By Susan Froyd
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By Kate Gibbons
There are a number of noteworthy changes under way at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Now, surely I'm not the only person in the area who cringes when the word "change" is used in the same sentence as "Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center." Others will recall, as I do, the scheme the powers that be put forward a couple of years ago to pop an addition onto the front of the building! And we're not talking about any old building either: We're talking about one of the finest buildings in the entire Mountain time zone. Built in 1936, the CSFAC is a deco masterpiece based on the ancient Pueblo architecture of New Mexico. The concrete structure sits on the brow of a steep hill and is the greatest accomplishment of architect John Gaw Meem.
The idea to defile the landmark was cooked up by a trio of individuals: donor Diane Sikes, former director David Turner and former development director Carolyn Moershel. But luckily for the CSFAC, these three stooges flew to the four winds, and the venerable building is safe from their deadly attentions.
To fill the vacancy caused by Turner's abrupt resignation last year, Michael De Marsche became president. I'm wary of De Marsche, but that suspicion might be a holdover from the Turner era; after all, so far, he's only begun to make small changes. But as minor as most of them are, several have big implications -- and I'm not totally comfortable with all of them.
The change in mission of the Taylor Museum is a case in point: The Taylor Museum, once dominated by Hispanic and American Indian art, has absorbed the previously separate Fine Arts Center collection, which is predominately made up of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art. This was done with the stroke of a keyboard, and presto-change-o, one whole curator's job disappeared. However, it will be a more difficult trick to make the newly reconstituted Taylor work as well as it had. I predict that the Hispanic carvings and Indian rugs will lose out to the realist paintings and abstract sculptures -- which is really a shame.
But De Marsche deserves kudos for some of the things he's done -- especially reopening the window walls in the Garden Gallery and the skylights in the Great Hall. In both cases, the ambient natural light is sumptuous as it bounces off these world-class interior spaces.
Also in De Marsche's "plus" column are some major acquisitions. One is a "chandelier" by the great Dale Chihuly, which is the first thing anyone sees when entering the building. Chihuly's "chandelier" series is made up of ceiling-mounted sculptures inspired by Venetian glass chandeliers. Various blown-glass forms based on fruits and vegetables, done in icy gold, amber, rose, blue and green, are wired together in a shape that loosely approximates an inverted cone. In the case of the CSFAC "chandelier," Chihuly used hundreds of glass forms, making it the kind of showstopper that's his signature.
This "chandelier" is not actually a light fixture, even if it looks like one: It's illuminated by gallery spots mounted on the ceiling. I have only one reservation about the Chihuly: Even though it was commissioned, it's too big and thus hangs down too low. This puts the "chandelier" in harm's way, because those prone to jumping could actually touch it -- and I don't even want to consider the effects of that. The temporary solution the CSFAC has come up with is the installation of four metal stanchions connected by velvet-covered ropes that are arranged to keep people from getting under the "chandelier."
Speaking of Chihuly, the CSFAC also has An Exhibition by Dale Chihuly, featuring his 1970s pieces inspired by Navajo weavings. These items have been paired with actual Navajo weavings. It's a clever idea, and like so much else now at the CSFAC, bears the unmistakable De Marsche stamp.
Though the Chihuly vases are on loan to the CSFAC, the weavings are from the permanent collection of the Taylor Museum, indicating a new focus on highlighting that collection. This makes sense both because it's cheaper than bringing things in and because the CSFAC has a great collection -- most of it in storage. There are two shows on now that sample the stash of long-hidden works, and both presentations are absolutely great.
The first, Realism and Illusion, is installed just off the main lobby where that Chihuly "chandelier" is hanging. The exhibit is about representational images, and that means that lots of different styles in a wide variety of mediums qualified. I have to say that the typically larger and always bolder paintings overwhelm most of the works on paper and all of the photos. There are no sculptures in the show.
This exhibit includes another major recent acquisition: Paul Cadmus's painting "Study for David and Goliath," an acrylic on canvas from 1971. The painting is in Cadmus's realist style and is, as expected, a fairly homoerotic scene. It includes a self-portrait in the foreground (with Cadmus himself playing the vanquished Goliath), with a nearly nude young male model (who is clearly David) lying on a bed in the background. It's a racy theme -- especially considering the Biblical reference -- for a "fundy" town like Colorado Springs.
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