Hammers and Saws

The bowls, cans and bottles in the show provide the viewer with a good grounding in the medium of metal work. But they also serve as counterpoint to the larger abstract sculptures that dominate the exhibit. Though there are a few freestanding sculptures--including a wonderful untitled steel-mesh composition from Florida's Richard Beckman--most of the pieces in the show are either wall-hung bas-reliefs or floor-bound installations.

Among the notable bas-reliefs are a pair of elegant aluminum-sheet constructions by Tom Logan, the only Colorado artist in the show. Logan, who teaches furniture-making at Metro, has furnished the gallery with two geometric compositions stained with a whitish residue that dulls the natural shine of the aluminum. Santa Fe's Peter Joseph is likewise responsible for two sublime bas-reliefs. "Hurt," a rusted-steel piece from 1994, is made up of three vertical forms joined in a wing-like shape. The steel form of 1995's "Wellspring" is less regular and more expressionistic, with abstract forms arrayed around a center point. Both pieces are very effective, especially hung as they have been here, at eye level.

Given a small gallery all to himself by Perisho is installation artist Hoss Haley of Penland, North Carolina, who makes good use of the space with "Corner" and "Seed," a pair of hollow horn shapes made of joined metal sheets. Haley incorporates the spaces the pieces occupy as an essential part of each work: "Corner" leans against the corner of its space; "Seed" lies on the floor.

Also using wall and floor as intended elements in her work is Noellynn Pepos of Layton, New Jersey. In the 1995 installation "Bad Cede," she props an iron rod against the wall and pairs it with an iron egg shape on the floor. Though thoroughly abstract, the piece is imbued with political content, referring to the ceding of land from one individual to another. The rod suggests a fence post, while the egg shape has been forged from barbed wire.

Perhaps the most compelling piece of any kind in Contemporary Metals is "Micro/Macro," a complex installation by Pittsburgh's Carol Kumata that fills a good deal of the center's main gallery. Kumata makes skeletal forms that recall seed pods, creating her organic shapes by joining galvanized steel rods. The resulting shapes have been arranged haphazardly--but effectively--on the floor.

If there is a complaint about this exhibit, it's the paucity of local artists. As last fall's Steel show at the Arvada Center proved, there's no shortage of talent on Denver's metal front. But give Perisho the benefit of the doubt: Though a few more Denver artists wouldn't have hurt, this is a formidable collection of out-of-state plates.

One local installation artist who couldn't have been included under any circumstances in Contemporary Metals is Christopher Nitsche--for the simple reason that he most often works in wood. But don't miss his marvelous site-specific installation Ship's Shadow, on view through tomorrow at the Philip J. Steele Gallery of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design.

One of the city's most interesting installation artists, Nitsche has exhibited at venues as divergent as Planet Off Gallery (now the Antropolis Galleria), Edge, Core and the Arvada Center. In "Ships Shadow," he takes up his signature topic, which may seem an odd affectation for an artist who has spent the last several years in land-locked Colorado (and before that, the even drier terrain of New Mexico). But Nitsche makes it work.

In the oddly shaped Steele Gallery--which serves also as RMCAD's lobby--Nitsche has arranged short black boards on the floors and up the wall. The intriguing effect, as indicated by the title, is that of a ship casting a shadow, as though it were floating above our heads. The installation has been bolstered by Nitsche's "Concept Drawing: Ships Shadow," a stunning mixed-media piece that differs considerably from the installation but stands as a work in its own right. Cruise on down.

Contemporary Metals USA, through February 28 at the MSCD Center for the Visual Arts, 1701 Wazee Street, 294-5207.

Christopher Nitsche: Ships Shadow, through February 20 at the Philip J. Steele Gallery, 6875 East Evans Avenue, 753-8046.

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