Mile-High Offense

The Pirate show closed a couple of days after 802 opened, and though the snubbed artists at Pirate made their point, it was accompanied by a qualifier: If Declined was just as good as 802, it also was not any better. It's striking how both shows were stocked half with fine works and half with forgettables.

There is no sequence to the 802 exhibit, so it doesn't matter which of the two venues is seen first. Emmanuel director Keller and DU gallery director Lawrence Argent have ably divided the more than forty objects selected by Kuspit (out of a field of nearly 1,000) into two exhibits that are virtually equal in terms of quality. And through their expert approaches to hanging and installation making, both Keller and Argent have made the show's whole appear greater than its parts.

In fact, despite the Kuspit show's general lack of flair, it does include a number of fine things, though not enough to carry the show through. At Emmanuel, the Cameron Jones abstract "Whore" looks even better than it did at her solo show last summer--and it looked pretty good there. In a very different vein, Paul Gillis meticulously renders a nightmarish cartoon in his painting "The Dark That Was Is Here." Upstairs is another good painting, the expressionist "Airship," by Lanse Kleaveland, a much stronger effort than a related Kleaveland seen in the DU section of the show.

There are some interesting works on paper at Emmanuel, including the oil-and-Xerox effort "Above and Below," by Jill Hadley Hooper, a lyrical charcoal-and-pencil drawing by Elizabeth Buhr and a folkloric watercolor by Barbara Nielsen. But photography is the one medium in which the 802 show may be proclaimed a success. The Emmanuel section features a number of fine photographic works, including "Nymphs of Danube," a shot of buxom nudes by Mark Sink, and "98th Meridian," a pinhole photo montage by David Sharpe. Also assembling multiple small photographs is Sarah Marquis Timberlake, who is represented by "Desire (Variations on a Romantic Theme 1 & 2)," which consists of two grids of color photos, one of clouds, the other of the seashore. Equally strong are John Bonath's computer-generated still lifes and Charlie Roy's two-panel photo enlargement.

Notable sculpture, unlike photography, is hardly seen at all at Emmanuel aside from one tiny piece by Martha Daniels and an even smaller one by Sherrie Ingle. But over at DU, sculptures predominate. Gallery director Argent got an untitled piece in the show, a floor-bound sculpture made of cast iron and bronze that depicts a tub with huge industrial lightbulbs seeming to float on its metal surface. Kuspit-selector Hoffman is represented by two pieces; the one at DU is "Catharsis," consisting of a river rock and a fire-charred oar in individual oak-and-glass showcases. Kuspit has written that he did not pay attention to names, so Argent and Hoffman most likely got in fair and square. And if they had recused themselves--which perhaps would have been appropriate--the show would only have suffered for the noble gesture.

Other fine three-dimensional works at DU include Paul Opsahl's "Father's Eye," a mixed-media bas-relief that combines metal, wood, bamboo, paint and wire mesh to form a medallion. But Virginia Folkestad's installation of metal, rope and dried leaves, "Vital Connections," looks cramped here (a solution would be to give her the whole room at DU some time in the future). So does Erick Johnson's sleek stainless-steel-and-plywood sculpture "You'll Poke Your Eye Out," which barely fits on its stand. But though the floors are crowded with good stuff at DU, the walls aren't; aside from a lithograph by Evan Colbert, a color photo by Barbara Carpenter and a tile piece by Alicia Cayeula, there's not much here to celebrate.

There's no question that 802 is one of the key events in the city's fall season--and that's a real shame. Everyone has been talking about this show, but most of the word is discouraging. Even some participants have privately expressed disappointment. And that may have less to do with Kuspit's selections than with the overhyped expectations that were thrust upon the show--expectations it could never have lived up to and to which it clearly doesn't. This state of affairs will change only with the establishment of an annual contemporary art show at the Denver Art Museum. Then there would be enough room in the city's art scene for an important out-of-towner to bounce around without knocking anybody over.

Denver Zip 802, through November 21 at the Emmanuel Gallery on the Auraria campus, 556-8337, and at the University of Denver, 2121 East Asbury Avenue, 871-2846.

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