Rebels With Causes

Fellow feminist Larson, who went to college in Colorado but now lives in her home state of Minnesota, also uses traditional women's materials to carry out untraditional works. For this show, she has made four meticulous sculptures in the form of girdles, using fancy sewing techniques and luxurious lingerie fabrics including pink and red satins and black lace. The girdle sculptures have been hung on metal brackets that stick out from wooden plaques on the wall. Though ladies' underwear may seem erotic to some, in Larson's hands these garments become objects of constraint--in that sense, they're not far removed from Vaughan's gland cozies.

Thankfully, adventurous work isn't just the domain of grubby alternative spaces like ILK--or vans like "Gallery Van Go." Heady fare is also being served up by Hempel and Emrich over at the Robischon Gallery, a LoDo flagship that serves as one of the region's most important venues for contemporary art.

Wes Hempel spotlights a recent batch of grandly conceived paintings by the talented Berthoud artist. Hempel is best known for his large paintings of houses floating above pastoral landscapes. A few of these appear here, but more remarkable are Hempel's paintings of men, some of which ape historical paintings. Like O'Neill, Hempel intentionally appropriates other peoples' styles, but instead of creating jarring juxtapositions, he prefers to unite his sources into a single cogent image.

This is clearly seen in several paintings that directly refer to art classics. Laudably, Hempel provides to those among us who care written annotations that explain the origins of his paintings. The oil on canvas "Stock Market Angel," for example, is based on Luigi Mussini's "Musica Sacra" of 1841. "Fatherhood," another oil on canvas, is based on Adolphe-William Bouguereau's 1878 painting "Charity." In both works, Hempel recasts the classical compositions, adding new elements in familiar poses--a soccer ball instead of a sphere, for instance--and painting all of it with photographic accuracy.

Though he dresses them up in old styles, Hempel's figures are clearly of our own time. And this lends a tension to the paintings that distinguishes them from the conservative neo-traditional work seen elsewhere around town. His precise technique is the perfect foil for his chosen subject matter, featuring crisply drawn figures and details painted with luminous pigments that have been finely applied in thin, even layers. The resulting surfaces are stunningly flat, shiny and seamless.

Hempel's marvelous paintings have been paired in Robischon's Artforms space with works from Emrich, who is known both for his work in video and for his use of photo-emulsion chemicals to transfer images onto unlikely surfaces. Emrich combines both interests in his installation "Image Conscious: Chung/Rembrandt/Elway."

Gary Emrich fills two of the gallery's walls with found objects that make references to Rembrandt. Bits of the famous artist's self-portrait appear, as do passages from his paintings that have been mechanically transferred onto pieces of paper, plates and paintbrushes. In the midst of all of this is a video loop (playing on a wall-mounted monitor) of media maven Connie Chung preparing a phony smile for a closeup--along with a video projection of quarterback John Elway's ever-changing profile.

"Image Conscious" is the latest in a long line of Emrich works that coherently explore the myriad relationships between art and the media. And as usual, there's his signature elegance--the result of all that mechanical reproduction in monochrome.

These shows at ILK and Robischon collectively describe the stylistic anarchy that reigns in contemporary art. And get used to the madness: It's a fact of art life that's not likely to be changing anytime soon--if at all.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, Matt O'Neill, Jess Larson, Rebecca Vaughan, through June 14 at ILK, 554 Santa Fe Drive, 615-5725.

Wes Hempel and Gary Emrich, through June 14 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 298-7788.

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