Reproductive Freedom

Kick your cabin fever with this quartet of photo shows.

Like the art world in general, Denver is focusing in on photo-based pieces (pun intended). More likely than not, you haven't seen the many excellent offerings currently on display because of the difficulty in getting around on deeply rutted streets. Last week I braved the elements to check out some exhibits, and, sadly, everywhere I went, I was the only person there. So get up, get in your car, and catch an art show or two before they close.

At + Gallery, director Ivar Zeile has paired experimental photographers in back-to-back solo shows. In the front space is Patti Hallock: WRECK ROOM, which marks a continuation of Hallock's examination of the suburbs; in the center space is Jon Rietfors: A BETTER LIFE, an indictment of, and homage to, marketing.

Hallock currently lives in Brooklyn, but she grew up in Colorado. Her hauntingly romantic close-ups of tract houses in twilight, from her "Nocturnal Suburbia" series, made an immediate splash when they were exhibited locally in 2004. And this past fall, photos from her "Basements" series were included in the important Extended Remix exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver. Those photos were about things that wind up in the basement, like stuffed deer heads. The "Wreck Room" photos at + are conceptually and aesthetically indistinguishable from the "Basements" pieces.

"Improve Your View," by Jon Rietfors, digital C-print assemblage with badge mounts.
"Improve Your View," by Jon Rietfors, digital C-print assemblage with badge mounts.
Detail of Gwen Laine's "Still Life With Will," mixed-media construction with photos.
Detail of Gwen Laine's "Still Life With Will," mixed-media construction with photos.

The show starts off with "Lego Highway," a large C-print view of a basement floor covered with the brightly colored building blocks and a section of toy highway. This photo really expresses the exhibit's subtitle, but the ten photos in the main part of the show are more sparely composed, as was the "Basements" work. In "Ghost," a Halloween decoration propped against a wall in the background is balanced by a roll of toilet paper in the foreground. I also like the theatrically lit and staged "Pram" and "Magic Saucer," both of which depict obsolete baby stuff languishing under yellow plastic tarps.

Glenwood Springs artist Jon Rietfors uses photo-related techniques to create elements for mixed-media pieces that are related to painting as much as they are to photography. In A BETTER LIFE, Rietfors uses ad hoc materials and methods -- including badge mounts ordinarily used for campaign buttons, and heat transfers most often employed in making printed T-shirts -- to create wonderful neo-pop pieces that are mostly based on magazine ads. The triptych "Improve Your View," which depicts three glamorous though faceless women, is spectacular -- especially if you squint to bring the details of their faces into focus. Also very cool were the dinner plates with family snapshots heat-transferred onto them.

Rietfors, who's been exhibiting only since 2000, is a hot property; he's also included in (REAL): Photographic Constructs, at the Center for Visual Art. This important show is co-sponsored by the Colorado Photographic Arts Center and was put together by CVA director Jennifer Garner and assistant director Cecily Cullen, who selected eight artists from around the country who are pushing photography to the breaking point. The perfectly installed exhibit is essentially a series of individual presentations that unfold one after another, beginning in the entryway with Rietfors's digital prints die-cut into pieces and adhered to Coke cans, Ramen noodle containers and Kool-Aid packets. They're super-smart and very sharp-looking.

And on the subject of smart and sharp are the remarkable still-life shots by Zeke Berman from the '70s, '80s and '90s installed in the back space. Berman, a New Yorker, stages scenes using flat objects and drawn lines to create spectacular illusions of three-dimensionality. In the niche to the left is Susan Harbage Page's installation "Terms of Endearment," which is made up of five floor lamps hung with black-and-white transparencies of women that are projected onto the walls.

Colorado native Gwen Laine's construction "Still Life With Will" takes over one wall of the main back space. Laine built 31 wooden boxes to mount on the wall, hinging the doors so that found objects in the form of dolls, blocks and photos could be placed inside. The piece is meant to recall her childhood experiences. Not unrelated to the Laine is David Zimmer's "Winter #4," another installation that incorporates photos. Zimmer, a well-known Denver artist, mounted glass jars on the wall and placed photos of bare trees inside them. The jars are connected by heavy black wires that power lightbulbs in each one and ape the shape of the tree limbs in the photos. A transformer on the floor crackles as the lights flash from dim to bright. It looks like something out of a mad scientist's lab.

The last leg of (REAL) unfolds in the three clustered spaces that lead back to the entry. In the connecting space are magical color photos by Bruce Charlesworth, notably "Gift Triptych," which focuses on a beautifully wrapped gift in different settings around a comfy house. Charlesworth is a pioneer of post-modern staged photography, something he's been doing since the '70s. The photos at CVA are majestic, and the gift, though completely ordinary, somehow lends a surrealistic quality to these straightforward views. More surrealistic and looking more like paintings than photographs are the three large-format digital C-prints by Gregory Crewdson displayed in the first space. Crewdson lives and works in New York, and his computer-altered photos are chock-full of edgy narrative, especially the untitled one in which a teenage boy wearing a bra and panties is caught by his mom and sister. Yikes. Finally, in the second space at the front is the work of the last artist in the show, New Mexico's Meridel Rubenstein, who creates photo montages. In "Three Missiles," the virtues of faith, hope and charity are expressed through cut-up images of rockets and people.

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