Position and Drift and Quasi-Symmetries

Realism takes a welcome back seat to abstraction at two new shows.

Contemporary art is in a strange period right now. Conservative approaches, notably conceptual realism, have taken center stage, while more progressive tactics, such as abstraction, have been pushed to the side. Contemporary German, Japanese and Chinese art, which have played increasingly important roles in the international scene, seem to be looking back a half-century, adding only a conceptual wink and an implied nod of irony to make their efforts seem fresh and new.

This return to realism was seen last fall in Radar at the Denver Art Museum, which showed off the eccentric yet blue-chip hoard of artwork belonging to mega-collectors and donors Kent and Vicki Logan, who displayed their indifference to abstraction and their almost complete embrace of conceptual realism.

"River Roses," by Amy Metier, oil on canvas.
"River Roses," by Amy Metier, oil on canvas.

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Through November 3, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, www.williamhavugallery.com.Through November 3, Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473, www.rulegallery.com.

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But trends — not to mention trendy collectors — come and go, while artists carry on regardless, riding fashionable currents when they flow in their favor and swimming upstream when fads course the other way. Such is the case with abstraction, which is still strong in Denver and around the world despite the prevalence of representational imagery in the art world right now.

Amy Metier is an artist who fills this bill — one who carries on as an abstractionist regardless of the fickle taste of zillionaires. Her latest expressionist compositions are being shown off to great effect in Position and Drift at the William Havu Gallery. Included on nearly every list of the most important painters in Colorado, Metier has been exhibiting her colorful and decidedly retro takes on classic modernism for more than twenty years. A former student of the great David Yust, she's also a link in a chain of events relevant to the history of art around here. Stylistically, Metier's pieces are very different from Yust's, but perhaps her taste for bold color was encouraged by him.

Metier studied with Yust in the 1970s at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where she got her BFA; she earned an MFA in 1979 at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she still lives. She began showing her work soon after graduating and has been represented by a string of top galleries over that time, including Sullivan-Bisenius, Inkfish and Havu (for the past decade). She has also been an influential teacher and is currently an associate art professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Position and Drift is a knockout, filled with signature Metiers, many of them monumental in size. The show is a riot of color, with Metier marshaling any number of strong, luxurious shades and then piling them on top of and next to one another. Since the paintings appear to be non-objective, viewers might at first see them as examples of abstract expressionism. But they are actually more akin to neo-impressionism, as there are recognizable subjects, typically landscapes with buildings, underneath all those streaks and smears of toned-up paint. These underlying landscapes — and, in some cases, still-life arrangements — give the paintings formal structure that automatically juxtaposes horizontal and vertical elements.

The atmospheric quality of these works also traces its origin to landscapes. For instance, Metier uses a few marks to define the front surface of the picture plane while most of the rest of the painting recedes into imaginary space. And she pulls off these volumetric effects despite the absence of recognizable elements to provide the viewer with reference points. This can be seen in the beautiful "Traces," in which Metier laid in black and red bars on the top that define the vaporous color fields of yellow and orange behind them.

In a similar vein is "River Roses," but in this case, the smears of pigment are on top of the linear components instead of the other way around. "Roses" is one of the most representational paintings of the lot; it's easy to see that a rosebush on a trellis was the inspiration. Most of the paintings are not as straightforward regarding their sources.

Position and Drift is an absolutely wonderful show, filled with lyrical and powerful paintings. I highly recommend it.

On the topic of must-see outings is Clark Richert's spectacular Quasi-Symmetries, at Rule Gallery. But what else could we expect from the godfather of Colorado contemporary art? Not only has Richert produced a remarkable body of geometric abstracts over the past forty years, but he's also been an arts advocate, and for many years a teacher at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. His influence on other artists has been tremendous, and he has launched a virtual school of followers among one-time students. Some, like Bruce Price, became masters in their own right.

Gallery owner Robin Rule chose to mount Richert's show now so it would still be on view when the new Museum of Contemporary Art building opens at the end of next month. Richert is creating a work of art for the David Adjaye-designed building called "Riemannian Tangercies." It is a curvilinear, non-repeating pattern on the pavement running between the MCA and the striking Falcone/Bruss townhouse, which Adjaye also designed. The Rule show includes a study for this piece that will essentially be a painting on a road — like the famous but long-gone Gene Davis painting that was laid along an entire city block in Philadelphia (which I actually saw as a teenager). I'm sure that the Richert, like the Davis, is going to be very cool.

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