Serious Fun

New minimalism is championed at Rule, while it's new pop at + Zeile/Judish.

The same kind of added value via found imagery is pushed to the forefront in the other Westwaters. For these, the artist has used found thrift-shop paintings and prints as the ground on which he applies his signature "pill" shapes. In "Plaid Lady," Westwater attached a piece of plaid fabric cut into his characteristic shape to the center of a found painting of a woman. In "Pollen Count," Westwater took a 1950s paint-by-numbers oil painting, covered it with a three-by-three grid of the "pills" painted in acrylics, and then hung it sideways.

The small James Westwater: Narrative Works gives just a little taste of what this artist must be all about. Here's hoping a proper solo dedicated to his clever blend of antithetical pictorial concerns will soon be in the offing.

"Malfunction Junction (detail)," by Susan Meyer, 
"Malfunction Junction (detail)," by Susan Meyer, installation.
"LP (R.4.0.4.)," by Pard Morrison, patinated aluminum 
"LP (R.4.0.4.)," by Pard Morrison, patinated aluminum sculpture.


Pard Morrison: Recent Sculpture and Paintings and James Westwater: Narrative Works
Through March 20, Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway, 303-777-9473

Silent Sounds and Malfunction Junction
Through April 3, + Zeile/Judish Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927

Minimalism isn't the only mid-twentieth-century art style to get a second wind in the early 21st. Others include abstract expressionism, figural abstraction and, as is illustrated by the two shows now at + Zeile/Judish Gallery, pop art. Silent Sounds, an exhibit of image-based abstract paintings, is very neo-pop; Malfunction Junction, a conceptual installation based on pop culture, is pretty post-pop.

Silent Sounds, in the front of the gallery, is a group of mixed-media paintings by Stefan Knorr that were done with offset lithographs, acrylic and pigment laid down on canvas. Knorr is a Seattle artist who has been exhibiting his work nationally since the late 1980s. His paintings are crowded with recognizable images of figures and objects rendered with photographic accuracy. That the imagery has been partly painted out only heightens this photographic quality, which makes me think of the work of Robert Rauschenberg, a pioneer of the American pop-art movement. But Knorr's taste for bucolic subjects also lends his paintings a touch of 1930s-style regionalism.

In the large gallery in the center is Malfunction Junction, by Susan Meyer, who's been showing her work in Denver since she got here in the mid-1990s. Before that, she earned her undergraduate degree at New York's Skidmore College and her Master of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston. Meyer is best known for her installations, and she's exhibited work of this type in art venues from coast to coast.

Malfunction Junction fully occupies the space it's in and completely generates its own total atmosphere and all-enveloping mood. In the middle of the room is a model of a roller-coaster trestle fragment. It's made of wood that has been painted a semi-gloss silver color reminiscent of aluminum. It's a lot smaller than a real roller coaster, but it's still pretty big, as sculptures go. The roller coaster doesn't have a track, but it does have lightbulbs where the track would be found. These lights flash in sequence, suggesting the movement ordinarily associated with the ride. The trestle fragment terminates in a wall covered with shattered shapes in black depicting a traffic accident, and on top of this pattern are more working bulbs.

As viewers enter the gallery, an electric eye triggers both the lights and a soundtrack of rock music and random noises. The hard-driving music and incessant noise are perfect aural corollaries to the visual and narrative intensity of something like a roller coaster. The rock music is also right on, considering that the installation is named for a now-closed legendary Denver club that was called, of all things, Malfunction Junction.

Meyer has put together a very poetic artist's statement that is as dead serious as the piece is whimsical. According to Meyer, the installation is based on the fact that we now live in "fissured social, political and aesthetic times," and the roller-coaster analogy is used to suggest the inevitability of "uncertainty and potential calamity" in such a situation. Furthermore, Meyer views the piece as being representative of what she calls "a carnival for the dispossessed." It all sounds kind of depressing, doesn't it?

Meyer does not see the piece as being about her personal life, but about our society in general. However, it's impossible to deny that her vision of human existence as a roller-coaster ride is a highly personal take on the matter. For example, my own life has been more like a merry-go-round. The roller coaster metaphorically represents the extreme ups and downs of certain life experiences. It symbolizes everyone's highs and lows, but it must also be referring to Meyer's own life, or she wouldn't have come up with the analogy in the first place.

Malfunction Junction is the best installation show I've seen in Denver in years. Bravo to + Zeile/Judish Gallery for giving this kind of difficult work -- which has no chance of being sold -- the space and time it deserves.

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