Top Marks

Abstraction lights up Sandy Carson, while postmodern is displayed at a darkened Pirate.

When I first caught a glimpse of the Jernegans, I didn't realize that the images were done on ceramics until gallery director Biety pointed it out to me. Instead, I thought they were simply glossy photos. This wasn't as far wrong as it sounds, since Jernegan uses a photo-based method to transfer the images to the clay slabs. He employs a silkscreen process with photo-emulsion stencils and pushes the fine slip through the screen to "print' on clay slabs instead of paper. In addition, some of the slabs have a sculpted surface, the result of direct casting of the wet clay lying on a plaster panel that's been worked in low relief.

These pieces are extremely elegant, even if the form and the content are somewhat at odds. The shapes are minimalist, while the finishes are not. In a minimalist sculpture, monochrome panels would have sufficed, while photo-based surfaces of waves wouldn't. This makes the Jernegans examples of post-minimalism. Sandy Carson is one of the only contemporary galleries in the city that has made a specialty of ceramics, and considering the appeal of these sophisticated Jernegans, it's clearly the right call.

There's no reason that the combination of Tunson and Jernegan at Sandy Carson should be as successful as it is. I have seen other shows in which even related works didn't hold together as well. Chalk up this success to the value of good taste -- an increasingly rare commodity -- which William Biety apparently has.

"Untitled #110," by Floyd Tunson, acrylic on canvas.
"Untitled #110," by Floyd Tunson, acrylic on canvas.
Detail of "Being Alive," by Andy Miller, steel and neon 
Detail of "Being Alive," by Andy Miller, steel and neon installation.


Rudiments and Lines of Position
Through February 26, Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573- 8585

Andy Miller: When Does Something Qualify as Being Alive
Through February 6, Pirate: a contemporary art oasis, 3659 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058

Considering how outré his work is, it may seem strange to say that I think Andy Miller has good taste, too. Some evidence of this is his remarkable attention to detail, his fine craftsmanship and his innate understanding of filling space. But his works are more than beautiful; they also relentlessly address big ideas, most often difficult or troubling ones, such as life-and-death issues.

Currently, Miller is the author of a remarkable show, Andy Miller: When Does Something Qualify as Being Alive?, at Pirate: a contemporary art oasis. The show is spectacular, transforming the space so utterly that visitors enter a completely contrived world. It's a tremendously ambitious effort for an alternative space, and it demonstrates that there's still life in that old warhorse of a co-op.

Miller was an associate member of Pirate for a time; he was invited to become a full member this past summer. Despite the brief tenure, this is Miller's second smash hit at Pirate. The first was last year's installation of four monumental suicide sculptures from his "A Deconstruction of Life" series. The use of male and female figures in Being Alive is reminiscent of Miller's "Bathroom People," a two-part outdoor sculpture also representing male and female, which was installed at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art a few years ago. These previous efforts are the direct predecessors to the Being Alive installation now at Pirate. Like those earlier pieces, the newest work is comprised of simplified figures made of fabricated metal, though the Being Alive figures are more naturalistic than the earlier ones, if you can call solid silhouettes naturalistic. Being Alive goes beyond strictly formal concerns and delves into the realm of thoughts and feelings -- another similarity to the older works.

Pirate's main room is lighted with tubes of blue neon, giving it an ethereal and otherworldly atmosphere. The neon hangs by wires from the ceiling, and it's arranged at angles in something like a loose herringbone pattern that runs over the main part of the installation. The blue light creates an actual visual impairment for viewers, because no other illumination is employed. It's pretty dark in there.

The walls are gleaming white, with the monumental figures done in black or dark brown -- it's hard to tell in the blue light. The figures are truly gigantic, with their heads almost hitting the ceiling. (I thought about how hard it must have been to get them though Pirate's door.) The man and woman face one another across the room, but they are placed so far apart they seem to be more about aloofness than connection. The only thing that actually links the two figures -- at least metaphorically -- is a series of small chrome balls that hang from the ceiling on nearly invisible wires and catch the blue light beautifully. The balls are arranged in a Braille pattern to spell out the sentence "When Does Something Qualify as Being Alive?" The question is provocative and fairly open-ended, suggesting a variety of meanings when seen in relation to the male and female figures.

Andy Miller: When Does Something Qualify as Being Alive? demonstrates something that people often forget: Alternative spaces like Pirate are places where some of the best art shows in Denver can be found.

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