Weather Changes

There's a wintry mood at the MCA and a summery installation on the lawn of the DAM.

The accompanying explanatory handout says that Berkeley is "subverting mainstream notions of beauty as generic" -- and, boy, is that an understatement. The women are not just unconventionally beautiful; they're downright hard to look at. And because they're staring out into space, they appear to be mentally challenged.

The photos are ultimately depressing, because you wind up feeling sorry for the women -- at least I did. It also made me wonder what Berkeley's aim was, because the overexposed photos make her seem unsympathetic to her various sitters. As even an amateur photographer knows, everyone looks bad when they appear in overexposed images.

In addition to the portraits of the young women, Berkeley is also represented at the MCA by a DVD, titled Serenade, that records a series of male subway musicians singing love songs. The marginal characters who perform in the subway are the perfect companions for the women in the photos, kicking up the poignancy level of the entire Berkeley section.

"Inner Light II," by Udo Nöger, mixed media on layered 
"Inner Light II," by Udo Nöger, mixed media on layered canvas.
"Wheel," by Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, steel frames 
clad in porcelain-enameled panels, seen at the artist's 
"Wheel," by Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, steel frames clad in porcelain-enameled panels, seen at the artist's studio.


Through June 26, Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554

It's hard to understand how the Berkeleys, which are so bleak and discouraging, relate to the luminous and uplifting works of the Nögers and the Yoo. That's probably why Payton completely separated them from the other pieces, even going so far as to put a floor between them. Instead, I wish she had simply given the Berkeley section a different title and marketed it as a separate show.

Speaking of separate shows, there are two others at the MCA: The Mirror of Reason, by Paola Ochoa, her second installation as part of the museum's "NEW PIC" series highlighting young artists; and Photographs From the Hank Cato Estate, which includes a choice selection of black-and-white images by famous photographers, including Diane Arbus, Lisette Model and Joel-Peter Witkin. Interestingly, one of the standouts is by local guy Christopher James.

WHITE OUT is flawed, as are the other two exhibits, but these missteps are not fatal. And given that pervasive winter mood, viewers can expect to be provided with a periodic chill as they work their way through the attractions -- and with the weather heating up, that's not such a bad thing.

Easily as cool in mood as the show at the MCA is the new sculpture "Wheel," which is going up on the lawn of the Denver Art Museum, on the Civic Center side. The piece is an installation by Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, an internationally known American Indian artist whose sculptures have been installed in New York, Seattle, Santa Fe and now Denver.

Work on the sculpture got under way a few weeks ago, and it will be completed by the middle of June; the 14th Avenue Parkway will be closed during its erection. "Wheel" is a circular installation 48 feet in diameter; evenly spaced around the perimeter of the circle are ten Y-shaped forms that are each twelve feet tall and whose placement was determined by the sunlight cast during the summer solstice. Though completely contemporary in appearance, the piece's relationship to the sun links it to the ancient medicine wheels of the Indians and to other Neolithic ceremonial sites such as Stonehenge.

The forms have a steel armature that will eventually be clad with red porcelain-enameled panels screen-printed with symbols and statements related to the Native American experience. In addition, text that reads "Nah-kev-ho-eyea-zim," which is Cheyenne for "We are always returning home again," will be put onto the concave curved wall at the base of the Gio Ponti tower. I'm not crazy about appending metal letters to the DAM's walls, but this particular wall is a special case. It's long been used as a foil for signage advertising the shows inside, so the Heap of Birds text is an improvement.

On Tuesday, June 21, at 10:30 a.m., the piece will be dedicated in a ceremony overseen by Arapaho and Cheyenne elders, some of whom had consecrated the ground back in March, before "Wheel" went up.

I think "Wheel" promises to be great, its red color connecting wonderfully with nearby sculptures: Donald Lipski's "The Yearling," the life-sized horse on a giant chair across Acoma Plaza from "Wheel," uses a similar shade of red; and Mark di Suvero's "Lao Tzu," which is also close by, is painted a complementary haz-mat orange.

Even better, "Wheel" succeeds in terms of political correctness, not only because Heap of Birds is a Native American, but also because the piece tweaks the cowboys-and-Indians theme seen in so many of the other sculptures and artworks on, and in, the greater Civic Center area. I can't wait to see it completed.

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