VITAL SIGNS

Hard as it is to admit, Denver's alternative scene is aging. Well-established cooperative galleries such as Pirate and Spark are celebrating anniversaries well into the double digits, and many of their members now enjoy elder-statesman status. Housed mostly in shabby storefronts in cheap neighborhoods, these hardy urban survivors can seem a little tired, especially on a bleak wintry day.

Fortunately, emerging artists continue to surface, revitalizing the co-ops with fresh outlooks--and looks. For new members, a nominal monthly co-op fee gives them access to a scruffy but frequently wonderful world of grassroots art where excellent opportunities exist for discussion, letting off steam and sharing tricks of the trade. Best of all, the relative freedom to show anything--controversial or even outright, in-your-face bad art--is what makes the so-called alternative art scene one of Denver's most lively and intriguing arenas.

Several new artists brighten the fourth annual Edgestremists show at Edge Cooperative Gallery, a nomadic and mercurial cooperative space that has returned to its Highland neighborhood after spending years in the North Larimer warehouse district and elsewhere. Nearly all of Edge's two dozen members are represented in this eclectic show of paintings, drawings, sculpture and other media, including a spooky group installation in the gallery's underground space that is rather like a worm's-eye view of--well, the underground.

On the first floor, viewers are greeted by new member Gail Wagner's "Lawn Doilies," first created as an outdoor installation. In the original piece, giganticized hand-crocheted doilies encircled trees in a play on the idea of Mother Nature as a fussy grandmother. Here, Wagner shows one of the actual doilies along with color Xeroxes of the amusing outdoor work. The art of another Wagner--Margaret--is more confrontational. Her "Portrait of Dorothy," a large-format photograph on sheet metal, presents a harrowing nude image of an unconventional-looking woman; far from beautiful, "Dorothy"'s ambiguous gender and less-than-ideal figure indict society's attitudes about beauty.

More Edge-streme forays into feminist issues include Deborah Henson's nifty fabric works, "Half As Good As" and "Still Half As Good As." A pair of sophisticated cocktail frocks are toddler-sized yet proportioned for women, enhancing Henson's message about the sexual miniaturization of females. Kim Sullivan's "Petal Postcards" embraces a new approach to the traditional female arts of painting flowers and making dried-flower arrangements. Sullivan carefully deconstructed hundreds of flowers from her garden, then reassembled them, petal by petal, on postcards. Gridded out on a wall, the resulting pastel panorama is an obsessive version of a gentlewoman's idle-hours occupation of yesteryear. Even Sherrie Ingle's "Pi" grapples with women's issues: Her diptych of the "Winged Victory," a headless Greek goddess, appears entangled in lassoes made of mathematical formulas, the perennial bugaboo of schoolgirls.

Balancing out these offerings are the works of new Edge men such as Roger Beltrami, whose "Continental Disaster" uses found objects to comment on the effects of Columbus's voyages, and Harry Tulchin, whose charcoal-and-pastel drawings of a guy working on a car makes its point with a black-and-white straightforwardness.

Though new to this co-op, these artists walk the cutting edge like veterans.
Edgestremists IV, through January 22 at Edge, 3658 Navajo, 477-7173.

 
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