Western Expansion

LoDo's Ron Judish Fine Arts moves on after the current show closes.

Ron Judish Fine Arts, which will close for several months on Saturday, is set to decamp from its tony Wazee Street location within weeks and move into new and greatly expanded accommodations on the ground floor of a historic church in northwest Denver. And, while gallery director Ron Judish has only just confirmed this story, word on the move has been out for a while -- making it, if not the worst-kept secret in the Denver art world, then the second-worst.

"We're looking, we're planning, we're intending, we're hoping to move," Judish says. "But it could all fall apart tomorrow." There's no doubt about one thing, though: Summer Stock 3, the dazzling group show now gracing the prestigious gallery, will be the last presentation made at the current location.

Judish opened his gallery in the spring of 1998 -- with the help of an investor -- and the place immediately became one of the city's finest venues. His formula was fairly simple. First, the gallery's digs are handsome and well thought out; the former copy shop was turned into three formal exhibition spaces, an informal one and an office. In fact, the gallery has always felt like a little museum. Second, Judish put together a lively group of artists whose work spans a breathtaking range of styles and media. The artists themselves are diverse as well and include big-time international names along with people snatched right out of the local alternative spaces, art schools and college art departments. Finally, Judish has a gift for installation. Every show has been beautifully laid out, and even when the pieces have sometimes been jarringly dissimilar in appearance or intent, the shows have always made sense, if only aesthetically.

"Untitled," by Paul Sarkisian, resin-encrusted lithographs.
James Bludworth
"Untitled," by Paul Sarkisian, resin-encrusted lithographs.
"Host," by Ken Kelly, mixed media on canvas.
"Host," by Ken Kelly, mixed media on canvas.

Details

Through June 23, 303-571-5557
Ron Judish Fine Arts, 1617 Wazee Street

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But these accomplishments weren't unexpected. Sure, it was Judish's first attempt at directing his own gallery, but he'd been fantasizing about it for decades. And he'd gained the necessary experience over the years, working as a curator and gallery director in Denver, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

The vacant church that will house the new gallery (if all goes according to plan) is at 30th Avenue and Vallejo Street in the very up-and-coming Highland neighborhood. The venerable structure is a landmark in every sense of the word. Not only is it an important example of nineteenth-century architecture, but it towers above the adjoining buildings and is easy to see from a distance. The elevated Speer Boulevard viaduct offers a particularly nice view of it.

Built in 1890, the monumental stone building was designed by the Denver firm of Kidder and Humphreys. Originally called the Asbury Methodist Church, it is one of the city's finest examples of the Richardsonian-Romanesque style, a vanguard manner first developed by Boston architect H.H. Richardson. The style is marked by simplicity and straightforwardness, a reaction against the excessive detail associated with Victorian buildings. It was the most sophisticated style of its time, providing an important early prototype for the slightly later Chicago school of commercial architecture that would help launch the modern movement around 1900.

The ground floor, where the gallery will be located, has historically been used as the community hall. It is enormous by private gallery standards, measuring some six thousand square feet. "It will be the biggest, the grandest commercial gallery Denver has ever seen," Judish says, barely containing his enthusiasm. (The church's beautifully appointed, vaulted nave is on the second floor, and the gallery will not be using this space.)

Judish plans to create four separate galleries. One will be devoted to rotating presentations of the gallery's stable of artists, two will be given over to separate, changing exhibits of the type presented currently, and the final gallery will specialize in photography. He would also like to create an outdoor sculpture garden. "We've developed a niche for monumental sculpture," Judish says. "There seems to be a hunger for large-scale sculpture lately, and we've done very well with major works by Erick Johnson and Emmett Culligan and others in recent months."

Judish hopes to re-open in his new space by mid-September, but that's hard to imagine, because work has yet to begin on the renovation.

Although the final arrangements are still up in the air, the plan to close the LoDo gallery is not. Thus, Summer Stock represents Judish's Wazee Street swan song. But that's not the only reason to see it -- the work included is of an unbelievably high quality.

The first thing we see as we enter is a new painting by John Hull, a nationally known artist who lives south of Denver. Hull is a contemporary representational painter whose fluid lines and compelling sense for composition recall the work of the old masters. But Hull adds a twist by depicting the dark and seedy side of life, as in "Acts 26:14, KJV," an acrylic on canvas from 2001. In this riveting painting, Hull captures a night scene in which a group of people are standing around outside. It's hard to say what's happening, but the two guys on the sidewalk look like they might be menacing the guy in the street. One disturbing detail is the unkempt and shabbily dressed little girl standing between two of the men.

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