The current solo in the main space of Rule Gallery (111 Broadway, 303-777-9473), James Westwater: 10 Years, Geometric Narcissism, 1995-2005, basically surveys the work Westwater has done since he settled in Santa Fe. This crowded show does not mark Westwater's Denver debut, but it is his first major presentation here.
James Westwater charts the artist's transition from neo-formalism to neo-Dada, with Westwater labeling everything "geometric narcissism." This unlikely phrase refers to the simple geometric shapes he marks on every piece. Calling this "narcissistic" is easier to understand in relation to his later conceptual efforts than to his earlier modernist ones. The straightforwardness of Westwater's stylistic journey -- as strange as it may be that he decided to make it -- has unfortunately been disguised at Rule because the objects weren't installed in chronological order.
The earlier paintings are in the tradition of Ellsworth Kelly, meaning simple geometric shapes are part of the program. They are very elegant neo-modern abstractions. "Throb," an acrylic on canvas hanging opposite the entrance, is a showstopper. It is utterly simple, featuring nothing more than a painted oval. Also great are the somewhat more elaborate compositions shown off in "Giggle" and "Dumb."
The later pieces made from found objects are rarely elegant and are more aptly described as being funky. For these, Westwater finds stuff in junk shops -- such as fabric, faux bois laminate and even paintings -- and then puts his geometric marks on them. When Westwater marks a reproduction of a painting, as he does in "Seascape II" (above), the effect is totally different than when a shape is used in a painting entirely done by Westwater -- such as "Throb." In "Seascape II," Westwater really is pressing his narcissism by defiling the work of someone else -- as hackneyed as that work is -- and thus transforming it into something of his own.
There's a messy quality to this show, but that's only one reason it's so memorable. James Westwater runs through March 5.