Mixed Messages

There's change and neo-modernism at + Gallery, and new realism at Pirate.

It's the biggest art news of the summer -- but don't get excited, because it's not necessarily a good thing: The + Zeile Judish Gallery is now minus Judish and has changed its name to + Gallery. Both the story and the new name strike me as ridiculous.

I spoke with both Ivar Zeile and Ron Judish, and the two definitely took the high road, each describing the split as thoroughly amicable. (I'm just reporting what I've been told. I don't have to believe it, do I?) Zeile says he let Judish go because creative differences between them led to divergent views about the direction of the gallery. You see, Judish was never an actual financial partner, just a consultant employed by Zeile, the sole proprietor of the gallery. Judish has returned to his life as a private dealer, art broker and college teacher.

To understand the significance of the split, we need to look back at the Denver art world of a couple of years ago, when Judish ran the gone-but-not-forgotten Ron Judish Fine Arts and Zeile ran the Cordell Taylor Gallery. Ron Judish Fine Arts was one of the best galleries Denver had ever had, while Cordell Taylor was a promising upstart.

"I Wuv (You)," by Colin Livingston, house paint and 
resin on canvas.
"I Wuv (You)," by Colin Livingston, house paint and resin on canvas.

Details

Ordinary Adornments and Mr. Sparkle
Through August 21, + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927

Life on Earth
Through August 1, Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis, 3659 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058

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Ron Judish Fine Arts, located first in LoDo and then in Highland, presented shows that not only often rivaled the best that other commercial enterprises had to offer, but ones that could be favorably compared to the fare at the Denver Art Museum. Judish trained as an art historian and served as the curator of Boulder's Katz Collection; he used his national connections to snag first-rate exhibits for his place. Over the years, Judish highlighted a number of international art stars, including Andres Serrano, Jason Martin and Alice Neel. At the same time, he was able to tap some of the most important artists from Colorado, including Al Wynne, Bruce Price, John Hull and Emmett Culligan.

So when Judish joined Zeile, he brought quite a fine dowry to the figurative marriage. Judish coming on board allowed Zeile to instantaneously transform the second-tier Cordell Taylor into the first-rate + Zeile Judish. This hybrid gallery was immediately regarded as one of the city's major art spots -- a status based almost entirely on Ron Judish's name being on the door.

But as I've said, that's no longer true, and there's an obvious nagging question hanging out there: Withouth Judish, will + Gallery fall back to the Cordell Taylor level? I think there's genuine reason for concern in this regard, and I would point to the glow-in-the-dark painting in the bathroom as an ominous sign of future decline. I nonetheless extend my best wishes to Zeile. He's got his work cut out for him if he hopes to avoid having the gallery's recently won reputation slip precipitously.

Zeile may not have the credentials Judish does, but he's not without his own great strengths. More than anything else, it was his ability to find young, emerging artists that made Cordell Taylor a place worth regularly checking out. I think it's always compelling to see what the kids have been up to, and apparently so does Zeile, since that's exactly what's on the menu now.

In the front space is Ordinary Adornments, which features organic paper constructions by New York's William Crow. Zeile met Crow when the artist stopped into the gallery while in Denver for an art educator's meeting. Crow's day job is as a teacher for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he has an MFA from Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Though young, Crow has earned many accolades for his very original work, and several of his pieces are in prestigious collections, such as those of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Chicago Art Institute. The work in Ordinary Adornments is in the form of wall-mounted sculptures -- or maybe they're irregularly shaped drawings -- that riff off abstract surrealism. Organic shapes are loosely assembled into groups of forms and then scattered across the wall, creating three-dimensional collages from found and created imagery.

All the Crows are closely associated with one another, so it's hard to distinguish where one piece stops and the next one starts. The gallery tacitly acknowledged the problem and took a proactive approach to dealing with it: A map of the walls shows each piece individually in separate cartoons.

No need for any map to identify the Colin Livingston paintings in Mr. Sparkle, which are ensconced in the much larger back space. His pieces are clearly distinguishable from one another, each having individual palettes and titles emblazoned across them. More important than clarity is quality, and based on the paintings in this show, Livingston is heading straight to the top of his generation of young Denver painters.

Livingston is a graduate of the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, where he was a protegé of the great Clark Richert, head of painting at the school. Even though Livingston's style looks nothing like Richert's, his mentor's influence is easy to see: first there are the hard-edged abstractions that Livingston uses as grounds for his paintings, along with the fact that these paintings are based on developing and then carrying out an aesthetic program with preset concepts.

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