Hit Parade

For some reason, all of the important small public art venues in the metro area are located on the northwest side. In Boulder, there's the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, in Arvada the Arvada Center and in Golden the Foothills Art Center. Each of these municipal facilities has come to play an important role in the art world. But each is also confronted with a difficult double mandate. First, they need to serve their principal constituencies, the residents of Boulder, Arvada and Golden. That means that a visitor might sometimes encounter an exhibit of the work of schoolchildren or senior citizens. But they also need to attract the attention of the larger community--essentially, the exhibition-going public in Denver, which needs to be convinced to make the drive.

The three women who run the galleries--Cydney Payton in Boulder, Kathy Andrews in Arvada and Carol Dickenson in Golden--have all shown a talent for walking the line between satisfying the neighbors and impressing the bon vivants. That's exactly what Dickenson has done with The Photography Show, now in the second half of a too-short run at the Foothills Art Center. The "show" is actually several easily distinguishable exhibits of work that runs the gamut from the snapshots of hobbyists to some of the greatest photographs in history.

The exhibit set up in the Center's front gallery lies somewhere between those two classifi-cations. Titled The Foothills Photographers, it showcases a group of Golden shutterbugs who use the center as their home base. The selections here are somewhat uneven, but there are some fine pieces. Hank Weir, for example, comes in with two very good--and very different--black-and-white prints. In "San Xavier del Bac," Weir handsomely frames the blazing white stucco mission church located southwest of Tucson, Arizona. Equally skillful is "Dunescape," a landscape in which a row of sand dunes stands behind a scrub-covered plain. A different approach to the same topic is taken by Jay Clawson, whose black-and-white close-up shot of sand dunes recalls the classic 1930s work of the photographers of the Southern California school.

Getting something interesting out of still-life photography has got to be a tough job--at least if sentimentality is to be avoided. But Rex Bull has done it with the sophisticated and memorable black-and-white photograph "White Tulips." Also noteworthy are a pair of untitled black-and-whites of twigs in the water by Cindy Mardian, and William Carlson's color scene "Dock," which captures tied-up sailboats in a fog that diffuses the light.

In the large central gallery is a smattering of snapshots by amateurs. As a matter of community outreach, center director Dickenson approached nine large employers in Golden and requested entries for a loosely juried competition titled "Best of the Workplace." The way the jurying worked was that each entrant got at least one photo in the show. This democratic approach has its obvious limitations, but a couple of the exhibitors really stand out--and perhaps should think about joining the Foothills group. Ross McClure from the Colorado School of Mines presents two superb color photographs. In "Blue Hour, Monument Valley," the famous rock formations are silhouetted against the sunset. "Antelope Slot Canyon" catches the night-lighted red sandstone of a narrow canyon; the darkness in the shadows is purple and black. International Learning System's Bill Bangs also infuses the Western landscape with vivid color in "Red Rocks," in which the local attraction is glimpsed at dawn.

The main event of The Photography Show takes place in the Center's Quaintance Gallery, a former church nave that makes for a handsome room but is a difficult space for art display. Luckily, the photos included in Hal Gould's Classics could be propped against the walls of a gas station and would still be stunning.

Director Dickenson approached Denver living legend Hal Gould and asked him to make a selection of some of the most important pieces from his extensive collection of photographs. Gould responded by assembling a greatest-hits show that includes many photos with which viewers will be familiar--but only because they've seen them in books.

Gould was well-placed to have acquired so many of the key monuments in the history of photography--his internationally renowned downtown photography gallery, the Camera Obscura, is now in its 34th year. When he started it in 1963, Camera Obscura was one of only a handful of photography galleries in the entire country, and at the time, it was an act of courage--or recklessness--to champion photography as a fine art. But through his gallery and through the newsletter he writes and compiles single-handedly, Gould has helped change the art community's perception of the role of photography. And his influence has spread across the West and Southwest--maybe because he's the quintessential Westerner, frequently photographed wearing cowboy hats and Navajo jewelry.

The 76-year-old Gould was born on a ranch in Wyoming. As a boy, he worked with horses on another ranch owned by his father in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. He attended the Chicago Art Institute in the 1940s, where he studied painting, but he soon began to develop an interest in photography. In the 1950s he came to Denver and subsequently opened a studio in Cherry Creek, where he carried on a career as a commercial photographer.

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