At a time when the buzz in LoDo is about how all the galleries are fleeing, here's one making a solid commitment to staying put: Under the innovative leadership of director Sally Perisho, Metropolitan State College of Denver's Center for the Visual Arts crosses Wazee Street this month to relocate in spacious new digs vacated by the Sandy Carson Gallery, a defector to the Golden Triangle, and the now-defunct Art of Craft. It's a bold move no matter how you look at it.
"People say to me, 'Why would you leave that wonderful space?'" Perisho says, referring to the center's former corner location at 17th and Wazee streets. "But they don't think about the difficulties I had mounting shows there. Before, I had to create miracles." The former room, though undeniably light and lovely due to airy storefront windows on two sides, had too much glass, Perisho says. Now, she has more linear feet to work with, and thus much more wall space to utilize in planning and hanging exhibitions. Though only about 200 square feet larger than the old space, the new gallery can support a lot more art per showing.
Expanded exhibit space is just one of the move's many positive points. For one thing, Perisho points out, "the space was built to be a gallery in the first place." Plus, she adds, the center now has an added option to buy the space outright, making the expensive addition of an enhanced security system more cost-effective than before. That translates into an ability to rent exhibits requiring higher security measures--another issue not often considered by everyday gallerygoers. As a result, Perisho says, she will be hanging more museum-quality traveling shows in the future, which she hopes to fill in with unique related works from the community.
In keeping with that objective, the center opens its new space this week with a massive showing of Picasso prints. One of the most monolithic figures in modern art, Picasso left behind--much as Miles Davis did in jazz--a leviathan legacy of varied works. But perhaps the purest pieces are his prints, which often captured passing--and sometimes whimsical--moments with the immediacy of a photograph. Overshadowed by the more formidable paintings and sculpture, Picasso's print works, which include intaglio, linoleum cuts, lithographs and posters, were as innovative as the rest of his genre-bending masterpieces. A major highlight of the show, divided equally between touring works put together by Exhibits USA of El Paso and prints on loan from the Denver Art Museum, is the 1913 series "Les Saltimbanques," an early print sequence in the Picasso portfolio that's significant because the artist didn't take up printmaking in earnest until the late 1940s.
The Picasso exhibit marks a giant step in the center's unfolding legacy. But don't expect Perisho to turn her back on Denver or its multicultural communities. She says the center has been the only consistent local exhibition space regularly devoted to arts by members of ethnic, sexual and social minorities. "Our goal is to do what the Denver Art Museum doesn't and to do what other museums should do--complement each other," Perisho says. "Denver has a Latino museum, but it just can't do enough shows to serve that community.
"We're an art center. People have some confusion about the difference between galleries, museums and art centers. Our mission is like that of a museum, but we have no permanent collection. It's the ambience of the space that makes us feel like an art center." Keeping that in mind, there's no question that the center fills a specific downtown niche.
As for the future of LoDo's gallery culture, Perisho doesn't see things dying out anytime soon, in spite of the neighborhood's shift to upscale loft-living and watering holes for fly-by-night sports fans. She's pleased to have the high-quality and stalwart Robischon Gallery for a next-door neighbor. And, she notes, the new Ron Judish Gallery is shaking things up just down the street. "Denver's always had art communities that were far apart," she says. "There are four distinct art communities in this town." Lower downtown remains one of them, Perisho thinks, and that's not going to change. "If the residents don't have galleries--which is why they moved here in the first place," she says, "they wouldn't like it, would they?"
Picasso: His Print Work, June 12-August 11, Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, 1734 Wazee Street, 294-5207.