Women on the Edge

Seven mid-century modernists are showcased at the Center for the Visual Arts.

Next to the first of the Nevelsons is a section devoted to Falkenstein. Born in 1908, Falkenstein was a student of Aleksandr Archipenko's at Mills College in Oakland in the 1930s; by the 1940s, she was exhibiting in San Francisco. She lived in Europe from 1950 to 1960, moving to Southern California when she returned. The standouts here are 1949's "Reflex," an anthropomorphic composition made of Hydrocal, a synthetic stone, and 1957's "Sun," a vaporous, surrealistic construction made of nickel-plated steel hung from the ceiling.

Displayed with the Falkensteins is one of the four Grossmans in True Grit. "Music Box," a funky and totemic construction made of unfinished wood from 1967, is very closely related stylistically to the Nevelsons. The other Grossmans are across the room and include two of the artist's famous mixed-media pieces in which found objects are covered with leather.

Grossman was born in New York in 1940, and she resides in Brooklyn today. She is much younger than the other artists in this show, though she, too, gained her fame in the 1960s, when she was only a twenty-something emerging artist.

"Untitled," by Lee Bontecou, welded metal and canvas.
"Untitled," by Lee Bontecou, welded metal and canvas.
"Observer," by Louise Bourgeois, bronze.
"Observer," by Louise Bourgeois, bronze.

The last artist in True Grit is Bourgeois, and her work is installed in the space that leads viewers out of the CVA's large, multi-part back space. The show includes six Bourgeois pieces, dating from the late '40s to the early '60s, that reveal the important influence of surrealism and cubism.

Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1908 and studied at the Sorbonne and the École des Beaux-Arts, among other institutions. In 1938, she moved to New York, where she received little recognition until she was "discovered" by the feminists in the 1970s. Today, like Nevelson, she is regarded as one of the greatest artists of the period.

As soon as the True Grit show ends, Louise Bourgeois: Selections From the Collection of Ginny Williams gets under way in the joined spaces that lead back to the front of the CVA.

Ginny Williams is one of the most prominent collectors and art patrons in Denver. She maintains a private gallery in Cherry Creek North, but it is closed to the public. That means that these Bourgeois pieces haven't been exhibited publicly for a long time, if ever, so the CVA show is a rare opportunity to see them.

In addition to a number of works on paper, Louise Bourgeois includes several important sculptures, for which she's best known. In the first space are three early pieces, each of which is a masterpiece. They are related to African art, especially the way they can all be read as abstracted human figures. "Observer" is based on a 1947 original made of wood that Bourgeois subsequently cast in bronze in 1989 -- when she had the money to do it. The other two, from the early 1950s, are made of wooden scraps stacked up in totemic piles. Despite the use of cheap materials, both of these untitled pieces are extremely elegant.

The show finishes up at the front of the CVA with two additional sculptures: a bronze after a 1949 wood original called "Brother and Sister" that, like the others, has an African feeling; and "Needle III," a arching steel rod with a pile of raw flax at the bottom, which references female domesticity. "Needle III" represents the kind of thing Bourgeois has been interested in since the 1970s -- feminist-based work -- and the reason she is considered a guiding light of contemporary women's art today.

CVA director Kathy Andrews organized Louise Bourgeois, and though it could be viewed as a stand-alone display, it works beautifully as a companion to True Grit. The transition between the two shows is all but imperceptible, because Andrews installed the Bourgeois sculptures in True Grit in the space immediately next to those that house the separate Louise Bourgeois solo. In fact, it actually works backward as well as forward -- I tried it -- so that visitors can start with Louise Bourgeois and go on to True Grit, instead of the other way around. Either way, if you haven't seen these two thoughtful shows, you really should make a point to do so.


True Grit is the last show of what could be called the legacy of Sally Perisho. The former director booked it before she was unjustly fired by Metro a couple of years ago. Now, in an interesting turn of events, the woman who shoved her out the door, Metro vice president Carolyn Schaefer Wollard, has announced her resignation effective at the end of the year. Let's hope that the offensive recent proposal to annihilate the facade of the CVA's historic LoDo building goes with her.

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