Art Beat

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

The Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute has gone down a rocky road in recent months, and it’s this year’s pair of RMWI Fine Art Associates, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy and Dania Pettus, who’ve blazed the trail.

It began when the two artists notified the RMWI that the pieces they planned to create for the Associates Showcase this year would feature social commentary: about the institute because they felt it hadn’t supported them enough. This led to a couple of angry phone messages from RMWI executive director Elizabeth Braden, in which she instructed the artists that We can’t have that: and that We don’t support social commentary.: Murphy and Pettus responded with a registered letter asking for Braden to clarify her comments. The letter did the trick: The RMWI completely backed down, and the show went on.

But not before another situation presented itself: The host of the show, the Ironton Studios and Galleries, became very uncomfortable with the idea of social protest in the exhibit. We chose the RMWI show because we wanted to support the Women’s Institute,: says Ironton director Deana Spinuzzi. If we’d known there was going to be controversy, we wouldn’t have chosen it.:

Their anxiety was mostly for naught. The messages within the installations by Murphy and Pettus are not just subtle, they’re downright covert. Murphy uses a tape recording of Braden’s phone messages as a soundtrack, but it’s been slowed down so much that it’s impossible to understand (unlike the real-time version I listened to). Pettus has cut up correspondence between the artists and the RMWI and arranged them on the floor, but you have to crawl into the piece to read them.

For Murphy’s Couched,: a pair of couches and an easy chair have been hung at eye level. Hanging below them are their removed back panels, on which Murphy has created crude paintings. It’s an idea I’ve had for a long time,: she says. It’s about how couches are more important to some people than paintings.: (Gee, I wonder whom she’s referring to?)

Fed a Line,: by Pettus (detail above), combines cut-up photos of chairs and figures suspended above the floor by wires hanging across the room. I’ve used chairs and figures for a million years,: Pettus says. The chairs are metaphors for support, of having something to lean on.: Combining this imagery with the title makes clear Pettus’s sentiment: The promised support from RMWI was not forthcoming.

Murphy and Pettus have both said that their aim is to reform the RMWI, but I doubt these fairly polite installations will get the job done.

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