The New Math

Geometry rules in the current attractions at the Singer Gallery.

Zalkind used Murphy's show as a springboard into a wide-ranging exploration of the use of the grid. The selections he made for Gridlock are almost free associations, in which the accidental Dada- and pop-inspired grids are juxtaposed with those that have been carefully and mathematically derived according to well-laid-out aesthetic formulas.

In addition, famous artists have been put together with recent art-school graduates and even some students. Perhaps as a result of this diversity, it's is a very interesting show.

In selecting the artists, Zalkind asked several people for suggestions, including Clark Richert, a well-known Denver painter and a master of geometric abstraction; he is represented here by "1,1,1,: -1,-1,-1," an acrylic on canvas from 1998. The painting represents an illustration of an abstract volume described by lines. In a couple of places, the painting sits right at the front of the picture plane. In the upper left is a square serving as a legend that abstractly conveys the meaning of the painting, and across the entire surface are a pair of crossed lines and a diagonal line. These elements define the painting's surface with the illusion of space falling away behind them.

"Stupidstar," by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, mixed-media painting.
"Stupidstar," by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, mixed-media painting.
"31 Flavors (Plus Super Deluxe Flavor)," by Evan Colbert, acrylic on panel.
"31 Flavors (Plus Super Deluxe Flavor)," by Evan Colbert, acrylic on panel.

In addition to being one of the state's most important artists, with nearly forty years of work under his belt, Richert is also a teacher at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. Among the artists he suggested to Zalkind were a number of his former and current students. But this isn't an example of nepotism -- well, not exclusively anyway -- because quite a few of Richert's students have made names for themselves on their own. In fact, recent shows at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art and at Raven's Nest highlighted the work of many of his protegés. Several of these emerging artists, including Kathy Knauss, Colin Livingston, Jim Morgan and Jeremy Zilar, have been included at Singer. Barbara Groh, a colleague of Richert's at RMCAD -- and a former student -- has also been included.

Surprisingly, most of the artists in Richert's circle don't deal, as he does, with mathematically derived compositions (Morgan and Groh are exceptions). Rather, most combine grids with Dada- and pop-inspired subjects, as Murphy does.

That's surely where local appropriationist Phil Bender's coming from. In "Checker Board," from 2000, he assembles a square grid of nine found checkerboards. The boards are identical, cheaply made of Masonite printed with oil paint. The repetition of the boards and the repetition of the checker squares refers directly to minimalism, but the fact that they are pre-painted, found ones, brings in a whole new set of references.

Other Bender pieces, hung in the separate gallery-cum-daycare center down the hall from the Singer, are also striking. The artist takes common nylon strapping, ordinarily used for the seats and backs of lawn chairs, and weaves it into five "paintings," each titled according to the limited palette of green, brown and yellow he employs. It's amazing that Bender has gotten twenty years' worth of interesting work out of his simple idea -- why make art when you can find it? (More evidence of Bender's boundless creativity may be found in his annual solo, which is now on display at Pirate.)

That's the same concept taken up by David Brady, who uses Lego panels to create the new and very cool "Lego Street Sex," and Evan Colbert, who affixed 98 color copies of one-dollar bills to a Masonite board for his 1996 piece, "$98." Another, more ambitious Colbert, "31 Flavors (Plus Super Deluxe Flavor)," from 2000, is seen in the playroom gallery. It's a series of particle-board tondos done last year that have been arranged like polka dots. The tondos have been painted with house paint in various creamy pastel shades.

Zalkind supplements the local artists with a handful who are nationally famous. The first of these is Chuck Close from New York. The three 1970s self-portraits by Close, each a different-sized rendition of the same view of the artist's face, are characteristic of his distinctive style: He uses a grid to create a photographically accurate picture. This is the same method used by his contemporaries among the photorealists, but they hide their grids, whereas Close makes the grids an emphatic part of his compositions.

Taos artist Agnes Martin's four screen prints, named "On a Clear Day," from 1973, are signature pieces, though they're in miniature. Martin uses repeated straight lines, often arranged in grids, to create all-over geometric abstractions. To all appearances, they seem to exemplify, in their pictorial restraint, minimalism, though it should be pointed out that Martin doesn't consider herself part of that movement.

With these two shows, Zalkind has proved -- especially by having started with Murphy -- that the grid, a central current in contemporary art since the '60s or '70s, is still alive and well in current-day Denver and across the country. And he's also shown that an interest in grids goes way beyond the post- and neo-minimalists.

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