Art Beat

Michael Paglia's brief sketches of what's happening in the Denver art scene.

The modest Philip J. Steele Gallery does double duty as the entry lobby for the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. But despite this limitation, it's often a place to see interesting shows put together by gallery director Lisa Spivak. The current show makes the case. Richard Notkin: Passages: A Ceramic Installation, is a standout even among the umpteen clay shows now celebrating the National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts conference.

Notkin's work is related to the funk movement in California; he earned his MFA at the University of California at Davis, a hotbed for the style. The show is courtesy of the artist and of his New York representative, the Garth Clark Gallery.

In a group of showcases can be found stacks of clay ears in widely different sizes from Notkin's "Legacy" series. He has used more than fifty types of earthenware clay to make the ears, which are left unglazed and are polished after firing using a variety of methods, from employing cement mixers for the large ones to rock tumblers for the small ones. The surfaces and colors he achieves are amazingly stone-like. The ears, which at first glance look funny, are meant to suggest violence.

As is "The Gift" (above), an enormous tile mural emblazoned with the photographic image of the mushroom cloud taken over the Bikini atoll during the tests for the hydrogen bomb in the 1950s. The tiles, which have been finished in reduction-produced shades ranging from white, through several tones of gray, to a deep murky black, are impressed with skulls, dice and bricks.

The show is meant to commemorate the passage from the twentieth century to the 21st, but time marches on: The show is open only through March 29th. -- Michael Paglia

 
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