New and Improved

Changes are afoot at Ron Judish's gallery.

Discreet shifts have been taking place at 30th and Vallejo streets over the past couple of months. I'm referring to behind-the-scenes negotiations at the Judish gallery, located on the ground floor of the historic Asbury Methodist Church, a landmark in every sense of the word.

Here's what has happened: The gallery, one of the premier exhibition venues in the Rocky Mountain region, has changed hands.

This significant fiduciary rearrangement has led to a subtle name change. Formerly known as Ron Judish Fine Arts, the place is now operating as Judish Fine Arts and Judish Photography. "Eventually, Judish Photography will move," says Ron Judish, director of both. "We're looking for an appropriate space right now."

"Origo," by Wade Hoefer, oil on canvas.
"Origo," by Wade Hoefer, oil on canvas.
"Untitled," by Ron Katz, digital photographic print.
"Untitled," by Ron Katz, digital photographic print.

Judish declines to identify the new owners, saying only that they are from out of state and are widely known and respected. "They'd rather not reveal their names because of their prominent role in the art world," Judish says. "There were some difficult times during negotiations, but everything's in place now, and we have just signed a two-year lease on our existing space."

New monikers aside, the goals of the gallery -- or galleries -- have not changed, Judish says. And that means there will always be something worth seeing at the place, because at its current location as well as at its previous spot on Wazee Street, Judish has hosted some of the most important exhibits ever presented in the Mile High City.

The secret to Judish's success is the combination of an unfailing eye and a very smart exhibition program. He's brought in the work of big-time art stars from around the country, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano and Alice Neel, while continuing to showcase some of the finest talent in our own back yard, such as John Hull, Bruce Price and Al Wynne.

And the fall openers prove that Judish isn't just whistling Dixie. On display at Judish Fine Arts are Wade Hoefer: Paintings, and Kevin O¹Connell: ³Dark,² New Photographs.Hoefer is a famous California painter who's been exhibiting his work from coast to coast for thirty years. O'Connell is among the top fine-art photographers in Colorado.

Born in Long Beach, Hoefer completed his graduate studies in Oakland, at the California College of Arts and Crafts, and has remained in northern California ever since. His paintings are included in many private, corporate and public collections, mostly in New York or on the West Coast. They have also been shown in Colorado -- not on the Front Range, but in Aspen, at the David Floria Gallery. The Judish show provides a rare opportunity to see Hoefer's work in Denver.

At first glance, the Hoefer paintings appear to be straightforward re-creations of nineteenth-century romantic landscapes, the kind of thing done by Albert Bierstadt or Thomas Moran. On closer examination, however, viewers will realize that Hoefer has done something that's not so much neo-traditional as it is postmodern. Rather than replicate the old paintings, he presents them as they would appear today, after suffering the ravages of time and before any restoration.

Hoefer simulates almost perfectly the appearance of layers of yellowing varnish and, in one case, what looks to be a water stain running down the middle of an oil on canvas ("Virga").

The paintings' colors, which range from deep umbers and siennas to toned-up yellows and whites, help Hoefer complete his desired faux-antique look.

In addition to the conceptual element realized in these painterly flourishes, there's an important visual one: Hoefer heightens the luminous effect of his scenes by simultaneously darkening the land and lightening the sky. In fact, the artist's ability to achieve such incredible brightness is the most remarkable feature of his expertly carried out painting style.

The Hoefer paintings include easel-sized pieces such as "Contemplo," as well as large, majestic compositions like the showstopping "Origo."

In the room to the left of the entryway at Judish is the O'Connell display. Although O'Connell is a photographer, this exhibit is being presented under the auspices of Judish Fine Arts rather than the adjacent Judish Photography. As director Judish explains, both galleries will feature photography and photo-based works, but Judish Photography will do so exclusively.

Kevin O'Connell was born in Chicago in 1958. He came to Denver in the '80s to attend law school at the University of Denver, and he received his degree in 1991. He is essentially a self-taught photographer but has surely picked up some tips over the years as a longtime member of the Denver Salon, a loosely affiliated group of fine-art photographers.

O'Connell has exhibited in a variety of art venues, both in solo and group shows. Some of these took place in the context of the Denver Salon, such as last year's riveting exhibit in the Merage Gallery at the Denver Art Museum.

I first became aware of O'Connell in the mid-'90s, and I've never seen any photo by him that wasn't flawlessly executed and exquisitely beautiful. The high quality of the prints themselves is notable, but O'Connell also seems to have a perfect sense for composition.

In this recent series, called "Dark," O'Connell continues his exploration of the abstract possibilities in the world around us. Unless it's pointed out to them, viewers may not realize that in these pieces, O'Connell is looking at the familiar sky above. In a gelatin silver photo such as "Untitled" (all of them are untitled, by the way), the gray clouds against the black sky convey nothing less than abstract expressionism.

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