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.

Previously, Livingston created a body of paintings that were shown in the exhibit This Year's Model at Cordell Taylor, where he first illustrated his systematic approach. The paintings in that exhibit were limited to the hues identified by the Benjamin Moore Paint Company's predictions of which colors would be popular the following year. This time, Livingston came up with his own palette -- well, sort of. He took a paint-chip fan deck and went through magazines looking for ads. Livingston surveyed the colors that were used in the advertisements, matching the chip in the deck to the hue on the page. He identified fifteen shades that appeared over and over, and then he did the paintings in Mr. Sparkle in some combination of them. Livingston also appropriated formal and compositional details from the ads and translated them to his paintings.

Definitely not related to Richert's approach is Livingston's use of short slogans -- again, inspired by advertising -- that are meant to be sincere, ironic or informative. Livingston says he's socially awkward, and the paintings say things to the viewer that he would never say himself. He uses the painting "I Wuv (You)," latex house paint and resin on canvas, as an example. The baby talk, he says, is an expression of his true feelings -- and he's not kidding. He may not be kidding about the would-be ironic ones either, like the fabulous "Welcome to the Future of Painting!"

Livingston's Mr. Sparkle is spectacular, and you shouldn't miss it -- especially since it's the last effort by the could-have-been-great gallery formerly known as + Zeile Judish.


Things have been changing over at Pirate, but unlike the changes at + Gallery, the ones here are for the better. What has changed at Pirate is that the gallery has gotten interesting again -- and no one could be more surprised about that than me. One of the city's oldest artists' co-ops, Pirate had been becoming increasingly irrelevant in recent years. More often than not, the place was filled with half-hearted shows. But inexplicably, that's turned around this past season, and that old dog of a place has become a venue for some impressive new tricks.

The latest in a cavalcade of great shows is Life on Earth, a solo by Pirate member Peter Illig. The exhibit is dominated by a 64-foot-long charcoal-on-paper drawing that covers two walls in Pirate's grandly scaled front space and becomes, as a result, an ad hoc installation. Illig has a good handle on how to carry out monumental work, and he should really consider entering the public art fray, because many of the artists who get those gigs cannot handle projects that call for large pieces.

The style of the drawing is neo-pop, and Illig has clearly taken considerable inspiration from the early work of pop pioneer James Rosenquist; the style of Illig's representational images comes from advertising art and illustration, which is where Rosenquist's came from as well. Illig also cites Mark Tansey, the source du jour of many contemporary representational artists. Speaking of representational art, have you noticed that the style is approaching critical mass? It's strange that one of the big museums or art centers hasn't presented a group show with work taken from the many talented artists in the area who are currently exploring the figure, the still life and the landscape.

There's also a noir quality to Illig's style, and something of a vague retro feel. The mammoth drawing is episodic, with a chain of enigmatic images lined up or overlapping one another. It's ostensibly narrative, even if it's impossible to understand the story. There's a woman standing in the rain, a man sitting on the floor, a tipped champagne glass, a bunch of knocked-over bowling pins and many other familiar elements that are made strange because of the way Illig says he intuitively arranged them.

Illig has definitely hit a home run with Life on Earth, and I strongly recommend that if you haven't seen it yet -- and word is that few have -- you really should make the effort before it comes down this weekend.

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