Hot and Cool

Abstract sculptures and paintings look good at Walker and Fresh Art.

It's surprising, yet it's all but official: Walker Fine Art has established a place for itself at the main table of contemporary art in Denver. True, it hasn't quite reached the top tier of local venues, but it's only one level down from it -- pretty impressive for an operation that's only in its second year. Walker's success is due entirely to the sweat -- and high spirits -- of owner Bobbi Walker, who is likely to take the gallery even further in the near future.

What makes this success most surprising is that the art market around here is saturated with a head-spinning number of galleries. But even more astounding is that Walker has succeeded despite being marooned in the Prado, one of the most pretentious buildings anywhere, owing to its ridiculous Greco-Vegas design. "Some people have complained about the building," Walker says, "but look at this space!"

She does have a point: The capacious though rough-finished rooms are the perfect setting for contemporary art exhibits. And hideous as it is, the Prado is undeniably well located in the heart of the Golden Triangle, even sharing a block with the firmly established William Havu Gallery. "Scheduling our openings on the same night as Bill Havu's has really helped a lot," Walker notes. "Our traffic has been way up since I started coordinating with him."

"3-D Drawings, Glyph Series," by William Vielehr, 
aluminum sculptures.
"3-D Drawings, Glyph Series," by William Vielehr, aluminum sculptures.
"Bes," by David Mazza, welded- and painted-steel 
"Bes," by David Mazza, welded- and painted-steel sculpture.


Pursuit of Passion
Through February 21, Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, 303-355-8955

Through February 21, Fresh Art Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-2200

Also helping out a lot is the fact that Walker has been booking known local artists, using their good names to attract visitors. Last time it was Jerry Wingren, a regionally famous sculptor; this time she snagged Bill Vielehr, another noteworthy Colorado sculptor. Vielehr is the anchor for Pursuits of Passion, a two-artist show that pairs his sculptures and bas-relief panels with paintings by Christina Chalmers. This is the first local outing for Chalmers, who is almost entirely unknown in Denver.

Vielehr has been a fixture on the art scene since he graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Colorado State University, where he also did graduate work. In the past three decades, he's created public projects up and down the Front Range -- most of them in Boulder -- as well as across the country. The three largest sculptures at Walker debuted in an outdoor show in Chicago, while other pieces were first exhibited in Berkeley and Santa Fe.

The Vielehrs immediately catch the eye here, since the Walker's front room is almost entirely given over to them. Around the corner is a group of three small wall-hung pieces done in his characteristic style. Made of cast and fabricated bronze, they are closely related and have the same sophisticated patina of golden brown and verdigris. In a sense, these plaques, like all of Vielehr's wall pieces, are three-dimensional corollaries to abstract paintings. Each has a linear, as opposed to volumetric, composition based on the artist's instinctual sense for free association. Once he finds a pleasing arrangement for his simple forms, he welds them into place.

Even cooler are Vielehr's large, flat, monolithic sculptures, which are bigger versions of the same idea. First up is "Human Glyph Series A," a seven-foot-tall abstracted profile of a figure with alternating smooth and rough surfaces. The flattened form is made of cast and fabricated aluminum, which rests on a sheet of thick aluminum placed directly on the floor. The aluminum was left in its natural state except for a slight polish to clean off the welding soot, giving the gorgeous muted silver a dull sheen.

The largest of these works, also made of aluminum, are twelve-foot-tall versions of the "Glyph Series" sculptures. Each has been given the same title -- "3-D Drawings, Glyph Series" -- which is kind of confusing. They'd really look great in an outdoor setting, but they clearly work well indoors, too.

Interspersed with Vielehr's pieces are the paintings by Chalmers, a New York artist who spends part of each year in Provence. The mixed-media works come from several different series and actually look like the efforts of several different artists. The best of the uneven lot is "The Issue Is Passion, II, No. I & II," a silver-on-silver diptych that incorporates calligraphic lines. Other Chalmers paintings involve the figure, either as silhouettes or as evocations suggested only by clothing. The strongest of these, by far, is "Human Divinity #45," in which an outline of a crouching woman is enveloped by a black landscape.

Honestly, I could take or leave the overly romantic Chalmers paintings. On the other hand, I was pretty taken by the Vielehrs. The chance to see his work in depth is what attracted me to the show in the first place, and when I got there, I wasn't disappointed. You won't be, either.

Fresh Art is another gallery that has made a place for itself in the world of Denver art, but, sadly, it's been for naught: Owner Jeanie King has announced that she's closing up shop and moving to Rhode Island. "I'd like to do another gallery some day," King says. "I'd especially like to open one in Santa Fe." She, of course, means Santa Fe, New Mexico, and not Santa Fe Drive in Denver, which is where Fresh Art is for the time being.

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