Across the Board

Modern methods make for some awkward moments in local galleries.

The show's title implies that the art history we were taught in school -- in which every stylistic phase appears in a neat chronological order -- has fallen by the wayside. Now anything goes, as tight representational imagery is hung side by side with non-objective compositions, abstract sculptures are paired with hyper-realist paintings -- you get the idea. It's this visual cacophony that gallery director Ron Judish has captured with his exhibit. The untitled group show in the back gallery adds an exclamation point to the statement.

As we enter, we see two large abstract sculptures by Alex Harrison on the floor between a wall of neo-romantic figure paintings and a wall of unflinchingly accurate super-realist portraits. To the left is "C=2r" from 1998, a three-foot-in-diameter sphere made of cedar blocks joined by aluminum pins. The other sculpture, "Inflaction," also from 1998, is a rocking skeletal construction of roughly cut cedar boards on which a large aluminum ball moves along like a train. The play of the unfinished lumber's dull surface off the quiet sheen of the aluminum is very nice.

Although Harrison is new to Judish, his work has been exhibited in town for the past five years, mostly through his association with the ILK co-op. He is one of several younger artists given an uptown break by Judish; another is Heidi McFall, who is from Colorado Springs. McFall's three almost identical portraits, each called "Barbara" and distinguished by the numbers 1, 2 and 3, at first look like photo enlargements, but they're actually meticulous pastel drawings. Using a self-taught method characterized by fanatical accuracy, McFall employs blacks and grays to depict an older woman in wraparound shades. Her drawings are amazing demonstrations of skill -- not just in her careful drafting, but in her very contemporary approach to composition. The striking woman, Barbara, is seen up close -- and those sunglasses are really cool.

"Inflaction," by Alex Harrison, sculpture.
"Inflaction," by Alex Harrison, sculpture.

Details

Susanna Cavalletti Podboy, Judith Cohn
Spark Gallery, 1535 Platte Street
303-455-4435
The End of History
Ron Judish Fine Arts, 1617 Wazee Street
Through June 3
303-571-5556

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A very different mood is conjured by a group of 1990s paintings by California artist Rebecca Alzofon. They remind us of Victorian or Beaux Arts pictures, in which delicately done nudes, typically female and all peaches and cream, are seen in natural settings. Alzofon is an accomplished traditional painter, but she adds pictorial elements that bring in contemporary subject matter. In several of the paintings, for example, she has placed a surveyor's stake marked by an orange ribbon to indicate that development is on the way and the scene's ruination already in the bag.

On a long row of cantilevered wall shelves hung in Judish's middle space are what can only be called three-dimensional paintings by Kate Petley, a Texas artist. Petley has leaned decorated Plexiglas squares against one another, producing abstracts with layers of depth. The painted forms on the transparent top panel meld with those on the bottom, which are revealed through it. Even up close, these pieces look like art glass instead of painted plastic -- quite an accomplishment. Nearby are two Petley sculptures made of wire armatures and resin. "Inside," which is on a pedestal, and "Floating," which is hung from the ceiling, both date back a few years but represent a style that's just coming on around the country. These are pieces in which organic shapes reminiscent of body parts (often the womb) predominate.

No real sense can be made from bringing together these four artists, except for the fact that gallery directors like Judish have looked far and wide for stylistic sources. This message is underscored by an equally heterogeneous group display in the back gallery. This show isn't titled and it isn't part of The End of History, but it could have been.

The show begins with four dozen black-and-white portrait photographs of nuns by Denver photographer Michael Ensminger. Though the sisters may appear somber, they aren't. Instead of photographing real nuns, Ensminger has dressed up and posed many of the area's best-known female artists, gallery directors, curators and art-world figures, including Cydney Payton, Chandler Romeo, Dianne Vanderlip, Virginia Folkestad, Sally Perisho and Martha Russo. It's hard to say what Ensminger intended by this sacrilegious one-liner, but his skill at portraiture, especially in terms of composition, is brilliant and remains appealing even after the laughter dies.

Next to these are a group of digital prints by Quintin Gonzalez that are also religious in subject matter. "The Turning of Light," an inkjet on photo paper, shows a crucifix that has a neo-baroque quality despite the more obvious high-tech flourishes inherent in digital printing.

On the other side of the nun photos is a small box painting called "Dyad #2" by Bruce Price, one of the city's best abstract painters. In this elegant little acrylic on canvas from 1999, Price has struck a horizontal line across the front and sides. In the larger, bottom portion, he has used a smeary red over black; on the top, he has used a strong tomato red. Price's deceptively simple style has increasingly found proponents, and he is set for a New York debut next year at the well-known O. K. Harris Gallery.

In the other half of the space is Gail Wagner's impressive wall sculpture, "Wealth." This organic piece, made of cotton yarn, dye, paint and scores of tiny plastic hotdogs, has an unexpected monumentality. The colors are great, too, with the green painted yarn, which has been stiffened, setting off the orange and dark red of the little plastic hotdogs.

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