Reality Bites

The CVA's two-part exhibit is a divine look at the human form.

It's at this point that Perisho has skillfully inserted the Colorado section of the show, using a conference room to create additional gallery space. Immediately commanding our attention -- and visible in the distance from the moment you enter the CVA -- is a large Floyd Tunson piece from 2001, "Othar," a meticulously done graphite drawing on gessoed canvas. This black-on-white portrait shows blues artist Othar Turner, whom Tunson met on a recent trip to Mississippi. The Tunson has been paired with a striking Matt O'Neill, "Air Guitar (Seventh Grade Self Portrait)," from 1997, which combines the artist's interest in African-American music history with his taste for yearbook photos, conveyed with a tip of the hat to surrealism. Especially effective are the bars of dark violet and black that O'Neill has laid over the otherwise representational composition.

The Colorado pieces include an early and significant Jeff Starr, "The Birth of Tragedy," an alkyd on linen of a little boy (a self-portrait?) sitting on a ruined column and holding a small figural sculpture; work like this is what made Starr a star on the local art scene. David Mesplé's "The One True Religion," a 2001 pencil on canvas, shows a figure standing before a series of burning crosses done with photographic accuracy at the top; below is the word "one," behind which are artist-made artifacts that Mesplé calls "reliquary objects."

Irene Delka McCray and Peter Illig are also featured in the local segment; these two artists are really on their way up lately, and it seems as if half the shows in town include their work.

"Canoe," by David Park, oil on canvas.
"Canoe," by David Park, oil on canvas.
"Anne, Lizzie and Katie," by Fairfield Porter, oil on canvas.
"Anne, Lizzie and Katie," by Fairfield Porter, oil on canvas.

To get to the last leg of the show, you need to go back through the large center gallery and head to the set of galleries located opposite the entry. In the first and the largest of the spaces, Perisho has installed three sculptures that stretch across a broad area of aesthetic interest. "So much in the history of art of the last fifty years is expressed by looking at these three sculptures together," she says. First is Judith Shea's "Shield" from 1989, a bronze on a limestone base of a draped figure that's an update on neo-classicism. Next comes a white painted bronze, "Observer," created by Louise Bourgeois from 1947-49. This is the oldest piece in the show, but also the most modernist and abstract, reflecting the influence of the School of Paris on this French-born New Yorker. Finally, there's "Rosa Negra #1," a painted bronze from 1983 that's typical of Manuel Neri's figural abstraction of the last twenty years.

Hanging as a backdrop to the three sculptures is another genuine masterpiece from the Sheldon collection, on the level of the Park and the Porter. Philip Pearlstein's painting, "Resting female model seated on stool with one leg raised and head bent," an oil on canvas from 1975, is a major work; given its comprehensive title, there's no doubt about the subject.

The Human Factor explores many of the alternate options to the New York School that representational artists took over the last fifty years. The Sheldon pieces, along with the Colorado additions inserted by Perisho, remind us that there's often more to a story than first meets the eye.


Speaking of things not being what they seem, last week I received a phone call from Skip Kohloff of the Colorado Photographic Arts Center. I immediately guessed what the call was about: CPAC's most recent mailer announcing the opening this weekend of "Probing Mischance," a photographic installation.

The problem, you see, was that inside the CPAC envelope was another transparent envelope, and visible inside it, a little square of white plaster-coated gauze and, of course, plaster dust.

That's right -- white powder coming through the mail!

When I first saw it, I was amused rather than alarmed. After all, who but an artist would innocently consider sending a white powdery substance through the mail right now? And I thoroughly believe Kohloff when he says the mailing's association with bio-terrorism was something that never even crossed the minds of the artists -- Maggie Van Westenberg and Julianne Zatorski -- who created it.

In a subsequent mailing to the hundreds of people who'd received the original "powder" piece, Kohloff writes that "it was not the intention of the artists to cause any grief, particularly at this time in our nation," adding, "The artists as well as the Colorado Photographic Arts Center apologize for any concerns this oversight may have caused you in light of the current national situation."

You have to admit, it's funny -- in a gallows-humor kind of way. But ultimately, it's pretty sad.

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