Slap Shots

Two photo shows are set to close at the Arvada Center, while BMoCA closes out its Harry Bertoia.

In the capacious lower-level galleries at the Arvada Center, curator and exhibition director Kathy Andrews has installed a pair of large photo displays: Fresh Eyes: Colorado Photographers¹ Views, which looks at recent experimental photography by some of the state's most interesting artists, and Signs and Relics, a solo show that's devoted to the work of New York photographer Sylvia Plachy.

Fresh Eyes begins with a section filled with the gelatin silver print photographs by Denver's Mark Sink. For those who may have not followed Sink's career carefully enough -- and apparently I haven't -- these photos are a major surprise. When I think of Sink's photos, I think of flowers and gauze and, of course, the bare breasts of young women. I don't think of reverse silhouettes of bottles and glasses, but those are the subjects he has chosen here, placed on saturated black grounds. The margins of the glassware are filled in with fuzzy gray details, an effect Sink achieved by simply laying a bottle or glass on photographic paper and exposing it to a flick of light.

Next up is a group of David Sharpe silver print enlargements based on pinhole photographs used in lieu of negatives. Sharpe, who lives in Denver, has done photos of this sort for many years, using pinhole cameras made from oatmeal boxes and tea cans. The results are blurry shots of outdoor scenes carried out in a monumental photo-mural format. All of them have been directly adhered to the wall, and the edges have been allowed to curl down, which enhances the primitive, out-of-focus character of the pinhole originals. Every one of these photos has been well conceived, and some are tremendous, such as the lyrical and impressionistic "Aspens north of Mt. Princeton" and "Nest in Tree."

"Aspens north of Mt. Princeton," by David Sharpe, pinhole silver print.
"Aspens north of Mt. Princeton," by David Sharpe, pinhole silver print.


Through November 12
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada

Further on are a good many color-copier Type C prints by Denver's Scott Engel. The prints, from his abstract "Decompose" series, were produced by composting printed materials such as magazines and catalogues. Engel periodically scrapes away the layers and photographs whatever looks pleasing to him, then prints them using a color copier. Especially nice is his palette, partly the product of the tones limited by the color-copier technique, and partly the result of the original printed sources fading through the rigors of composting.

The last part of the show is divided between some very elegant photos by Loveland's Michael Butts and photos and a photo-based installation by Derek Johnston from Basalt.

Butts's photos are gelatin silver prints of multiple-image landscapes that were originated from pinhole photographs. No explanation is given as to how Butts achieves his wavy and whirling effect, but I think he may move his pinhole camera while the lens is open. However he does it, though, it works, over and over again.

Johnston's platinum palladium print photos are of large glass jugs with photographic images of Western landscapes wrapping around the insides. The jugs, which originally held photo chemicals, have been filled with liquid -- presumably water -- making the photo image less distinct. In Johnston's large installation, the bottles themselves have been arranged on bottom-lighted glass shelves that make them glow. The photos are a lot better than the installation.

The other exhibit, Signs and Relics, is made up of some of the photos that appear in Plachy's new book. One of the most amazing features of this show is that the only thing that seems to connect the photos is the use of olive green mats on all of them. In this way, they seem like casually taken snapshots -- and that's exactly what they are.

Plachy, a longtime staff photographer for New York's Village Voice, is at her best with American subjects, which may be rooted in the fact that she was born in Hungary. Her European-based photos are bloodless and detached, while her depictions of Americans in bizarrely American situations -- a women's body-building competition or a little boy dressed as the devil sitting in a fast-food joint -- are loving and uncritical.

One of the biggest revelations in Signs and Relics is how the five local boys in Fresh Eyes compare when presented side by side with a big-name artist like Plachy. You know what? They look pretty darned good.

There's sad news coming out of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art: The institution has sold Harry Bertoia's "Sounding Sculpture I," one of the late artist's most important and largest tonal sculptures, and a piece that has been in Colorado since it was made in the early 1970s.

"Sounding Sculpture I" is constructed of metal rods topped by larger metal cylinders. The rods, mounted vertically in a dense rectilinear grid arranged on a flat horizontal base, are meant to move in the breeze and produce sounds reminiscent of the bells of an old grandfather clock.

It originally stood in Denver in front of the former Colorado National Bank, at 950 17th Street. That building, one of the finest formalist-style structures in the region, is a 1972 creation by world-renowned Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki, who is best known as the architect of New York's World Trade Center towers. After the building's completion, the bank commissioned Bertoia to create "Sounding Sculpture I," and it was installed in front in 1976.

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