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Even before Cydney Payton formally joined the Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art at the beginning of this year, she'd told me about her plan to initiate a series of ongoing exhibits dedicated to Colorado artists. Now that she's been ensconced at the institution for several months, she's putting that plan into effect. The first show of the series is White Light: The Early Work of Jackie Greber.
Through June 9 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788
"There are so many significant artists in the area, and there have been too few exhibition opportunities for them, especially in the museum world," Payton says. "I think it's important for the community that we do these kinds of shows."
This sensitive and intelligent approach isn't new for Payton: She did the same thing at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, which she ran for nearly a decade, seamlessly integrating the work of locals with nationally known, and even internationally known, artists. She also featured shows dedicated exclusively to the artists from our region.
It was a formula for success at BMoCA, and she's smart to continue the practice now that she's running the MCA (formerly known by the clunky abbreviation MoCA/D; the change was yet another Payton-initiated improvement).
Sculptor Jackie Greber was selected as the first local master to be feted in a Payton-organized solo at the MCA. "Jackie and I selected the pieces together about six months ago or so," recalls Payton. "But about three months ago, she became seriously ill." White Light opened on May 18, two days after Greber died. "I really wish she could have lived to see the opening."
Greber, who was born in 1935, began to make art in the 1960s while living in Southern California. She had her studio in Venice, then a hotbed for West Coast vanguard art. A friend, neighbor and fellow traveler in the realm of illusionistic abstraction was the renowned Robert Irwin, whom Greber refers to as "Bob" in her artist's statement prepared for the MCA show.
In the 1970s, Greber got interested in feminist art, which was emerging as a force in the realm of contemporary art, thus becoming one of the movement's pioneers, specifically with regard to her exploration of vaginal imagery.
In 1982, already an established artist, she moved to Lakewood and began exhibiting. And despite the show's subtitle, which indicates that it will feature early work, all the pieces were created after Greber moved to our region.
For some longtime denizens of the Denver art world, Greber's work is still very well known, though she didn't exhibit much during the last decade, especially after her gallery representative, Inkfish, shut down in the mid-'90s. In the '80s, however, her acrylic sculptures were widely exhibited, not just at Inkfish but in other area venues, including the Arvada Center and Foothills, and at art venues in New York and across the country.
Greber was actually trained as a clinical psychologist with an interest in biology, and she wrote in her biographical statement prepared for this exhibit that her scientific background was important for her "understanding of optics in art...and the modalities of human perception." The references to optics and perception are appropriate since her sculptures are made of transparent, translucent and opaque plastics, assembled in such a way that their appearance changes as the viewer moves around them.
The pieces in White Light are fabulous. All are meticulously crafted, and all refer to constructivism, even those that incorporate biomorphic elements. And although plastic, Greber's chosen material, is extremely fragile and prone to scratching and the newest piece in the show is nearly ten years old, everything is in remarkably pristine condition. This is essential, because scratches would affect the way the sculptures absorb and redirect the overhead track lights or transmit internally generated light.
The first piece, displayed at the top of the stairs, is "Absolute Zero," from 1986, a crystalline form created from triangles of frosted acrylic. But the crystal's symmetry has been interrupted by the insertion of organic shapes made of the same acrylic. In this piece, as well as in a couple of others, such as 1988's "Back to the '60s," Greber combines organic elements with a sense of structural or even geometric order.
An interesting reconciliation of the organic and the geometric is seen in a few pieces in which Greber uses circles, or, more correctly, cylinders. This formal unity is clearly seen in the visually rich "Spiral II," which is made of an opaque black Plexiglas base that has been imbedded with transparent acrylic cylinders done in various jewel-tones and sizes. The cylinders, which are illuminated from below by a hidden light source, have been arranged in a spiral.
Certainly, Greber's unexpected death casts the show in a different light, so to speak, and the title takes on a more ethereal meaning than was intended. The show itself, meant to be an overdue reintroduction for Greber, instead became a poignant if inadvertent memorial.
Just a few blocks away, the Robischon Gallery is focusing on local talent with a pair of spectacular solos featuring two well-known contemporary artists, both of whom have been exhibiting locally and nationally since the 1980s. Stan Meyer: Constructed Paintings features a group of monumental pieces made of woven roofing tar paper, while Myron Melnick: Sculpture and Prints is dominated by cast-paper sculptures and wall reliefs.
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