Decades and 30x30

After thirty years, Denver owes Robischon Gallery a lot of love.

In all the years I've been going to galleries in Denver, there have only been five or six venues that I would consider first-rate. These places are completely reliable, and I can count on finding something worthwhile on display whenever I arrive. Robischon Gallery, which just celebrated thirty years in the art business, is first among this rarefied group.

I can't tell you how many shows I've seen at Robischon since I first came across it in the '80s, not long after I moved here, but I can say that the best shows I've seen there could be favorably compared to anything else I've ever encountered in the local art world.

It all started in 1976 (sticklers for math will notice that this is technically 31 years ago), when Jim Robischon opened his first venue, Blue Door II, out on Parker Road. The Roman numerals referred to his father's decorative-arts business, Blue Door Gallery, which was open from 1961 to the early 1980s.

"Black Cathedral," by Robert Motherwell, color lithograph.
"Black Cathedral," by Robert Motherwell, color lithograph.


Through February 24, Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788.

In 1982, Jim decided to move into central Denver, and the following year, he opened in a space he renovated on Park Avenue, renaming the gallery Robischon. Encouraged by the creation of the Lower Downtown Historic District, Jim moved the venue to its current location on Wazee Street in 1989. In the early '90s, Robischon was the centerpiece of a full-blown arts district that featured numerous galleries, all within a block or two. In 1995, Coors Field opened and the sports-bar era entered LoDo, forcing most of Robischon's art-selling neighbors to decamp.

I was never in Blue Door II -- it came and went before I moved to town -- but I was in the Park Avenue Robischon a couple of times. In truth, though, I really started visiting after the gallery moved to LoDo.

In 1985, Jim started dating Jennifer Doran, who was originally from Seattle, and they married in 1986. Jennifer was a Robischon customer when they met, and her extensive art background paired nicely with Jim's. Her unerring eye for installation has allowed Robischon to hang a cavalcade of beautifully installed shows over the years.

To celebrate the longevity of the business, the gallery has mounted two special shows. In the pair of rooms up front and in the center space to the right is Decades, featuring some of the blue-chip artists Robischon represents. In the center space to the left and in the Viewing Room in the back is 30x30, an exhibit dominated by artists from our region.

The ten internationally renowned artists in Decades were chosen because each had their Denver debut at Robischon. As you might expect, this is a gorgeous group exhibition that could be at home at the Denver Art Museum -- or any museum, for that matter. In fact, some of the artists in Decades also have pieces on view at the DAM, including Manuel Neri, whose "Figure With Crossed Legs" starts off the show. The sculpture of a life-sized standing woman is bronze with a Lunalac patina, which produces the white surface that looks like plaster. Neri, a California artist who came out of the funk movement of the 1960s, has developed a kind of contemporary neo-classicism, a sensibility that is shown off in spades in "Figure." The dignified approach is doubtless the product of his repeated working trips to Italy.

Across and to the right of the Neri is a small neo-pop sculpture with a depiction of a baby sitting atop a hamburger. "Welcome! Welcome!" is made of shiny red resin by Chinese artists the Luo Brothers, whose stock in trade is recording the clash of Chinese and Western cultures in their whimsical sculptures. The contrast between Neri's evocation of European antiquity and the Luos' comment on our own times makes for a subtle dialectic.

Judy Pfaff, best known for her all-encompassing installations, has been the subject of several shows at Robischon. Pfaff plays a major role in Decades, with almost a dozen mixed-media works on view. These pieces, related to her "Buckets of Rain" installation, are crammed with organic abstract forms, which often take the shape of plants and flowers. Because most of the artists in Decades are represented by only one or two works, this in-depth selection creates a mini Pfaff solo within the larger show.

On the other side of the Neri is a group of important non-objective works. On the floor is one of Benar Venet's fabulous rusted-steel sculptures, titled "219° Arc." For this piece, which is related to his "Indeterminate Line" in front of the Colorado Convention Center, Venet joined metal arcs so that the rounded ends rest on the ground. It's fabulous.

The severity and simplicity of the Venet is perfect with the two stark lithographs by the great Richard Serra. These prints are essentially black fields on white paper, yet Serra somehow communicates the idea that the fields are curved, a three-dimensional illusion that's no surprise coming from an artist best known for sculpture. Equally straightforward is the monumental "Black Cathedral," a small-run color lithograph by the late Robert Motherwell, a key player in abstract expressionism. Robischon is one of only a handful of galleries in the world that represent Motherwell's estate.

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