To the Max

Accusations of charlatanism have long dogged Andre. When he was the subject of an exhibit presented in rental space in LoDo by the Friends of Contemporary Art here in Denver in 1972 (the last time he was in town), a man suggested that the artist was perpetrating a hoax. "He was an ordinary, American philistine male," remembers Andre, "a suit. I turned to him and said, 'I'm sorry, I may be hoaxing myself, but you, sir, have never entered my mind.'"

One of Andre's rare public commissions also stirred controversy. In 1977 he completed "Stonefield Sculpture" in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. The sculpture comprises a few dozen glacial boulders scattered across a grassy hill. "Glacial boulders are New England's only crop," says Andre. At first the sculpture was ridiculed in the local and national press, but today it is a popular--and beloved--gathering place.

However stinging it must have been to be an alleged faker, surely these experiences could not have prepared Andre for the charges he faced in 1985--as an alleged murderer. On September 8, after a loud, drunken row, Andre's wife, Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta, either fell, jumped or was pushed from the 34th-floor window of the apartment the couple shared. In 1988, Andre was tried before a New York judge on two counts of murder in a non-jury trial and acquitted. In life Mendieta was little-known, but in death she has become widely renowned, and her work appears in museums around the world. Today she is regarded as a key figure in the development of feminist art.

The shadow of the tragedy will always be with Andre. As recently as 1997, when he was the subject of a retrospective at New York's Ace Gallery, the feminist action group the Guerrilla Girls issued a poster pairing a photo of Andre with one of O.J. Simpson. The implication was clear: Both got away with murder. Even here, the Denver Art Museum, which hosted a lecture by Andre, increased security measures during his talk. Exhibition organizer Rule herself spent a sleepless night right before the opening reception, fearing demonstrators. But aside from a few complaints, protesters have not appeared, though some regular gallery-goers have been noticeable by their absence. And that's too bad.

The show at Rule starts in the reconfigured entry gallery with the Andre portion. The three Andres, all from the "Aluminum Double Twelver" series, are made of 24 aluminum bricks each. The sculptures, which were assembled on site, are only a few inches high. "People have actually tripped over them," says gallery assistant Hughes. The three pieces were created by Andre in response to the space and led him to create a rare diagonally oriented piece in order to formally accommodate a concrete patch in the otherwise wooden floor. "At first he hated the concrete, then he started to like it. Finally, he felt it made the series work better," says Hughes.

These sculptures recall Andre's brick pieces of the 1960s, such as those that caused all the commotion at the Tate. All three Rule pieces are closely related but distinct from one another. For the first one, Andre has lined up two rows of six aluminum bricks laid end to end, two bricks high. In front is the diagonally placed sculpture, in which Andre has laid out twelve aluminum bricks end to end, two high. Finally, three groups of four, two bricks high. Controversies, scandals and tragedies notwithstanding, as the pieces at Rule reveal, Andre can get the most from the least.

It's that same strategy that characterizes the Kretschmer paintings that fill the main room at Rule and the small space in the back. But don't be misled: Kretschmer may share concepts with her partner, but the results are clearly different.

Kretschmer was already a serious artist when she got together with Andre in 1995, and she was already working with the odd materials seen in her pieces at Rule--roofing tar painted on sheets of glass that have been sealed in silicon. "Prior to my current work, I was making all-black paintings. I discovered roofing tar, which has a much richer color than any oil paint, and I didn't have to mix it like paint. I didn't have to do anything with roofing tar," says Kretschmer.

Born in Santa Monica, California, in 1962, Kretschmer received both her bachelor of fine arts and her master of fine arts at Pasadena's respected Art Center College of Design. In 1990 she moved to New York, where she became a regular at the small, now-closed Julian Pretto Gallery. That's where she met Andre, who also showed there. Since that time, Kretschmer has exhibited her work internationally.

The three monumental paintings at Rule, "Vitrithrust," "Vitricrux" and "Vitriflux," were all made right in the gallery just a week before the show opened. For each piece, Kretschmer has leaned paired stacks of three large sheets of plate glass against the wall. In between each of the three sheets, Kretschmer has made hard-edged geometric images carried out in roofing tar, which has been applied in various thicknesses to the two bottom plates. Sometimes she has painted on the front of the second glass plate, (never on the top plate) and sometimes she has painted on the back. Interestingly, Kretschmer does not use sheets of glass that are the same size. They vary only slightly, just enough to add an unexpected poetic element to the otherwise rational work.

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