Home on the Range

The Gallery of Contemporary Art and Studio Aiello map out different parts of the local scene.

Some of the best art shows around are those unwieldy wide-ranging group presentations -- though in truth, solos are the heart of the art-show business. What makes a group show interesting is its inconsistency and its multiplicity of visions, which, of course, are just the opposite strengths of a solo, those being consistency and singularity.

The thing I like most about group shows is how economical they are: All in one place, the work of dozens can be seen. Plus, there are always artists included that I've never heard of, and I love discovering new players.

The end of the 2003-2004 season last month featured two great group endeavors, sin Colorado, scene Colorado, at the Denver Art Museum, and Repeat Offenders, at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. Both shows featured the efforts of dozens of important artists from the area, including those with big reputations and those who were just starting to establish theirs.

"First and Second Print," by Mark Lunning and Dale 
Chisman, transfer print.
"First and Second Print," by Mark Lunning and Dale Chisman, transfer print.
"Evolution of Form & Concept, #2," by Morgan Barnes, 
steel sculpture.
"Evolution of Form & Concept, #2," by Morgan Barnes, steel sculpture.

Details

Through October 1, Gallery of Contemporary Art, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway, Colorado Springs, 1-719-262-3567

Group Show 2
Through October 15, Studio Aiello, 3656 Walnut Street, 303-297-8166

The 2004-2005 season begins the same way the old one ended -- with two must-see group exhibits. Each lays out different aspects of the contemporary art world on the Front Range, just as the DAM and Mizel shows did, which makes these latest exhibits the perfect topics to discuss now, just as things are getting under way.


First up is Open Press LTD: A 15-Year Anniversary, which celebrates the work of the Denver-based fine-art printmaker. The visually rich exhibit is on view at the Gallery of Contemporary Art on the campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Gerry Riggs, the GCA's longtime director, organized the exhibit in collaboration with Mark Lunning. Open Press is Lunning's baby, his one-man band, so to speak, where he conducts and plays all the instruments.

Owing to the success of Open Press, Lunning is well known in Denver's art circles. He was born here in 1961 and attended the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in the 1980s, earning a BFA in drawing and art history. While at UNC, Lunning studied printmaking with Korean artist Hine Chin and with respected Colorado printmaker Lydia Rule.

After he graduated, Lunning moved back to Denver and took a job as an instrument man on a land-survey crew. He also continued creating artwork, and he was represented by the now-closed Inkfish Gallery and was a member of Pirate. "It was like I had two full-time jobs -- one with the survey crew and the other as an artist," Lunning remembers, "so I came up with the idea of starting Open Press. I talked with a lot of my artist friends to see if they would use a facility if there were one around, and a lot of them said they would.

"I signed the lease for my first space in December of 1988," he continues, "but I didn't do the first piece until January of 1989." So technically, 2004 is Open Press's sixteenth birthday, but as the show's subtitle indicates, it's been fifteen years since print production began there.

Originally, Open Press was at 1936 Market Street, in the space behind the Grant Gallery. It was the first of a series of lower downtown locations for the print shop before it landed in its current spot on the lower level of a historic red brick building at 40 West Bayaud Avenue, just off South Broadway.

Appropriately enough, one of the first pieces in the show, hanging in the entry, is the very first print that was done at Open Press, "First and Second Print." It was created by Lunning and Dale Chisman using red ink and a piece of wood found on the floor of the then-new facility. It was a modest start, surely, but for whatever reason, the print still looks good. Despite the use of "First and Second Print" to more or less launch the show, the rest of the pieces are not arranged chronologically. Instead, the works of individual artists have been hung together, giving each a mini-survey. The one exception is Randy Hughes, whose three pieces are scattered around. The best of those, also hanging in the entry, is "Cancelled Landscape Series," a breathtakingly grand woodcut that's the size of a mural.

In the main space, which is divided into a series of rooms, the show continues with some Homare Ikeda works, including a quartet of monotypes and a trio of linocuts, all of which exemplify the artist's idiosyncratic organic abstractions. The centerpiece is the huge monotype "Untitled," which juxtaposes a billowy golden-brown form at the top with a dark-gray bar that runs across the bottom.

Just beyond the Ikedas, there's a section devoted to Audra Knutson's quirky linocuts of figures and animals that look like they're from surrealistic storybooks. Knutson is an emerging artist, and she's obviously influenced by the work of Kiki Smith.

More abstract, though clearly grounded in representational images, are several handsome monotypes by Joe Higgins. I especially liked the elegant composition and minimalist sensibility of "Grievers," which reminds me of an updated version of a Puvis de Chavannes. I guess it's the exaggerated horizontal format and the group of iconic figures clustered on the left side.

In the back corner is a group of prints by Doris Laughton, including some from her "Sex, Lies and Monotypes" series of the mid-'90s, which are done in monotype collages. Several of her more recent "Splat" series monoprints are also featured. Adjacent to the Laughtons are signature abstract-expressionist pieces by Chisman, who, having worked with Lunning on Open Press's first efforts, is part of the history of the place. These are among the most beautiful prints in the show and are essentially nothing other than Chisman paintings on paper instead of canvas.

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