The average visitor at the Wynkoop Brewing Company doesn't usually walk in with art on his mind. No, he's thinking about microbrewed beer and a burger and maybe a few rounds of pool. So the challenges of being an art curator at the brewpub are many, though longtime local art connoisseur Joshua Hassel handles the post with matter-of-fact poise and possibly a touch of glee, considering the cavernous spaces he has to work with: yard after yard of unfinished brick walls just crying out to be covered by something snappy and provocative.
Hassel, who tries to showcase local artists exclusively on those historic walls, wears a dozen or so hats in the process: He acts as a liaison with the art community -- looking for, selecting and hanging the works -- and then makes sure his selections look great, an unending job that includes the lowly task of straightening artwork that's been jostled by pool cues. That, he notes, is a constant battle.
What does Hassel look for? "The artwork has to be stimulating," he says, explaining that, as a destination, the Wynkoop really caters to two worlds: dining families and the college-age crowd haunting the pool hall upstairs. Accordingly, he takes an egalitarian approach toward producing shows or hanging spot artworks, which feature a wide variety of styles ranging from Colfax Avenue barber Walt Young's traditional Southwest-style landscapes to a large canvas by Matt O'Neill, who surrealistically twists up images from popular culture. His main curating criterion is quality, a standard governed by personal quirk, which sometimes produces complaints from patrons who just don't "get" the art. "But we don't want art you see at the Ramada Inn," Hassel defends.
This week's challenge? Hassel's prepared a show of large, splattery Pollack-esque paintings, a relatively new hobby for Denver furniture artist Hermon Futrell, who's well-known for his functional art but has never before shown his paintings in public. The show at the Wynkoop gives Futrell a chance to trot the monumental works out before a prospective repeat audience. "For many, a show here is a stepping stone to the big galleries," says Hassel. "It's really a symbiotic relationship: The artists loan us their work, and in return, they get a nice display. And a lot of beer."