Men at Work

The Arvada Center hosts complementary solos by Bryan Andrews and Joe Riché.

Colorado has never been much of a place for sculpture; the three-dimensional medium has always come in a distant second behind painting in the state's art history. Anyone interested in the art scene could readily reel off a long list of interesting painters -- scores of them, in fact -- but they might be stumped if asked to name ten noteworthy local sculptors. I have no idea why this is the case, just that it is.

Countering this century-old situation were a number of young Denver sculptors who emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Most of these artists were independent and didn't even know one another, so there was no real school or movement happening. Even those few who had personal connections didn't, for the most part, have any aesthetic ones.

Among this group of young sculptors are Bryan Andrews and Joe Riché, good friends and studio mates whose respective work has nothing in common. Andrews refers to primitive art and early modernism in wooden sculptures; Riché creates environments in which he installs mechanized sculptures made of steel. Primitive versus mechanical, wood versus steel, stillness versus movement. See what I mean? Their sensibilities are all but antithetical to one another.

Detail of "Heads," by Bryan Andrews, wood.
Collin Parson
Detail of "Heads," by Bryan Andrews, wood.
"Riché's Homage to Banson's Homage to Tinguely's 
Homage to Duchamp," by Joe Riché, mixed materials.
Collin Parson
"Riché's Homage to Banson's Homage to Tinguely's Homage to Duchamp," by Joe Riché, mixed materials.

Details

Through March 31, Arvada Center for the Performing Arts, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200

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In the center's entry space and in two other galleries is Auditioning Gods, featuring very recent pieces by Andrews. In the soaring atrium and in another gallery is Riché's the good times are killing me. Finally, in two small galleries at the back is a display devoted to the Motoman Project, a performance troupe founded by Riché and others, of which Andrews is a member.

"I've been looking at these guys for years," says Jerry Gilmore, curator and director of the exhibition program at the Arvada Center, who organized the shows. He came to know Riché and Andrews when they helped erect the monumental Charles Parson show a couple of seasons ago.

Andrews and Riché both created bodies of new works especially for these shows, and both say that these solos are the most important exhibitions either of them has ever done. They're right about that: The spare arrangement of the objects in the shows is masterful, even in the cavernous Lower Galleries, which can sometimes seem too big.

The first thing on display when visitors enter the Lower Galleries is Andrews's work. Inside, the lights are dim, and directed spots exaggerate the minimal details of the Andrews sculptures, lending them a dramatic quality and giving the space a temple-like aura. This sacred mood is no accident: Andrews has long been interested in exploring spirituality through the creation of devotional objects related to a pseudo-religion he developed. He handles this odd task in both a deadly serious way and with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. These fantasy objects of veneration have animistic roots and relate to primitive belief systems found around the world, from Oceania to Scandinavia. The show's title, Auditioning Gods, gives away the theme and is meant to refer to the quest for moral guidance that so many are on now.

One of the objects Andrews has developed is what he calls a "fetem" -- a conjunction of the words 'fetish' and 'totem' -- and like everything else about the ersatz faith, the word is something the artist simply made up. Most of the pieces in Auditioning Gods may be called fetems, but they are markedly different from his previous efforts. They are much less abstract -- though still quite abstracted -- and more literally representational than before. They are constructed, not carved. And Andrews dropped his signature blue color, leaving all the new pieces in the subtle natural colors of the wood.

Andrews's use of a particular shade of blue was steeped in meaning for him, because it was the color of his deceased grandfather's eyes and also his own. The blue, used very sparingly, not only served to accent the mostly brown pieces, but also created a narrative component. The sculptures in Auditioning Gods are very good as they are, but I do miss that gorgeous blue and hope that he'll bring it back in the future.

On the right side of the gallery are "Heads," four monumental heads carved from found beams. They are somewhat reminiscent of Easter Island heads, but they're so loose that they also refer to Brancusi's completely abstract carvings of the early twentieth century. In front is "Earth Beasts," a pair of four-legged animals in silhouette that reference African art. Behind and to the left is "Fetem," a totemic depiction of a moose that is hands-down the best piece in the show and the one closest to his classic approach. (Even though he gave only the moose sculpture the official fetem designation, Andrews says that all of the three-dimensional pieces in the show are fetems.)

Crossing diagonally through the Lower Galleries, visitors will come upon the next two spaces devoted to Auditioning Gods. In the first are painted wooden panels called "City Goblins." These drawings, in two different sizes, lay out some of the iconography of Andrews's imaginary religion. Lyrical and childlike simple line drawings convey skulls, antlers, trees, leaves and mouths. A lot of the show has a Scandinavian slant, but none more so than these decorative panels.

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