Unfolding Realities

There's new realism at the Mizel Center, a new spot for the Mizel Museum, and news at the DAM.

The Singer Gallery never ceases to amaze me. Credit for this must be given to Simon Zalkind, the gallery's able director. Despite a modest budget and even more modest facilities at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, Zalkind invariably comes through with some of the best exhibits in the area. That's certainly true of the Singer's current offering, Iswaswillbe, a solo dedicated to Geoffrey Laurence.

Laurence, who is in his fifties, was trained in London in the 1960s and lived there for decades. In the 1990s he came to the United States to attend the New York Academy of Art, where he earned an MFA in 1995. After graduation, he moved to Santa Fe, where he still lives.

Zalkind chose Laurence because his works, though disquieting, are beautiful and perfectly painted. "I was impressed with the technical facility, the level of refinement of craft, but I require more than that," Zalkind says. "In these paintings, the moral dimension, the aesthetic dimension and the technical facility were of a piece."

"HoldFast," by Geoffrey Laurence, oil on canvas.
"HoldFast," by Geoffrey Laurence, oil on canvas.
Museum Residences by Daniel Libeskind and the 
Davis Partnership, future home of the Mizel Museum.
Museum Residences by Daniel Libeskind and the Davis Partnership, future home of the Mizel Museum.


Through December 30, Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360

The Laurence paintings are examples of contemporary realism filled with figures and representational details. Many have complicated compositions that make them difficult to fully understand, but they're coherent enough to convey the edgy mood the artist was conjuring.

The works are of various types, but all of them reflect Laurence's interest in the history of European painting. In "Study for 'We're All Mad,'" from 2003, a mural provides the background, and a boy-man wearing a child's hood with rabbit ears and a goatee crouches in the foreground. The pose has a Michelangelesque quality. There are no direct references to war in this painting, but the boy-man might be a future soldier, as war is the dominant theme among many of the other paintings.

In "HoldFast," an oil on canvas from 2004, three soldiers are seated on chairs in front of a mural of the Rape of Europa. On close examination, the three soldiers are actually all the same person: On the left he's in contemplation, in the center he's at the ready, and on the right he seems dispirited. It's an allegory about the effects of war on an individual soldier.

Adjacent to "HoldFast" is 2005's "Collateral Damage," which depicts an executive (a war profiteer?) talking on a phone and wearing a medieval-style jester's cap. He's also posed in front of a mural. Laurence likes to put Old Master paintings in the backgrounds, as if to create a stage on which his figures act out their roles.

In the controversial title painting, "Iswaswillbe," Laurence uses a red stage curtain as a stand-in for the murals, but it serves the same purpose of forcing the viewer to pay attention to what's in front. In this case, that's hard to miss: a Nazi SS officer in full regalia, embracing a skeleton wearing a prayer shawl reminiscent of the flag of Israel. Though Zalkind has fielded some complaints about this painting, it's clearly an anti-Nazi work.

Laurence has written that he is not a realist and is not interested in realism. Instead, he is what he calls an "emotionalist." I can certainly see what he means. Iswaswillbe is a magnificent show, and I unreservedly recommend it.

The Mizel Center is often confused with the Mizel Museum because they share the Mizel name, but they are not the same entity. The museum was founded as the Mizel Museum of Judaica in 1982 by the now-retired Rabbi Stanley Wagner, who brought in zillionaires Larry and Carol Mizel to serve as principal benefactors.

Originally located in a space at the BMH-BJ Synagogue on South Monaco Parkway, the museum presented exhibits of various types, including some very good art shows. For example, in the '90s, Jack Kunin organized a series of exhibits on Jewish artists working in the region that were excellent and scholarly. There were also solos dedicated to Jewish artists, including political cartoonist Arthur Szyk and modernist painters Ben-Zion and Akiba Emanuel.

In 2001, the Mizel Museum of Judaica merged with the Mizel Family Cultural Arts Center and became the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, but the two institutions never really became one. There were ambitious plans for the paired operation, including the idea of a freestanding museum building to be constructed next to the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center. Things got far enough along that there was actually a model created by designer David Owen Tryba, but the project never came to fruition.

The merger dissolved in the summer of 2003, and the Mizel Museum -- with the "Judaica" dropped -- moved into a jewel of a mid-century modernist building thought to be the work of William Muchow. The expressionist structure, located on the campus of Congregation Rodef Shalom, at 400 South Kearney Street, features a mosaic wall covered in an all-over pattern of Stars of David and has a zigzagging folded-plate roof.

Last week, officials at the Mizel Museum announced that the facility would be moving again. In summer 2006, it will relocate to a ground-floor space in the Museum Residences project, a part of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Denver Art Museum complex. The Mizel Museum will face the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building across a courtyard. Since splitting with the Mizel Center, the museum has not done much art programming and has instead focused on educational presentations that foster multiculturalism. I suggest that art be put back into the mix -- especially when the DAM will be so close by.

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