Hard Work

The NASE at Foothills is a disaster, but Buck and Neri at Robischon look good.

Well, I've decided to make it official and issue a formal statement on the matter: I hate juried shows. They're the slums among group shows, and it's hard to believe they're still being done. I don't even know why I still go to see them.

The problems with juried shows are multidimensional. Few established artists enter, because most view being judged as beneath their artistic station. That would be okay if lots of emerging artists entered, but they don't. The kids pass up juried shows because they're so green that they don't even know about them. Having both the old-timers and the youngsters take a powder on juried shows clearly hobbles the possibilities for good exhibits.

The limited appeal of juried shows among artists is not the worst problem, however. No, that honor goes to the jurors themselves. The jury pool is made up of art-world figures of all sorts, including curators, critics, collectors and, worst of all, artists. I say worst of all because artists have aesthetic points of view they can't help but express when judging the works of others. Some reject everything that isn't compatible with their ideas, while others reject everything that is.

"Arch," by Jonathan W. Hils, welded and 
powder-coated steel.
"Arch," by Jonathan W. Hils, welded and powder-coated steel.
"King Street (black)," by John Buck, wood and acrylic.
"King Street (black)," by John Buck, wood and acrylic.


North American Sculpture Exhibition 2004
Through June 6
Foothills Art Center 809 15th Street, Golden 303-279-3922

John Buck: New Sculpture and Manuel Neri: Sculpture/Drawings
Through June 19
Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street 303-298-7788

What's inspired this edict against runaway jurors and the consequent miscarriage of exhibition justice is James Surls's choices in the North American Sculpture Exhibition 2004 at Golden's Foothills Art Center. I have no clue as to what Surls might have been thinking when he came up with his selections.

Surls is from Texas, and he built a national career with organic abstract sculpture that is often made of carved wood. In 1998, he moved to Basalt and immediately became one of the most famous artists in Colorado.

Despite his taste for abstraction -- or perhaps because of it -- there's hardly any in the NASE, which has a preponderance of figural sculpture instead. Stylistically, Surls chose both traditional works that could have been done in the nineteenth century and conservative contemporary pieces that could have been done thirty years ago. This gives the show a stale aura, as though it were documenting some long-archaic version of the art scene.

Was it a protest? There are so many penises -- including some gigantic, uncut ones -- that I had to wonder if Surls was trying to offend the conservatives in Golden. In this questionable category is the carved-wood-and-metal "David," by Canadian artist Lazar Christian Fonkin, which is ambitious, if hideous, and "Homo," in fiberglass, by Kentucky's William Papineau that's equally bad. These two anatomically correct male nudes are the most outrageous pieces, because they're the ones with those gigantic wangers. Now, I like penises as well as the next person, perhaps even more, but neither "David" nor "Homo" is any good in any other way -- and neither is much else in the NASE.

With nearly seventy pieces selected by Surls, there are, of course, a few good things. In the first gallery, for example, only two objects caught my eye: "Windows to the World," a painted bronze by Denver's Jan Steinhauser, and "Arch," a lyrical powder-coated welded-steel piece by Jonathan W. Hils from Oklahoma. The Steinhauser combines geometric shapes with organic ones, while the Hils is simpler in form but more complex in its details.

Quite a bit farther along in the show is another standout: "Rules and Regulations #2," by Kansas artist Marc Berghaus. The constructed mixed-materials piece is a vertical solid described by a skeletal metal grid. This grid encloses glass boxes suggestive of aquariums since they encase mechanized fish. Suspended within the grid is a realistic version of a nude male (Berghaus himself?), and mounted on one side is a real -- if tiny -- aquarium with a live fighting fish swimming inside.

Also of interest is "Compromise," a steel, latex and tricot sculpture by Utah artist Tyler Meadows Davis that looks like a Chinese lantern on steroids. Across from it is a set of three documentary images of a vortex in a lake by New York artist Sara Hutson Chaffin. The idea is great, but it's hard to appreciate when presented in this limited way.

The NASE has a few other things that are noteworthy, but the show is a dog overall. However, there is some good news: It has to make anyone rejected by Surls feel a lot better about the whole thing.

The NASE at the Foothills Art Center may be in questionable taste, but surely that will not be the case with the planned redo of the front lawn. It's being turned into the Carol and Don Dickinson Sculpture Garden, designed by a team that includes landscape architect Susan Saarinen, architect Ted Schultz and internationally known sculptor Jesķs Moroles. The garden will feature a serpentine staircase winding up the hill at the corner of 15th Street and Washington Avenue, as well as matching retaining walls with benches and a table. Everything will be made of granite finished similarly to the three Moroles spires being installed along the staircase. Though still in the preliminary design phase with specifics yet to be refined, it's moving fast and will be completed this fall.

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