Artistic Democracy

Over at ILK's main space on Santa Fe is the National Juried Show, which is only slightly smaller but considerably less impressive than Co=Excellence. Still, the show includes some visual treats that make a visit rewarding. ILK called for entries nationally but response was weak; it was mostly local artists who submitted slides of their work to lone juror Dianne Vanderlip, the Denver Art Museum's curator of modern and contemporary art. The show is dominated by painting to an even greater extent than is the Emmanuel exhibit.

Interestingly, a couple of the artists who shine in the Co=Excellence exhibit also sparkle in the ILK show. At Emmanuel, Steven Altman presented dense gestural paintings on canvas, but at ILK his composition is extremely spare. In "Paper 2," Altman lays small sheets of paper in a tile pattern on a board, then applies acrylic paint, oil sticks, crayon and graphite in an expressionist arrangement where the painted marks are so thin and sketchy that the paper's white color necessarily provides the ground. Peter Illig's "Allegory of Painting," another three-part painting in a modified photorealist style, is closely related to the two from the series he shows at Emmanuel.

Madeline Weber, an established local painter who has a style that lies somewhere between Altman's and Illig's, puts forward some of the show's best work. Her three abstract figure studies, "Clam," "Mr. Clam" and "White Nude," all oils on canvas, have a retro, modern-master quality enhanced by her use of traditional gilded framing. These three lovely--if odd--paintings have a quiet appeal and, because of their minuscule size and delicate details, demand some careful viewing.

One genuine revelation is the promising if somewhat derivative work of emerging artist David Phelps. In two remarkably similar wall reliefs, "Rusted Cans" and "Untitled," Phelps nails smashed tin cans to a board, then paints them in an all-over drip. In using the cans to create a lively surface, Phelps recalls Julian Schnabel's famous broken-plate paintings of the 1980s. And like Schnabel, Phelps uses the three-dimensionality of the found objects--in his case, tin cans--to stand in for brushwork and subject matter.

Over at Edge, Mark Brasuell's annual solo outing is all about playing with established notions of technique and content. In the Beginning is a series of monumental, unframed charcoal-on-paper drawings pinned to the wall, and it constitutes a worthy followup to last year's highly acclaimed I aint a'gin nobody... series. As he did in those earlier drawings, Brasuell combines a modernist abstract-expressionist style with postmodern conceptual content. Though he never really relinquishes control, Brasuell has long been interested in collaborating with others: Each of the drawings here was started by one artist and finished by another. The element of chance, inherent in this kind of cooperative endeavor, is what makes it appealing to Brasuell, and his skill at orchestrating it into a seamless series marks this show as the artist's latest in a long line of triumphs.

The unified character of the drawings is quite a feat considering the disparate styles embraced by Brasuell's collaborators. In "Bull Horn," Edge member Joan MacDonald first covered paper with a traditional version of "Our Lady of Guadalupe," complete with accompanying cherubs. Brasuell topped this recognizable image with heavy abstract marks and even erased quite a bit of it, making the elements from MacDonald's religious scene barely visible though still a key part of the finished piece. In contrast to the dark, heavily reworked "Bull Horn" is the light and more thinly overdrawn "Rejoiner," the only drawing started by Brasuell and completed by someone else--Dania Pettus, another Edge member. The most radical of the combination of drawings is "Pandora," the show's only sculpture. Todd Wenderski, the teenage son of a Colorado Springs couple who collect Brasuell's work, began "Pandora" by using origami to elaborately fold paper into the shape of a cube. Brasuell unfolded the piece to draw on it and then refolded it.

Taken together, these shows represent a good look at some of the varied talent lurking on the local alternative scene. But much more has been left out than has been included, so as good as they are, the three shows can only hint at the vastness of Denver's contemporary art world. They leave many of us yearning for what has heretofore been an impossibility: a proper annual survey.

Co=Excellence '98, through September 17 at the Emmanuel Gallery, on the Auraria campus at 10th and Lawrence streets, 303-556-8337; National Juried Show, through September 6 at ILK, 554 Santa Fe Drive, 303-615-5725; In the Beginning, through September 6 at the Edge Gallery, 3658 Navajo Street, 303-477-7173.

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