 15th anniversary, Ashley Williams, Suchitra Mataai, Daisy Patton and Mario Zoots all have pieces included. I travel all over the country—from studio visits in Los Angeles to installations of our artists’ works in Tampa and everything in between.”
IL: What can readers look forward to?
DK: “Our goal is to expand programming and the visibility of our artists internationally. We’re building upon the foundation that we’ve created in that K Contemporary is a place where artists get discovered and become international superstars. Suchitra Mattai is a great example of continued success. She has an enormous piece currently on display at MCA Chicago and a 15-foot by 50-foot piece that is in the permanent collection at the Crystal Bridges Museum among her other accomplishments. At the end of the day, the work at K Contemporary is super exciting. It’s interesting. It’s challenging. You’re going to walk away changed when you see this work, engage with it and stand before it. I want us to be a catalyst for a cultural renaissance.”
*K Contemporary is open to the public by walk-in or appointment. For more information about upcoming artists and exhibitions, visit the gallery’s website.