August 25, 2022

Remembering Marina Graves who inspired the founding of MCA Denver & Was A Champion of Contemporary Art in Colorado

Tai Bickham

Tin Type photo of Marina Graves by Mark Sink
image: Marina Graves. Photo by Mark Sink

The Denver arts community lost a champion of creativity on July 28, 2022, with the passing of artist and art advocate, Marina Graves. She was 91 years old. 

Marina Graves (born Menso Boissevain) was born in Colorado Springs, CO September 13,1930 to Charles Boissevain and Ruth Davis Boissevain. Growing up in Colorado Springs, Marina attended Palmer High School and went on to graduate from Harvard University in 1952. After graduation, she traveled throughout Central and South America, returning stateside and settling in Denver. 

Marina Graves was a true pioneer for contemporary art and for the LGBTQI+ community. Her niece, Melanie Hazlehurst Gavisk, shared in Marina’s obituary, “She was stubbornly herself and refused to water down her identity. She had a dry, incisive, and cutting sense of humor, and until her death at 91, remained witty, occasionally acid-tongued, and staunchly devoted to the arts".

Marina was the primary inspiration for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and volunteered her time and knowledge in establishing the new organization as a recognized 501(3)c institution. She also founded Invisible Museum, which is a conceptual center for the exchange of ideas in the contemporary creative cultural community, as well as the Month of Printmaking, which celebrates the art of making original, handcrafted prints and promoting inspiration and awareness throughout Colorado.

A debt of gratitude is owed to Marina for her advocacy for contemporary art and her support of local artists and galleries. MCA Denver is grateful to Marina for her ingenuity and passion for originating a space in our city to celebrate creativity and artistry.

Marina Graves
image: Marina Graves. photo by Christopher R. Perez

I reached out to some of the people who knew Marina to share their thoughts: 

“Marina would make the rounds of all the alternative galleries, like Pirate and Spark and the Newsgallery, which was run by gallerist and documentarian Joshua Hassel, who also passed recently, and was another fantastic advocate for the arts and part of the alternative art scene that was growing in Denver in the late-eighties. Marina was a vital part of the alternative art scene and culture of cooperative galleries before there was a contemporary museum. She was a passionate foodie, an arts advocate, an artist, a writer, and a person with many talents and much depth. Her contributions to early MCA Denver were both in the intellectual shaping of the organization, as far as its mission, and also just being a huge steward, an advocate for contemporary artists.”- Cydney Payton - Former MCA Denver Executive Director 

“I first met Marina around 2002 when I was just getting to know the Denver art scene and I have always been impressed by her intellect, insight, and sheer ubiquity. She took up the mantle as an informal historian, critic, and caretaker for an art community back when the hard work of people like her really made a difference. She helped make the scene we have today." - Adam Lerner, former MCA Denver Mark G. Falcone Executive Director

“So - when Abecedarian Gallery moved into a storefront space at 91Arts, Marina was a frequent and welcome visitor. Her depth of knowledge about contemporary art coupled with a certain irreverence and sly humor always made for a lively conversation. She also made really kick-ass sauerkraut.” - Alicia Bailey, Artist and Owner of Abecedarian Gallery, Denver, CO

Marina Graves and Mark Sink
image: Marina Graves and Mark Sink at Luminocity Gala, 2011. 

I also had the opportunity to email Marina’s long-time friend, Mark Sink, to learn more about Marina as we celebrate her life. 

 Hi Mark. Marina Graves was an instrumental individual in advocating for the arts in the Denver Community, and I know that the two of you had a creative and inspiring friendship. Could you share when you first met Marina? 

I met Marina in Denver Urban Gardens first community garden in Denver's Northside. She helped me manage it. Marina asked me soon after meeting, “Don’t you think Denver needs a contemporary art museum?” We were close friends from then on. 

You both were part of the collective group of local artists that started MCA Denver. Could you share how the idea of a contemporary art museum came about and what led to the first exhibition opening for the new museum? 

Marina was just hell-bent on getting a contemporary art museum going. We joined Sue Cannon and spent a few years growing her wish of just a simple local community art center to a vision of a world-class contemporary art museum. 

Sue Cannon and Marina Graves by Rupert Jenkins
image: Sue Cannon and Marina Graves. Photo by Rupert Jenkins

The Collectors Vision in 1997 was the first major exhibition and soon after regular world-class exhibitions were mounted at MCA’s first space in a Japanese fish market in Sakura Square. 

1997 poster of first MCA exhibition Collector's Choice
image: The Collectors Vision Exhibition Opening Poster, 1997. 

Marina inspired a lot of artists and creatives in our community. What was it about her that made her champion the arts as she did? 

There are people in the world that form and join boards for personal opportunistic or business reasons, then there are people that do it for selfless reasons, to benefit the community and art first. Marina’s drive was selfless for art and for art’s sake. Never for any monetary reward or gain.

How did she want to see contemporary art and thought expressed in Denver?

Always at a top-tier world-class level but also inclusive of the vibrant local art community. All of her major projects were artistic, educational masterpieces. She was an important art community leader that incubated, educated, and encouraged engagement between artists and the community.

 Back of Marina Graves standing in front of painted bunny ears on a wall.

A celebration of Marina’s life will be held at RedLine Contemporary Art Center on August 28, 2022, at 2PM

Friends, family, and admirers are encouraged to come and share their favorite Marina stories. You can make donations in Marina’s memory to RedLine Contemporary Art Center or at MCA Denver