Denver Art Museum curator connects art and the visitor experience

Angelica Daneo believes ‘the more art, the better’

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When Angelica Daneo came to work her first job in the United States after leaving Italy, she found the deeper connection to museums that she had been looking for. During her internship with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., she said she loved the way the museum focused on visitors walking in its doors — and how they connected to the works on the walls.

“That really sparked my wish and desire to work in museums,” she said. “It really gives meaning to what we do as curators.”

Later, Daneo would move on to the St. Louis Art Museum in Missouri. In 2004, she got a call from the Denver Art Museum, and was offered the role of assistant curator of painting and sculpture. She’s been in Denver ever since, becoming curator of the painting department in 2015, and then promoted to her current role of chief curator in December 2018.

Daneo has been bound to museums her whole life, although she may not have realized it early on, she said. In Italy, her mother taught art history, and frequently brought Daneo and her brother to museums.

Being exposed to a wealth of art history in Italy helped her relate to the culture. Walking through Italian cities “you are surrounded by historic buildings that connect you to the past,” she said. She began to be interested in learning how people have expressed themselves creatively through the centuries.

“Observation is at the core of what I do,” she said. “Being aware of what’s around us and details is probably what lead me to this profession.”

When she received a degree in art history in Torino, Italy, she thought she would stay in academia. She enjoyed writing, and she enjoyed the research, but realized there was little interaction with people.

Daneo continues to keep museum visitors at the center of what she does at the Denver Art Museum. Most recently, she worked to co-curate the Claude Monet exhibit that is exclusively coming to Colorado before returning to Europe at Museum Barberini in Germany.

With great masters like Monet, where most people know who they are, or have at least seen some of their works, you can begin to take their skills as artists for granted. When curating this exhibit, Daneo decided to bring in paintings from the span of Monet’s life, from his first recorded painting at age 18, to one of the last ones painted before his death in 1926.

She added that with masters like Monet, “you almost feel a pressure to like them.” She wants visitors to come to the museum and rediscover the Impressionist painter in a new way — then people can really decide for themselves if they enjoy his works.

Part of that experience is to create a narrative through the exhibit. Daneo and other members of the Denver Art Museum staff work together to find ways to help modern museum visitors connect to paintings that can be hundreds of years old. Often, this includes quotes from the artists displayed on the walls, or creating a small ballet studio mirror display during Edgar Degas exhibit last October.

“You can have a wonderful work of art, but our role as a team is not to just put it on the wall and assume you will like it,” Daneo said.

In the 15 years she’s been here, Daneo said she has seen Denver grow into a great art city. Since she came to Denver, the Museum of Contemporary Art moved to a larger space in 2007, and the Clyfford Still Museum opened in 2011.

“Everyday I’m energized by Denver,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a city that’s changed so much in just those 15 years.”

The city’s commitment to art is important, Daneo added, because art is one of the most powerful unifying forces on the planet. For her, “the more art, the better.”

But it doesn’t always have to be professional works held in grand museums. Some of the best art she’s seen came from her 6-year-old daughter’s class, Daneo said. Art is something that can be understood by people from all walks of life.

“It’s fundamental to people’s lives,” she said. “Art is a language. It is one that actually can unify people across countries and has done so for a long time.”

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