HISTORY

 

The origins of The Lab at Belmar can be traced to a Spring day in 2003 when a group of real estate developers, called Continuum Partners, looked up from a stack of profit-and-loss reports for Belmar, a 104-acre, mixed-use suburban neighborhood that they were developing, and decided something was missing - and that thing was art. Spirited by their bright idea, they put down their pencils, grabbed a dutiful intern, and headed across town to the Denver Art Museum because they knew that that’s where the art was.

When the developers and intern arrived at the art museum, they immediately impressed director Lewis Sharp with their ambitions for transforming a struggling inner suburb into a hip and vital city center. Sharp was so charmed by this eager and clever group that he took them down the corridor to meet one of his own favorite discoveries, Adam Lerner, whom he had brought to Denver from Baltimore two years before. No one knew exactly what Lerner did at the museum, but they knew he spent much of his time developing concepts. He had concepts for art in the sky, art on the mountains, and, when Sharp and the developers entered his office, he had just finished writing an essay called The Museum and The Multiplex about art and shopping malls, which was exactly the kind of concept the developers needed. The intern took furious notes.

The Lab, Mixed Taste, Mixed Taste 2004Adam Lerner unrolled a vision for a new kind of cultural institution, not a museum, but a laboratory, a place that would experiment with new ways of integrating culture into the life of cities and citizens. By May 2004, when Belmar was just emerging out of the ground, Lerner launched his vision in an empty storefront with a weekly lecture series called Mixed Taste: Tag-Team Lectures on Unrelated Topics. Each night featured two lecture topics paired entirely at random: St Augustine & The Marx Brothers one week, Raw Milk Cheese & Minimalist Art the next. The concept was to create a common ground for exploring those aspects of culture found in high-minded university classrooms alongside those aspects that we encounter in our daily lives. Mixed Taste became The Lab’s flagship program symbolizing it’s effort to deflate the pretensions associated with studying culture, while still doing something that feels worthwhile. Mixed Taste represents the Lab effort to make culture feel enough like a joke, that it comes back around somehow and feels meaningful and important again. All that next to a Jamba Juice.

Tired of continually moving into ever-larger storefronts to accommodate its growing audience, The Lab enlisted fancy pants L.A. architect Hagy Belzberg to design a permanent home. We’re not sure why he took the job, but we think it’s because he really liked The Lab, which is exactly why The Lab chose him. In September 2006, The Lab opened the doors to a 11,500 square foot permanent home across the street from Dick’s Sporting Goods, with a sign that read “The Lab is Open. We’re not Dick’s.” The opening exhibition was Isaac Julien’s three-screen film installation Fantome Afrique. If you wanted to see the world premiere of this work, you would have had to go to the Pompidou Center, in Paris, but if you wanted to see the U.S. premiere, it would have helped if you were living in Lakewood, Colorado. And after seeing it, you could have played a little badminton in The Lab’s sparkling new building and witnessed Roger Green's performance, The Soothing Sounds of 30 Elecrtric Typewriters.