TAKE ME OUT TO THE ART SHOWS

The clouds of the baseball strike have cast a shadow over the long-awaited opening of Coors Field on March 31. More than likely, the new ballpark will be inaugurated with replacement players instead of the real Rockies. But at the art galleries that line Wazee Street west of the ballpark, the home runs are already flying.

Two shows now on display in the Wazee corridor focus on the theme of baseball itself: Batter Up!, at the Metropolitan State College Center for the Visual Arts, and Baseball, a joint production of CSK Gallery and Open Press, the fine printing facility in the gallery's basement.

Batter Up! presents photographer Jim Dow's beautiful panoramic photos taken inside major- and minor-league ballparks. These color photos are exaggeratedly horizontal in format, a consequence of the wraparound panorama method. Many of the shots, such as the 1991 picture of Duncan Park in Spartanburg, South Carolina, were taken from the shadow of the covered stands. In that work, the sand of the pitcher's mound and the baselines stands out like an artist's sketch against the brilliant green background of the sunlit field. Other pictures more closely resemble abstract paintings; in 1980's "Veteran's Stadium," for example, a diamond-shaped pink plastic tarp sits in the middle of the Philadelphia landmark's fish-eye oval of orange and yellow seats.

Included in Batter Up! is a display of baseball memorabilia on loan from a group of local collectors. There may be more here than a novice like me would want to know about--for example, the evolution of the baseball glove--but the accomplishment of gathering the items together is not an insignificant one. Other articles in the collection include uniforms, equipment, decorative items, souvenirs, awards and autographed photos, all of them ranging in age from the late nineteenth century to the 1950s.

Baseball, at CSK Gallery, takes a distinctly different approach. Here several artists, most of them well-known in Denver, offer prints inspired by the national pastime and made on the premises at the Open Press downstairs.

The standouts in this show are unquestionably the three untitled lithographs by the team of Matt O'Neill and Jeff Starr. These superb prints, expertly pulled by Margaret Raub, are derived from the promising stadium mural O'Neill and Starr have just started on a wall inside Coors Field. One lithograph depicts Indians and pioneers on the Western frontier, another the construction of the stadium, and the third a baseball game under way. The human figures are distorted, shaded to highlight their simplified shapes. Yet the subjects--cowboys and Indians, construction workers, ballplayers--retain a heroic quality. The compositions crowd each picture with many characters and background elements, pointedly evoking the great Works Progress Administration murals of the 1930s.

Among the other artists who contribute winning work to Baseball are Steve Walker, Darrell Anderson and Kent Talmage-Bowers. Walker's untitled monotypes--one of a ballplayer, the other showing a crowd in the stands--share a gestural quick-sketch approach and a keen sense of color. Anderson adds lines that suggest movement in a series of black-and-white monotypes depicting Rockies manager Don Baylor swinging a bat. Talmage-Bowers has created more than a dozen accomplished drypoint portraits and genre scenes that bring to mind early twentieth-century realism. This antique effect has been heightened through the use of tan-colored paper and sepia-toned ink.

Both Batter Up! and Baseball are likely to attract sports fans rarely seen along gallery row. And whether or not it translates into increased art sales, getting more people into the galleries is a laudable goal.

 
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