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Art and language mix it up at the Mizel Center and + Gallery.

In his classic pieces, based on sample house-paint chips found in hardware stores, Colbert adorns a rectangle panel with a single color. The paint is applied evenly, resulting in a hyper-smooth surface; on a white bar across the bottom, each painting is labeled with a descriptive word. The typical presentation of these paintings is in large grids, with the individual panels hung close together. Opposite the entrance to Better Times is one such group. The combination of color and word are sometimes funny and always smart, like the sickly grayish green that's called "glum" or the vibrant lavender next to it that's "icy-hot," like the ointment.

I love these paintings, which never seem to get old -- they're so post-Warhol -- but I have to say that "Fear Factor" and "Wall of Global Warming" are even better. Like the paint-chip pieces, they have lots of neo-minimalist and neo-pop content wrapped in a conceptual format, but they also have a political angle. In "Fear Factor," Colbert takes on the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded terrorist-threat watch with a horizontal bar made of five panels based on a primary-color spectrum that goes from blue at one end to red at the other. The blue panel is labeled "Low," the green "Guarded," the yellow "High," the orange "Severe" and the red "Extreme." In "Wall of Global Warming," Colbert examines oil consumption's effect on weather. A central panel, the largest in a group of seven, shows a projection map of the world with El Niño's route indicated by a line and arrow. To either side of this panel are three square panels of varying sizes, arranged in descending order from large to small; each carries the logo of a big oil company.

Back in + Gallery's second space, Nocturnal Suburbia offers more commentary on sociopolitical issues -- in this case, not international politics and commerce, but ordinary environments. Patti Hallock's extraordinary photos record the evening life of the suburbs with depictions of homes rather than the people who live in them. The absence of people lends a feeling of alienation and loneliness that feeds into my own prejudices about the suburbs. Many of the images, such as "Nighthawk," a shot of a house with the lights on, have an abstract, constructivist quality. Others are more narrative and representational, like "Doorway," a picture of the view beyond a screen door. Unlike most of the Hallocks, though, which are dominated by blacks and grays, "Doorway" has a lot of rich, dark color, with the blue light of a TV set reflected on a wall being especially nice.

"Shoed," by Roland Bernier, mixed-media wall 
"Shoed," by Roland Bernier, mixed-media wall sculpture.
"Fear Factor," by Evan Colbert, mixed media on panel.
"Fear Factor," by Evan Colbert, mixed media on panel.


Through December 30, Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660

Better Times, Nocturnal Suburbia and Cremasteric Reflex Corset
Through January 7, + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927

The layout of + Gallery, which is essentially one large room with a divider in the center, makes it ideal for a duo, but it's a stretch for a threesome. If Cremasteric Reflex Corset, an installation by Ira Sherman, seems crammed into the corner, that's because it is. It's a shame that the small room behind the offices, currently a storage/display area, wasn't drafted into duty as ad hoc exhibition space so that the Sherman would have some breathing room.

Sherman, a Denver artist with a national reputation, specializes in meticulously constructed kinetic sculptures made of finely finished brass, stainless steel and flexible plastic tubes. Although people are meant to wear these sculptures, I hope no one actually does. The potentially wearable art is dangerous and has a sadistic quality. "Cremasteric Reflex Corset" is a perfect illustration of this: The unlucky man who tries it on would have his penis automatically cut off by pneumatically activated surgical-steel blades were he to get an erection. (Gee, better not let the sexual-abstinence advocates hear about this one.)

You could call Sherman's work the sculpture of cruelty, but please don't say it's cutting-edge. I'm not sure I get his point -- and for that I'm grateful -- but Sherman's undeniably a genuine visionary who, unlike most others of the sort, also possesses the necessary skills to realize his disturbing ideas in exquisitely executed sculptures.

Better Times, Nocturnal Suburbia and Cremasteric Reflex Corset are scheduled to run through the first week in January, but the gallery's hours are limited because of the holidays. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, December 28.

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