New and Improved

Changes are afoot at Ron Judish's gallery.

The photos look like abstractions because they are out of focus and because O'Connell aimed his camera at the night sky rather than the daytime sky, thus capturing the vaporous quality of wafting clouds in the dark. In many of the pictures, there is also the juxtaposition of white against the darkness, from the appearance of the tiny yet bright stars.

Tiny yet bright: Come to think of it, that's exactly how I'd describe these photographs.

Adjacent to the O'Connell display is the Judish Photography space, in which Restoration After 9/11 has been installed. This show examines both American sentiment and the people of Afghanistan.

"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.

Representing the American response to 9/11 is a video by Erick Johnson that records his creation last spring of a memorial piece called "Safety Net."

Johnson is best known as a sculptor, and "Safety Net," while not exactly sculptural, is at least three-dimensional. In the video at Judish, Johnson lays out his concept for the piece, followed by a documentary of the unveiling of the piece.

A major Colorado artist, Johnson has worked here for thirty years. His art is included in a number of collections, and he has received several private and public art commissions in Denver and throughout the state. (Among his local projects are a notable piece at the REI flagship store in the Platte Valley and one at Coors Field.)

"Safety Net" was presented in the public spaces at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. It was composed of a large net suspended high above the ground. Hanging from the net were more than 3,000 candleholders, each meant to represent a life lost in the World Trade Center attack last year.

The candleholders were created from a variety of cheap, simple and readily available materials. The bases, made from the bottoms of aluminum soda cans, provided platforms for small votive candles. Shades made from cylinders of thick parchment protected the candles' flames from the wind. Each sheet of parchment was held in place by a gummed label on which the name of a victim was printed. Wire hangers mounted onto the bases and extending above the shades were attached to the net, which, after the candles were lit, was raised into place. The experience of seeing "Safety Net" in person must have been out of this world, because even on tape it's remarkably beautiful and quite moving.

Though the piece was taken down immediately after its presentation a few months ago, Johnson would like to create a permanent version made of permanent materials and have it placed somewhere, maybe even in New York. Let's hope that happens.

The remainder of Restoration comprises the work of New York photographer Ron Katz. "I thought it would be interesting to pair Erick's piece with the other side of the coin -- in this case, the people of Afghanistan," says Judish. This is the second time in recent months that he has feted Katz with a Denver show; the earlier exhibit showcased Katz's views of the masked and costumed revelers at Venice's famous Carnivale, the Italian version of Mardi Gras. The current show presents Katz's lovingly composed portraits of the Afghan people, from his very recent "Faces of Islam" series.

Katz takes a traditional and formal approach to his subjects; each large-format photo is a close-up of an individual from the chest up, like an old-fashioned portrait. The subjects, older men and women for the most part, stare straight out at us.

While there's a documentary aspect to these photos -- ethnic clothing and headwear are the predominating pictorial elements -- they are clearly fine-art photos and not part of an anthropology study. The people are carefully positioned, and the photos themselves are meticulously and symmetrically composed.

Also marking Katz as an artist and not a documentarian is his manipulation of color. He is a master of color photography, and in these digitally produced prints, he gets some amazing tonal results. The colors are incredibly rich, and the inevitable disintegration of the image that occurs through digitization makes the photos look as though they've been touched up with watercolors or even pastels (they haven't).

All three of these exhibits are incredible.

Thank goodness Judish was able to find some guardian angels to keep the now-bifurcated place going strong. And even though we may not be able to identify the individuals, we -- and by that I mean the entire community -- owe them a hearty handshake and a sincere expression of thanks.

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