Paint the Town

A Bruce Price solo at +, with paintings and more at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

Price is a post-minimalist in that he pointedly violates the standards of minimalism while remaining in a dialogue with that movement. But he eschews the title and calls himself a pattern painter. Patterns were important in early modernism, notably in the work of Matisse, and Price does not deny this influence. Interestingly, Matisse's reputation has been on the upswing lately, and he's begun to rival Picasso as the essential modernist. Price is interested in Matisse's sense of composition, but also in the modern master's use of pattern on pattern as an important pictorial device.

When I spoke with Price about his recent works, I asked him what they were about. First he laughed and said, "Talk about an open-ended question." But then he got down to business, saying, "I'm trying to make complex paintings that don't babble." Looking at the six large, spectacular paintings up front at +, I'd say that he's succeeded.

Price has been one of the most talked-about abstract artists active in Colorado during the past ten years. With the magnificent paintings in FULL, he can also be called one of the area's most important artists of any kind.

"Multiple + Many," by Bruce Price, acrylic on canvas.
"Multiple + Many," by Bruce Price, acrylic on canvas.
"Confluence," by Bruce Price, acrylic on canvas.
"Confluence," by Bruce Price, acrylic on canvas.


The new Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex has been the site of various festive opening events over the past two weeks. Peter Lucking of Denver architectural firm Semple Brown designed the state-of-the-art concert hall, which has already been nicknamed "the Ellie." The opera house was slipped inside the exterior walls of the 1904-1908 Quigg Newton Denver Municipal Auditorium, a neo-classical structure designed by Robert Willison.

As could be expected in such an important cultural space, there is a fine-art component, paid for by the city's "One Percent for Art" program. Unfortunately, though, as is all too typical with such projects, the most important pieces specifically commissioned for the opera house are not yet in place.

First among the missing is Denver artist Stephen Batura's mural "Rehearsal," in which more than a hundred figures are depicted preparing for a performance of a famous, though unnamed, opera. The mural, which is thirty feet tall, is not yet finished, but Batura does not intend to rush it into completion -- and bravo to him for that. I'd be surprised if it got there by October, when it's tentatively due.

Then there's John DeAndrea's "Maria Mosina and Igor Vassim," a female-and-male life-sized figural group cast from the bodies of two dancers with the Colorado Ballet. It's not finished yet, either. Also planned is another DeAndrea, which is currently untitled and will depict a circle of three dancers. But that's not even due until 2007.

Art objects already on site at the opera house are those that were provided by private citizens and are not part of the official public-art budget. In the foyer is "Antique Gold and Pale Aquamarine Chandelier," by Dale Chihuly. The piece, donated by Jeremy and Susan Shamos and Jerry and Debi Tepper, was displayed in the Chihulyexhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center this past summer. Hung in the hallway are seven abstract tapestries by the late Herbert Bayer, which were provided by Jamie White and Andrew Sirotnak. Finally, in the Chambers Grant Salon on the lower level are three mammoth Vance Kirkland murals: "Space Mysteries," from 1958, "Vibrations of Scarlet on Crimson," from 1968, and "Explosions in Unknown Space," from 1976.

The trio of oil-on-linen paintings is on permanent loan from the Kirkland Museum. Hugh Grant, the museum's director, picked them out, pointedly choosing one painting from each of three decades. Grant is the "Grant" part of the Chambers Grant Salon; the "Chambers" part is his wife, Merle Chambers. Along with the Chambers Family Fund, the couple donated $2 million to the opera house, which is why the salon was named in their honor -- not because the Kirkland loaned those Kirklands.

There was a storm in the salon, though, because designer Lucking decided to hang the three Kirklands as though they were parts of a single triptych. When Grant saw the full-sized computer-generated prints of the Kirklands hung that close together, he had a fit. At first Lucking held his ground, but Grant held all the cards, because the Kirklands are on loan and he can withdraw the gift at any time. So Grant prevailed, as could have been predicted, but the lighting has to be changed, as it was already installed to suit the original locations.

When I heard of the Kirkland dust-up, I had to laugh. Knowing the dense hanging and packed installation approach that is Grant's signature, I guess you'd have to say that if something feels too crowded to him, it's absolutely too crowded.

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