Look Out

Contemporary artists take off on contemporary society.

Considering the many dazzling colors McEnroe has used over the years, it may be surprising to find that at Cordell Taylor, he has limited himself to black. But truthfully, McEnroe has worked with black all along, even as he was making those more flamboyantly hued pieces.

The two hanging contraptions in this show, "Fair Lawn" and "Habitat," are elaborate fretworks made of a maze of plastic cylinders, with dangling elements that evoke animals. The deer torso, horse head, snake and other shapes are modeled on the ready-made fiberglass armatures used in taxidermy. It's traditional for McEnroe to use found, as opposed to self-generated, forms.

The complicated overall shape of the hanging installations was derived from the Shrue system seen in model-car kits. In this system, the car parts are cast together with a thin framework and are positioned on it in a way that's unrelated to their eventual proper place in the finished toy. That's exactly the same way McEnroe organized his giant Shrue systems, one of which is ten feet tall. The animal-form elements appear to be arranged in a freely associated way, but McEnroe used his unfailing eye to visually balance them in a stunning display of his instinct for the asymmetrical. But, of course, his giant Shrue systems are not meant to be broken apart and then assembled like their car-kit corollaries. No, the big ones are complete and finished just the way they are.

"I Love You/Rated #1 in Painting," by Colin Livingston, 
paint and resin on board.
"I Love You/Rated #1 in Painting," by Colin Livingston, paint and resin on board.


Through June 14
Cordell Taylor Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street

An interesting aspect of "Fair Lawn" and "Habitat" is that, despite the fact that they are conceptually as wild as could be expected from the likes of McEnroe, the black color, the familiar animal shapes and the elegance of the delicate framework make these pieces seem almost traditional. And that may go a long way in explaining why they were chosen for the convention center, which includes other easy-to-understand commissions of representational images, such as Jonathan Borofsky's "Dancers" and the enormous bear by Lawrence Argent.

The last of the three artists in This Year's Model is Cinthea Fiss, a Denver photographer who received her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia in 1993. Since 1998, Fiss has taught electronic-media design at the School of Art and Art History at the University of Denver. Her work in electronic media and photography has been exhibited nationally since the early 1990s.

For this show, Fiss came up with an idea based on the hardscrabble environment surrounding the gallery. Cordell Taylor is situated at the northeast edge of downtown, which is ground zero for the city's homeless population. Within a few blocks are a number of service providers and shelters; thus, many homeless people can be found on the adjacent streets. It was from this population that Fiss chose models for her photos, and I don't think that was such a good idea -- for several reasons, not only because of safety concerns for the artist.

She solicited homeless men and paid them twenty dollars each to come into the gallery, take their shirts off and strike a "sexy" pose for her camera. The photos are handsome enough, but they really troubled me. This uneasy feeling was only exacerbated by the fancy piss-elegant gold-leaf moldings Fiss used for the frames on the nine "Strangers" images, which are done, as are all of her other pieces, in inkjet on paper.

I know a lot of people who feel that art should raise questions, and perhaps that's true, but I'm not too happy about the questions Fiss is raising with these portraits. For example, do Fiss's photos invite viewers to gawk at the down-and-out guys? Are the vagabonds being ridiculed when they're asked to pose "sexy," when clearly they are anything but? Have they been exploited by posing for the photos?

I'm afraid the answer to all of these questions is a resounding "yes."

The problems with Fiss's photos notwithstanding, This Year's Model is thought-provoking in places, beautiful in others, and one of those shows that really shouldn't be missed.

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