Water Sports

MCA director Cydney Payton gathers seaside views in a beautiful group show.

Payton had a wall removed at the east end of the museum so that the two small galleries that had been there are now one larger space. To the right of the entrance is "Snake Vortex," done on transparent sheets by Rebecca Di Domenico, the only Colorado artist in the show. Di Domenico uses a digitized pigmented print process. For this piece, she stacked up images that include an altered depiction of a snake and what looks like a waterspout. The layered sheets intensify the illusion of depth, giving "Snake" a three-dimensional quality.

Also in this gallery is Richard Misrach's "Untitled (neg #213-03)," from 2003, a chromogenic photographic print of a surfer in the midst of the ocean. Misrach, who hails from California, has a huge reputation and a thirty-year-plus career as a photographer. He is the only other artist in see into liquid whose name could be spoken in the same breath as Longo's. Misrach's photo is remarkable both for its similarities to the Opies as well as its profound differences. Like Opie, Misrach captures a tiny lone figure surrounded by the sea, but instead of delivering a misty and gray view, his scene is crisply detailed and carried out in a gorgeous shade of deep blue-green.

Also in this section of the show is a trio of prints by California artist Don Ed Hardy, which were done in 2005 at Shark's Inc. in Lyons. In them, Hardy paired tattoo designs with traditional Japanese depictions of waves. Finishing out the gallery is Dominican Republic artist Tony Capellan's 1996 found-object installation of blue rubber flip-flops and barbed wire, and Japanese artist Chiho Aoshima's weird fairy-tale look at an imaginary undersea world, from 2002.

"Untitled (Godzilla)," by Robert Longo, charcoal on 
paper.
"Untitled (Godzilla)," by Robert Longo, charcoal on paper.

Because of the MCA's layout, viewers will need to cross back through the large central space where the Longos are hanging in order to pick up the rest of the show, which is installed beneath and on the mezzanine. In the tight and dark space below is "Electronic Sleep," by New York artist Amy Globus, from 2003-2004. In it, an octopus (or perhaps several, it's hard to say) has been recorded as it squeezes itself through transparent tubes and over machines, all to a hard-driving soundtrack. It works like a kinetic painting, and it's easy to see why this is one of the hottest videos of the last few years.

There are two more videos on the mezzanine: "Swim," from 2001, and "Surf," from 2005, both by Dutch artist Jacco Olivier. For these pieces, Olivier animated actual films of bathers, making them look like examples of figural abstraction. I kept thinking of David Park's signature style, in which representational elements are reduced to dashes of color.

Hanging alone on the back wall is Whitney Bedford's "Untitled (Blue Heaven)," from 2005, an ink and oil on panel that depicts a ship at sea in a highly abstracted and expressionistic way. Adjacent to the Bedford and across from the Oliviers are four photos of water by New Yorker Roni Horn, all from the series "From Some Thames." The photos, each with a different overall tint, are close-ups of the surface of water, presumably the River Thames, which flows through London. Also on the mezzanine and closely related to the Horns is "Waves," from 2005, by Vija Celmins, who works in California and New York.

As I finished up, I still had one nagging question: How are water-inspired pieces relevant to us in Denver? I guess it could be post-modern irony. Denver is, after all, one of the last places on earth that anyone would expect to find art about oceans. Somehow, this geographic disconnect does not negatively effect the show, though when I first heard about it, I wondered why Payton hadn't looked to the landscape instead. Then again, it may be that she wanted to provide local gallery-goers with a seaside vacation -- metaphorically, anyway.

Because everyone's been to the sea, or at least gotten a postcard from someone who has, the topic is familiar. This makes the show, while chock-full of cutting-edge stuff, thoroughly accessible, viewer-friendly and easy for just about anybody to like.

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