Far and Wide

A pair of striking solos at BMoCA display a broad range of styles.

Last fall, a national search was conducted to find a replacement for Cydney Payton, the respected former director of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art who has taken over at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art. In January, BMoCA's board of trustees announced its selection, Ken Bloom. It's taken a few months for him to make the move, but he is now in the process of establishing his administrative regime in Boulder.

Bloom comes to BMoCA as both a practicing artist of thirty years -- he has an MFA in photography from New York University -- and an art administrator with twenty years' experience. For the past four years, he was the director of Landmark Arts, the art center of Texas Tech in Lubbock. Before that, he worked at a series of exhibition venues in Charlotte, North Carolina, including the Light Factory Visual Arts Center and the Spirit Square Center for the Arts.

Just settling into his new job, Bloom is beginning the transition from the Payton era. "We're doing a lot of housecleaning and reorganization," he says. "I'm looking at making some fundamental changes, including a board reorganization, the development of a renewed strategic plan, virtually rewriting the mission statement, evaluating the physical plant. I'm looking at everything right now."

"Nancy Diptych," by Joe Brainard, oil on canvas.
"Nancy Diptych," by Joe Brainard, oil on canvas.
"The Big IF," by Jim Johnson, acrylic-on-canvas sculpture.
"The Big IF," by Jim Johnson, acrylic-on-canvas sculpture.

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Through September 2, 303-443-2122
Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street, Boulder

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As for programming, Bloom says, "The shows during the next year or so will be consistent with the history of the institution." And, despite his wholesale approach to administrative restructuring, Bloom says that as a curator he will approach things in the same way Payton did. "People should not expect a change in aesthetic vision, and BMoCA will continue to set the standard for visual arts in the community."

Bloom is also interested in getting public input: "I am open to suggestions, the 'Wouldn't it be great?' kind of thing. This is a place where other voices will be heard, and I'm particularly interested in people with special expertise." With that in mind, Bloom plans to work with guest curators. "I could program this place for the next five years out of my file cabinet, but I want to keep my finger on the pulse of the art world and benefit from the experience of others."

However, Payton-planned shows will continue throughout the summer, so Bloom's changes won't be apparent until this fall, when the first of his exhibits will be unveiled. Actually, Payton left a year's worth of planned shows, but Bloom has canceled the end of the season and pulled out of the traveling Visualizing the Blues, a photography show that includes pictures of the biggest names in the Blues by the biggest names in photography.

For now, Payton's program continues with the traveling Joe Brainard: A Retrospective, installed in the West Gallery, and Open Workyards, devoted to Boulder artist Jim Johnson, in the East Gallery.

The Brainard show was sponsored by the Berkeley Art Museum in California and organized by the museum's senior curator, Constance Lewallen.

Born in Arkansas in 1942 and raised in Oklahoma, Brainard moved to New York City in 1961 and soon found himself deeply involved with a vanguard literary and artistic circle. Among his influential new friends was poet, critic and theorist Frank O'Hara. In addition to being a visual artist, Brainard was a poet, and his art often has a literary component. He frequently illustrated books and designed book covers, including some for poet Kenward Elmslie, who now lives in Boulder. According to Payton, Elmslie was instrumental in bringing the Brainard show to Boulder.

In the 1960s, Brainard exhibited his work in important venues in New York and Chicago, but he was appreciated only by a small group of enthusiasts. By the time of his death in 1994 from AIDS-related pneumonia, he was essentially unknown or, at the very best, forgotten. That began to change, though, in 1997, when New York's prestigious Tibor de Nagy Gallery mounted a survey of Brainard's work, which revived interest in him.

And there's quite a bit to pique a viewer's interest. In fact, there's hardly a dull moment in the dense and way-too-crowded exhibit at BMoCA.

Brainard's idiosyncratic work is difficult to categorize stylistically. Clearly, pop art represented a lifelong interest for him, but other styles affected his work, including abstract expressionism, funk, minimalism and pattern painting. He was also broadly interested in the comics, advertising, homoerotic pornography and -- of all things -- flowers.

The oldest pieces in the show are among the most obviously pop, which makes sense, because Brainard first came to New York when pop art was the cutting-edge movement being seen in all the right places. Two 1962 works hung just inside the entrance to the West Gallery make the point nicely. "American Flag" is a collage of a flat abstraction of the flag in yellow and taupe, subtly covered with cursive writing in blue ballpoint pen. It's stunning, and although it owes an obvious debt to the earlier flag paintings by pop pioneer Jasper Johns, it's thoroughly different. The other piece, "7-UP," is the unforgettable and beautiful rendition of the famous logo in an icy powder blue with black, white and red. Although "7-UP" was inspired by pop master Andy Warhol, Brainard retains his artistic authorship, because the logo looks nothing like a Warhol.

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