Common Misconceptions

The Metro Center for the Visual Arts and Foothills Art Center turn our expectations upside down.

Among the neo-minimalist -- or should I say post-minimalist? -- objects is "Presence/Absence," a large sculpture by Petrona Morrison from 1999. I say perhaps post-minimalist because, though the formal elements are ordered and rectilinear as they are in good old-fashioned minimalism, the finish is uneven, and the black paint is actually peeling in places -- a decidedly un-minimalist aspect. (Neo-minimalism pays homage to the style, while post-minimalism subtly takes it apart.)

More clearly neo-minimalist is the work of Hope Brooks, in which multi-part grids -- one painting has twelve elements, the other sixteen -- are made up of individually articulated panels that are all painted with a modulated field; all look essentially the same, though the colors vary. Brooks has been the director of the Jamaica School of Art, a part of the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, for nearly twenty years. Fittingly, the college is the center of Jamaican artistic life. Many of the other artists in Soon Come, including Watson, Ra, McFarlane and Morrison, are also associated with it, either as onetime students or teachers.

The most surprising thing about the show, though, is this prevalence of abstracts -- many by the artists from Manley. So Perisho was right: There is a lot of unexpected material in Soon Come.

"Self-Portrait With Eggs," by Albert Chong, gelatin silver print.
"Self-Portrait With Eggs," by Albert Chong, gelatin silver print.
"Opus 32," by Yongsook Kim-Lambert, mixed watermedia.
"Opus 32," by Yongsook Kim-Lambert, mixed watermedia.


Through October 6. 303-294-5207

Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Exhibition, 2001
Through October 21
Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden

Metro Center for the Visual Arts, 1734 Wazee Street

In a parallel situation, another center director alerted me to a show that doesn't exactly bring to mind contemporary art. Carol Dickinson of Golden's Foothills Art Center phoned me and said, "I don't expect you to come up to the watermedia show, and ordinarily, I wouldn't even suggest that you do, but this year's show is really different." The show Dickinson's referring to is the annual Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Exhibition 2001.

Most of the artists who work with watercolors tend -- for whatever reason -- to do conservative pictures of bowls of fruit, vases of flowers, landscapes, wildlife scenes and children seen in sentimental and cloying poses, rather than anything even vaguely contemporary and relevant. And most of this year's watermedia show in Golden is made up of just that. But Dickinson was right -- there was something more. About a third of the paintings take up contemporary-art topics.

"It was our juror this year," says Dickinson. "She was fabulous. Her name is Katherine Chang Liu. She really took a lot of risks, and she put a lot of things in the show that previous jurors would not have, such as choosing the many dark and moody abstractions that she did, which are quite a surprise." Liu, who was born in China, grew up in Taiwan and studied art at the University of California at Berkeley, has been a professional artist for 25 years. She first exhibited her own work in the Rocky Mountain Watermedia Exhibition way back in 1978.

There are several standouts. S. Farrior Harden's "Defense d'Afficher: Lola," is a collage and watercolor incorporating words and scribbles. Also very nice is Meg Ingraham's "Too Soon to Tell," an elegant automatist painting that's technically a watermedia piece but looks more like a conventional painting. That's also true of the marvelous "Opus 32," by Yongsook Kim-Lambert. And there's quite a bit more, too.

Although I still wouldn't say that Jamaica is a main player in the art world, or that watermedia is rife with artistic possibilities, it turns out that first impressions can be wrong.

What the pyramids were to the ancient Egyptians, what the cathedrals were to medieval Europe, skyscrapers are to us. They are symbols of America's wealth, ingenuity and refinement. Of all building types, none are so grand, so sublime or so wonderful as our nation's skyscrapers, and few were more revered, more admired or more famous than the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center -- the visual and physical anchor of Lower Manhattan's financial district. The fanatics who brought them down understood that symbolic power, which is why they chose to target those particular buildings.

When the Twin Towers were built, between 1967 and 1973, they represented a bold urban design stroke. With this one complex, architect Minoru Yamasaki and his client, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, created a sense of aesthetic balance for the city's skyline when seen in the classic views from Brooklyn, Staten Island and New Jersey. The visual weight of Lower Manhattan was made equal to the much more densely composed Midtown, where the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building are located. Another of Yamasaki's great accomplishments was the ratio of width to height that brought the Twin Towers a sense of humanity. Despite their great height, their individual footprints were fairly small, creating two exaggeratedly vertical forms. Yamasaki underscored this tall and narrow attribute by giving the towers delicately articulated surfaces created by cast-aggregate vertical ribs, some of which rose from the ground to the roofline. This attenuated verticality also contributed to the successful relationship of the buildings to the rest of the city's skyline, since, though taller than all the other buildings in New York, they were conceived in precisely the same scale.

It will be a long time before we recover from the unspeakable horrors we've all witnessed, but in a real sense, New York's iconic skyline was diminished forever.

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