Third Time Around

The 2005 biennial at the MCA is an absolute must.

At this point, viewers need to double back by the Ellsworth and the Meyer to get back to the main gallery, where the Patzes are. On the opposite wall are a group of gorgeous lenticular photos from New Mexico artist Sherlock Terry's "At Home" series. In these photos, shots of residential interiors are taken at different times and combined in the same piece, so that the images change from one to another as viewers walk by.

Almost the entire floor space in the main gallery is given over to Jeff Starr's ceramic sculptures, which are displayed in vitrines on stands. Starr, who is a well-known Denver artist, made the grade for the last biennial, too, which is a unique distinction for him. Like last time, Starr is represented by ceramic sculptures instead of the paintings he was first known for. These figural sculptures are quirky, appearing to come out of kitsch bric-a-brac. By far the edgiest is "David," a portrait of artist David Brady's head that looks like a cartoon character cookie jar. The stylization of the head really reminded me of Starr's surrealistic paintings, an impression that's also bolstered by his use of paint instead of glaze as a finish.

Around the corner to the left are a group of photos by Patti Hallock, a former Denver artist who is now in graduate school at the Parsons School of Design in New York. The Hallock photos are C-prints that look overexposed and depict a young man in a red suit and red cowboy hat. His Western dress and the local settings give these images a connection to the area, just like the Sharpes.

Jason Patz, "#3-116", digital inkjet print.
Jason Patz, "#3-116", digital inkjet print.
"David," by Jeff Starr, painted ceramic.
"David," by Jeff Starr, painted ceramic.


Through September 25. Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554

Another artist's work that has Denver content is Denis Gillingwater's "Divisions/Divides/ Distances," which is installed in the space under the mezzanine. The local resonance may seem ironic considering that the artist is from Arizona, but Gillingwater ordinarily explores new cities for his sophisticated installations. He shows reproductions of city photos on small monitors through closed-circuit video cameras. This play on video surveillance in our anxiety-ridden age is perfect in this claustrophobic space.

Back over to the bottom of the stairs is the last piece in the biennial, Jessica James Lansdon's wall installation "Superstition Mountain/the War Between the States." It's sort of neat, though I'm unclear as to why, exactly, Lansdon paired the flora of Arizona with dead Civil War soldiers.

The show definitely has some problems -- like that no-paintings thing -- but it's undeniably interesting, even if it doesn't provide a snapshot of the current state of art in the area.

Without casting any aspersions on the four out-of-state artists who made the cut for this year's 2005 BIENNIAL BLOW OUT, I want to say clearly that I think it was a very bad idea to expand the geographic reach of the show beyond Colorado's borders. The reason has nothing to do with the quality of the show, which is quite high, but instead it has to do with the bad feelings it's engendered.

The biennial series at the MCA was founded on a need to showcase local artists in a museum setting. It could be argued that putting Colorado artists on the map was, in large part, the impetus for the founding of the museum itself.

Don't misunderstand me, I think the MCA should also focus on international art currents; I just think the one bone the place throws to the art world around here should not be taken away. I'm not alone on this issue; I've been struck by how many people have bitched to me about it. For a while, that's all anyone wanted to talk about.

By enlarging the scope of the show, the MCA may have garnered a few dollars from sponsors such as and in-kind income from the Utah Arts Council, along with similar entities in Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho and Wyoming, but the decision to take the focus off the local scene for this year's biennial has cost the institution many tens of thousands of dollars' worth of goodwill.

My advice to MCA director Payton would be to gather together the people who advised her to make this change, and then to have a security guard escort them off the premises. Oh, and she should return the biennial back to its original role: a place to see some of the best art being made right under our noses.

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