Artbeat

Brief sketches of what's happening in the Denver art scene.

Rokko Aoyama lives in northern Colorado, but it's her former homeland, Japan, that gives her conceptual sculptures and installations their decidedly foreign flavor.

Many of Aoyama's works in Visual Itch, now at Artyard Gallery (1251 South Pearl Street, 303-777-3219), include ovoid shapes inspired by Manju, a popular Japanese snack. The distinctive shape, something like a cross between an apple and a bead, is repeated throughout the show. A more off-the-wall Japanesque touch is the Lexus automotive lacquer that has been employed in lieu of glaze to finish these fired-clay pieces.

Despite there being only five sculptures in Visual Itch, the small space at Artyard is filled to capacity. It looks so crowded because a couple of Aoyama's sculptures, though not monumental by any means, require a lot of visual -- if not physical -- space. In fact, these two pieces are by far the strongest and most successful of the lot and could have carried Visual Itch all by themselves.

The first is the sensational "Hitched," a wall-mounted trailer hitch with a heavy chrome-plated tow chain hanging off it and lying across the floor. Punctuating the floor-bound section of the chain are eight Manju shapes that have been airbrushed "Lexus white," making "Hitched" look like a giant string of pearls.

The other, "Oahu Rhapsody 'elua" (above) is even better. It also incorporates Manju shapes, but instead of resting on the floor, the shapes are hung in a vertical line from the ceiling, held together by a hidden cable. Each shape is a different color, and the lacquer gives them all an unexpected metallic sheen and slight iridescence.

Aoyama, who's been showing in Denver for only a few years, is not as well known or as highly regarded as she ought to be. And truthfully, this modest show at Artyard isn't going to do anything to change that. But go anyway. Visual Itch closes on December 21. -- Michael Paglia

 
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