Sketches

Brief reviews of current shows

Eugene Yelchin. Over the past several years, Singer Gallery director Simon Zalkind has often presented exhibits highlighting the work of Jewish artists who hail from the former Soviet Union. And for these exhibits, Zalkind has turned to Mina Litinsky, director of the Sloan Gallery in LoDo, who's an acknowledged expert in the field. The current offering on the topic, Eugene Yelchin: A Thousand Casualties, features paintings by an artist who was born in Leningrad -- now St. Petersburg -- but who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. Yelchin's unusual style, which refers to post-modernism, involves a play on traditional representation to come up with thoroughly abstract results. Zalkind wrote in the catalogue that Yelchin is inspired by artists such as Goya and Rembrandt, but there's also a big relationship to the work of Francis Bacon. And, as with Bacon's style, the figures in Yelchin's paintings seem to be melting, giving them a surrealist twist and making them downright disturbing. Through November 5 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360. Reviewed September 28.

Fantôme Afrique.After a couple of years in preparation, the Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar has opened with Fantôme Afrique, a three-screen film by British artist Isaac Julien. In it, Julien focuses on the cinema culture in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a center for African film. The title is a play on L'Afrique Fantôme, a book by Michel Leiris, who was a surrealist and an ethnographer. Julien's intention is to show how Western culture has affected Africa, which is the opposite of what Leiris did in his book. The images of dancers, buildings and movies set to a soundtrack are hypnotic and lyrical. Less than twenty minutes long, it will run on a continuous loop projected onto a wall. Called the Lab for short, this place aims to showcase vanguard art in the suburbs. The Lab's director, Adam Lerner, served as master teacher in the Denver Art Museum's department of modern and contemporary art. The Lab may be found amid McDonald's and Bed, Bath & Beyonds, but Lerner sees as being between McSweeney's and Burning Man. Actually, it's above Zales. Through December 30 at the Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, 303-742-1520.

Jason Miller: Tape, Dust and Fake Antlers. The new P Design Gallery adds something new to the art scene in town: a place to see design presented as serious contemporary art. Co-curators Paul and Pifuka Hardt put on design shows, with their first offering being Jason Miller: Tape, Dust and Fake Antlers. Miller is interested in deconstructing decor from a psycho-social perspective. In his outlandish creations, he rejects the idea of perfection in favor of imperfections that lay out narratives. For his "I Was Here" tables, Miller digitally recorded graffiti on park benches and school desks, then had it carved into simple slat-built tables. Continuing along the same line is "Dusty Table," a table adorned with a permanent layer of dust, which will be a part of the upcoming National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt in Manhattan. Then there's "Duct Tape Chair," a modernist chair covered in tweed fabric adorned with silver strips of leather aping duct tape. Gosh, I almost forgot to mention the mirror etched as though it were covered with tape, and those ceramic antler chandeliers. Through November 4 at P Design Gallery, 2590 Walnut Street, 720-259-2516.

Maria Friberg, et al. The Robischon Gallery has gone all international on us with its new media show, Maria Friberg: Working Model, which features large-scale photos and videos by the well-known Swedish artist. All of the pieces involve images of men outfitted in suits, a Friberg signature. In the "Almost There" series, multiple images of the same businessman are set against a watery background. In the photos from the "Still Lives" series, men interact with automotive parts. In one, a guy is seen lying on top of a stack of smashed cars; in another, a man is seated inside a big truck tire. "Blown Out," one of a group of video projections also in the show, focuses on a man's head as he bobs up and down in a turbulent and foaming sea. In the Viewing Room in the back, Robischon is presenting two small shows, Bill Armstrong: Blue Spheres and Yen Lei. Armstrong, who is from New York, does work with an op-art character who plays tricks with viewers' perceptions. Chinese artist Yen Lei is represented by "Painting 14," an impressive neo-pop triptych of a jar, a target and the Buddha. Through October 28 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788.

MEL STRAWN: All Together Now, 1940s-2000s. The Denver Central Library's Vida Ellison Gallery is hosting an important show saluting one of the most important artists in Colorado. In its content, All Together Now is a retrospective, but because of the way it's installed, it does not take that distinctive form. The paintings are hung as though they were shuffled like a deck of cards, with each one played right where it randomly came up. This prevents an easy reading of Strawn's development, though it's clear he underwent a series of stylistic changes, from abstraction through pattern painting and into a digital-inspired representational approach. Strawn was born in Idaho in 1929 and began painting when he was twelve. While pursuing his education, he worked with the likes of Rico Lebrun and Richard Diebenkorn. In 1969 he took over as the head of fine arts at the University of Denver, where he remained until the 1980s. Twenty years later, he's still active. Through November 24 at the Vida Ellison Gallery, Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111. Reviewed September 28.

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