Far and Wide

MCA Denver takes on Chinese Art, while the Lab looks at rural America.

In an interesting move, Lab director Adam Lerner decided to pair the Lucier installation with Last Place, a series of conceptual works by local legend Phil Bender. It's an immediate emotional shift in gears. The Lucier induces sadness, whereas the Benders are more likely to inspire nostalgia.

Bender is Colorado's chief proponent of the almost-century-old idea of Marcel Duchamp that if an artist says something is art, it is. For decades, Bender has picked up discarded objects and assembled them in their original states to create installations or sculptural cycles. The initial Benders, which have no titles but can be described by what they're made of, have a vaguely rural feeling to them, thematically linking his work to Lucier's. The first things visitors see are grids of circular crocheted doilies mounted on black boards. At first glance, they look like quilts. Over a long period of time, Bender has found them in thrift shops and has brought together the ones that are roughly the same shape and size but have different details in terms of both the stitching and colors to pull off this monumental piece.

Adjacent to the doily panels is a row of old wooden ladders, each different from the other. Other works are made of kitchen utensils, or Chinese checkerboards — even reproductions of the same cheesy painting — and all of them are similar with differing details.

"Portrait V," by Yu-Cheng Chou, digital photos on aluminum panels.
"Portrait V," by Yu-Cheng Chou, digital photos on aluminum panels.
A still from "The Plains of Sweet Regret," by Mary Lucier, video.
A still from "The Plains of Sweet Regret," by Mary Lucier, video.


Through July 6, Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcartdenver.org.Through May 1, the Lab at Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, Lakewood, 303-934-1777, www.belmarlab.org.For a complete slide show of the exhibit, go to slideshow.westword.com

It's amazing how much visual mileage Bender has been able to get out of his single revelation that art is about perception. And as thoroughly different as his method and means are from Lucier's, the two shows somehow work well together.

When the Lab opened in 2006 at precisely the same moment as the Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum, Lerner led me to believe that he had little interest in showcasing regional art, and instead wanted an international cast at the Lab. Apparently it didn't matter where an artist came from, as long as it wasn't from here. With the inclusion of Bender in the current exhibit, it looks like Lerner has happily reconsidered.

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