Who are the Modern Masters of Japan?

The bulletproof vest of James H. Steininger, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Half of the curator’s other outfit: a protective suit, donated by a protective testing facility.

On a trip through his work spaces, James H. Steininger says he looks forward to a long day, which begins with a hot bath.

An eight-day workweek ends with a hot lunch, followed by a hot shower and hot tub.

Onward to his point of order. That’s a mixture of coffee, water, various tea leaves and a “little bit of Sriracha,” he says.

It’s the morning, but Steininger can’t close the door on his art world. He’s busy, literally and figuratively. He’s the curator of contemporary art at MCA Denver.

Inside his space at the Contemporary Art Center, the inspiration for the day is complete: “Born Here,” a catalog of contemporary masterpieces from a collection that included the Father’s Day pick, “Red Grooms,” by Shogo Uechi.

Having been tasked with showcasing the exhibition “Masterpieces of Japanese Japan,” Steininger has made a foray into the world of contemporary art; having already shown “Grooms,” he looks to the Shingon-based iconography for inspiration.

“The icons are very contemporary,” Steininger says. “All of them have something to do with technology. I guess you could say they’re about automation. Men, women, children. They’re all just machines.”

He leans against a counter, his eyes closed, nose pressed against a mug of dark coffee, while a hush hangs over the room. It’s a chilly Tuesday afternoon in the near-100-degree sunlight, and the museum floor is covered with orange, grey and maroon fluorescent lighting. Steininger turns off the low-pitched buzzers and whirs of construction that keep him from overheating during his day. He seems a little sleepy, like he’s been up all night but with no sleep.

Steininger works in a multilevel, glass-walled facility that doubles as a work studio. The room is split by a clear corridor leading to the gallery, and space by shipping pallets stacked with framed photography.

Steininger keeps an eye on one shipping pallet, a shipping pallet with a photograph of a little boy. On the back side of the pallet, he jots down the buyer and more notes on how to write his delivery address.

“It’s not essential to do things with off-white; even that makes it lighter,” he says, and ponders how to phrase his order.

Because “The Last of the Breed,” “Urban Egg”—a colorful installation by artist James Hammerfield—is filled with three different bodies of work, it isn’t continuous. If Steininger completes the delivery in one instance, he is supposed to deliver it to another person.

Steininger is looking for a photo of Kenzo, a Japanese fashion designer, while he’s in the middle of creating a large-scale installation that features a sculpture-like piece of chocolate chocolate “from Fatchess.” It’s made of chocolate that is ground into a gluten-free, sunflower-oil-infused, sugar-free, gluten-free, non-gluten-free wheat version. They call it “The Spiciest Chocolate Ever.”

Steininger hands over the chocolate and shows it to a passerby, who smiles as Steininger hands him a piece of the chocolate.

His work is chock-full of ideas, and he says his days are a lot of banging out ideas and putting things down in print. He works with several of the same assistants from the collection that brings him to work each day, including intern Jason Kidd. Kidd walks over to the safe, which houses a mask of Steininger’s. There’s a small bottle of antacids, and a baseball cap that reads “Swaddled Detective.” The vest reads “Critical Mass” and the second piece of armor, a bulletproof jacket, is a gift from a protective testing facility.

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