Formal Finale

New takes on modernism are a fitting sendoff for Judish.

Epp is a virtuoso, working in carved stone, cast metal and chiseled wood. Though he sometimes uses different methods and materials together in visually rich combinations, most of the pieces here reflect a single approach. An artist at mid-career with an MFA from the University of Wisconsin, Epp has exhibited his sculptures throughout the Midwest. He came out West just five years ago; since then, he's been an adjunct instructor in drawing at the University of Colorado at Denver, and in 2000, he started to exhibit his work locally. This short tenure in the gallery world is surely why he's not as well known as he should be, given the high quality of his work.

The first Epp group that viewers come across as they make their way through the show comprises three carved limestone stiles with figural references. The pieces, "Primordial Homage," "Paean a Priori" and "Altar to Fecundity," all have a totemic, and therefore phallic, character. These limestone erections contrast sharply with Epp's vaginal vessels, "Codex Grail," "Anna and Anu's Cauldron" and "Pneuman of the Crucible," which he made of different hardwoods and carved with organic abstract shapes. The overall forms of the pieces evoke tree trunks, which, in a sense, is what they were to begin with.

The four shows at Judish, all of which are first-rate, were meant to celebrate the gallery's fifth anniversary, but the mood is hardly celebratory there. When I went over to check out the exhibits last week, gallery director Ron Judish asked me into his office and gave me the bad news: Judish Fine Arts is closing down for good on May 31. "I had nothing to do with the decision," he says. "I'm just an employee." Though the gallery used Judish's name, reputation and expertise, silent partners own it, and they pulled the plug. "I can't blame them; I'd have done the same thing," Judish says. "In the last ten months, the gallery lost more than $100,000." It's easy to forget that galleries are not just cultural amenities, but small businesses, as well.

"She's Leaving Home," by Michael J. Chavez, acrylic on canvas.
"She's Leaving Home," by Michael J. Chavez, acrylic on canvas.
"Normal Frazzle," by Clay Magidson, latex on glass.
"Normal Frazzle," by Clay Magidson, latex on glass.

Details

Michael J. Chavez, John Clark, Clay Magidson and Norman Epp: Forms of Spirit. Through May 31, Judish Fine Arts, 3011 Vallejo Street, 303-571-5556.

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Judish sees the offbeat location, in the Asbury Methodist Church in Highland, as having been a key problem. Originally located on Wazee Street, the gallery moved to the church in the fall of 2001, which was, in retrospect, a very bad time to have done so. "We were doing okay in LoDo," Judish says, "but it went bad after we moved. The timing was just awful; we reopened just a few weeks after 9/11." The timing was surely very bad, but the space itself is fabulous -- and huge. Inside are half a dozen exhibition spaces, each as large as the entire Rule Gallery.

If Judish Fine Arts has been a business failure, it was certainly an aesthetic success, with nearly every show being great, and with Judish himself single-handedly organizing all of them. His artistic vision is breathtaking, and he used it to put together a wide variety of exhibits that featured a tremendous diversity of artists. Under his direction, the gallery highlighted the accomplishments of scores of noteworthy artists. There were presentations devoted to the big names, such as Andres Serrano, Jason Martin and Alice Neel, plus an assortment of local masters such as Roland Bernier, John Hull and Al Wynne. Then there were the mid-career talents, such as Kate Petley, Bruce Price and Emmett Culligan. Finally, Judish pushed the still-nascent young artists, such as Chavez and Magidson, two of the four being feted in the current exhibitions, which are collectively -- and inadvertently -- serving as the gallery's swan song.

The closing of Judish Fine Arts will be a staggering loss to the art community. The fabulous gallery will long be remembered as one of the best contemporary-art venues -- not just in Denver, but in the entire region.

Director Judish is down but not out; he plans to open a new gallery in a few months. "It's a living, breathing thing," Judish says, "and I just can't walk away from it." For his sake -- and ours -- let's hope he's able to regroup. Because without the contribution Judish makes, the Denver art scene just won't be the same, and by that I mean not nearly as good.

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