Hard and Fast

Hot new sculpture at Judish and Cordell Taylor.

There's a much looser relationship between these monumental sculptures and the four small wall sculptures that finish out the Culligan show. Whereas the monumental floor sculptures seem to take up issues of material, process, narrative and physics, these wall sculptures are more organic in inspiration, with references to the figure and to parts of the body. Plus, they're exemplars of an entirely new direction for Culligan.

"They're androgynous and have elements of both male and female, because I wanted to get out of the specifics of gender," he says. "At the same time, I don't want them to be overly organic -- I don't want to invent a new chicken -- so I bring mechanized elements to the organic."

Unlike the floor sculptures, the wall sculptures are very elaborate, but the combination of stone and metal connects them all. "Granite, marble, stainless steel. How could I possibly go wrong?" Culligan asks rhetorically.

"Talis," by Emmett Culligan, granite, marble and steel sculpture.
"Talis," by Emmett Culligan, granite, marble and steel sculpture.
"linguistic antibody," by Zach Smith, multimedia installation detail.
"linguistic antibody," by Zach Smith, multimedia installation detail.


Emmett Culligan: Sculpture
Through March 1
Judish Fine Arts, 3011 Vallejo Street

Zach Smith: linguistic antibody
Through February 15
Cordell Taylor Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street

Considering the modernist formalism that's not far beneath the metaphorical surface of Culligan's sculptures, it's consistent that he would be interested in the concept of beauty, a hotly contested issue in contemporary art. Though beauty was decidedly out of vogue for a while, it's now back -- big time. "I am not afraid to say that I'm a great fan of beauty and harmony in sculpture," Culligan says. "I always have been."

Beauty is also a concern that's laid out in Zach Smith: linguistic antibody, installed up front at the Cordell Taylor Gallery -- though I've got the feeling that the 24-year-old Smith would hate to think about it. He's a rebel who is much more interested in provocation than beauty. For example, he's a member of the in-your-face performance group the Motoman Project, which he founded with Joseph Riché and Eric DeWine.

But Smith's craftsmanship is meticulous, as is his instinctual sense for chaste, bare-bones compositions, making his sculptures beautiful whether he likes it or not. In every other way, however, they're as different from Culligan's works as night is from day.

Smith was born in Houston in 1978 and came to Denver in December 1997 to attend the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. "When I was in high school, I would stay up all night drawing and making movies. I came to RMCAD in the first place to study drawing. But then I met Chuck [Parson], Martha [Russo] and Bryan [Andrews], and because of their influence, I became a sculptor," he says with a laugh.

For the show at Cordell Taylor, Smith has created only two works: a multimedia installation, "Linguistic Antibody," and the large wall sculpture "Modular Attrition." Both seem to be extensions of the ideas he's been dealing with over the past few years.

The installation "Linguistic Antibody," from which the show takes its name, has two main components: elements hung on the wall and elements placed on a cart on the floor. Hanging on the wall is a metal panel with a Texas Instruments Speak & Spell machine from the '80s flanked by propeller-like devices and a pair of audio speakers just beyond. On the top of the cart are four archaic Texas Instruments computers, including two Speak & Spells, a Speak & Read and a Speak & Math. "These are the beginnings of what we have today," Smith says. "They were the electronics I was raised on."

He rewired the computers, connecting them to an amplifier so that they can be played like organ keyboards, the notes being created from the machines' synthetic voices. Smith's interest in sound in his installations, especially music, is something he sees as being central to his work. "I've always been messing around with music," Smith says, "and I still buy CDs as much as I buy materials. I always use music in performances, both my own and Motoman's."

The wall sculpture "Modular Attrition" is something else, being both static and silent. Made of sheets and bars of steel, it is hieratic in composition and absolutely symmetrical except for the white-painted carved tree limb in the middle. The installation contrasts with the sculpture, and Smith readily acknowledges the dichotomy. "Texas Zach did 'Linguistic Antibody,' and Colorado Zach did 'Modular Attrition,'" he says wryly.

Smith has some wild ideas that go way beyond playing Speak & Spell keyboards -- like blowing things up in his performances, which he's done before. Wild, yes, but he's smart and skillful as well. And that's why these two pieces in Zach Smith at Cordell Taylor are all that's necessary for a first-rate show.

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