Mixed Doubles

Dave Yust: Diptychs 1968-99, which closes this weekend at the Curfman Gallery on the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins, is a stunning examination of the work of one of the state's most important contemporary artists. Yust, who teaches at CSU, organized the show himself and has zeroed in on a single current in his work: the use of the diptych form in paintings and prints. As a result, despite the fact that the exhibit includes work that spans three decades, it is not, strictly speaking, a retrospective.

The Curfman Gallery lies deep within the recesses of CSU's Lory Student Center, which creates a problem for sensitive viewers: To reach the gallery, visitors must wander through the wreck that's been made of the building's once elegant exterior. That's not a reference to the debris from last summer's flood--that's all been cleaned up--but rather to the mess left by architects charged with modernizing the center.

Until a few years ago, the Lory was part of a magnificent complex of modern buildings by Boulder architect James Hunter. The student center was completed in 1962, and across the handsome courtyard, its companion, the Morgan Library, was finished in 1964. Each building featured a rich assortment of compatible architectural details, including cast terra-cotta sunscreens, geometric ornament and dramatic structural elements. Collectively called the CSU Student Plaza, the complex was, without question, one of the finest examples of modern architecture on any college campus in Colorado.

Then tragedy struck. An oafish new entrance was added to the Lory in 1997. This addition has nothing to do with the style of the existing building, which, fortunately, is still visible in places. The clunky remodeling is a cheap and provincial version of the kind of neo-traditionalism seen in Denver's suburban-townhouse design. Credit for the vandalism to the Lory is laid at the feet of the Fort Collins architectural firm of Aller Lingle Architects.

But CSU wasn't finished with its ill-considered plans for Hunter's masterpieces. The Morgan Library suffered a ponderous and tacky expansion in 1998, jointly done by Denver's Luis O. Acosta and the Boston firm of Perry, Dean, Rogers and Partners. It was only weeks after the completion of the library's defacement that a hundred-year flood ruined the place. If CSU were looking for a sign, the flood was it: The heavens themselves wept at the desecration of the gorgeous modernist complex.

Here's some advice. As you approach the Lory, look carefully at the remains of the old building. Notice the linear mosaic walls and glance up at the impressed patterns on the auditorium with its unbelievable roof in the form of an inverted barrel-vault. Then, as you get close to the main entrance, look straight ahead and try not to examine the stupid and insensitive addition. Once inside, you'll see a large Yust painting, "Peace Paths," an acrylic on canvas from 1990. This piece is not part of the show--it's in CSU's permanent collection--but it provides an appetizer for the exhibit. Interestingly, like the Lory itself, "Peace Paths" was damaged by vandals. An unknown miscreant attempted to cut the painting, which was originally done in 1972, off its stretcher bars. Rather than restore the badly damaged original, Yust created an entirely new painting.

The Curfman is down a maze of hallways on the Lory's first floor. The gallery has been specially painted a dark, warm gray for Dave Yust, which sets off the brightly colored pieces as well as those done in black and white. It begins with a group of small study drawings done by Yust in preparation for his paintings. The study drawings reveal that Yust often rotates a composition in order to create a new one.

Down a short flight of stairs is the first of five rooms of Yust diptychs, all of which have been arranged essentially in chronological order. Opposite the steps is the first diptych that Yust ever did, the 1968 oil on canvas "Untitled Diptych." The two square canvases hang diagonally, making diamond shapes. (One is slightly larger than the other, though only by an imperceptible two inches.)

By the time Yust painted "Untitled Diptych," he had already been a CSU art professor for three years, having joined the faculty in 1965. Born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1939, he came early to a life in the art world. At the age of eleven, he studied with the legendary American impressionist Birger Sandzen, who maintained a studio in nearby Lindsborg. Later Yust earned a bachelor of fine arts at the University of Kansas, where he was a classmate of another important Colorado artist, Clark Richert. Both came here in 1963.

"Untitled Diptych" anticipates a number of directions Yust would follow during the next thirty years, in particular his pairing of related but distinctly individual compositions brought together to form a diptych. Both halves of "Untitled Diptych" are dominated by central cruciforms. The cruciform in the left panel is mostly black with a smaller blue passage. It is mirrored on the right by a cruciform in blue with a little black. "This diptych foreshadows my explorations of symmetry," says Yust, who has long been interested in pictorial balance, not only in his diptychs, but in his more common single-panel pieces.

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