Freeze Frames

Two conceptual photo shows explore life and death.

Denver's Month of Photography ended weeks ago, but many of the exhibits are still up and running. So maybe the highly successful March event should have been called the "Season of Photography," or even "Photo Spring." Regardless of what it should have been called, it was an incredible chance for gallery-goers to see an amazing range of photo-based creations by some of the most interesting artists in the world. For this reason, the community owes a debt of gratitude to Mark Sink, who thought it up, and Rachel Hawthorn and Sabin Aell, who helped organize it. And last, but hardly least, credit must go to the gallery directors and curators who elected to be a part of it by mounting photo shows.

Speaking of which, the side-by-side Robischon Gallery and the Center for Visual Art are both currently showing group efforts exploring conceptual photography. It's interesting to note how the role of photography in conceptual art has completely changed over the past few decades. In the 1970s, photography was mostly used to document performances; now the photos are the centerpieces, and the action in them is simply one part of creating them. Plus, the rise of computer-altered imagery has allowed artists to conjure up people and their surroundings without having to actually stage anything.

Despite the conceptual affinity between the two exhibits, there's an emphatic if underlying dichotomy, since the show at Robischon celebrates life while the CVA's commemorates death. It's comedy versus tragedy, if you will.

"I hate myself and want to die," by Slater Bradley, C-print mounted to Plexiglas.
"I hate myself and want to die," by Slater Bradley, C-print mounted to Plexiglas.
"Li Wei Falls to the Car," by Li Wei, chromogenic print.
"Li Wei Falls to the Car," by Li Wei, chromogenic print.

Location Info

Map

Robischon Gallery

1740 Wazee St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

Through April 26, Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, www.robischongallery.com.Through April 30, Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207, www.mscd.edu/news/cva.For a complete slide show of the exhibits, go to slideshow.westword.com.

The Robischon exhibit, Out of Place, highlights cutting-edge photography from around the world, particularly China. The gallery has become a center for contemporary Chinese art — something that was essential to the success of this show and several others during the past few years. Photography has played a huge part in the art boom in China, and what makes this particularly interesting is that twenty years ago, almost no one there was allowed to own a camera.

To the right are three heavily digitally altered images in chromogenic prints by Chi Peng in which scores of tiny fairies have been inserted or laid over photos of actual, if also altered, cityscapes. In "World," the fairies — nude women with insect wings — fly into the heart of a big city bathed in light from LCD signs. The representation of being airborne is an international idea in conceptual art, but it's of particular interest for many Chinese artists.

Just ahead are photos from Wang Ningde's "Playground in the Years of Ningde" series of chromogenic prints. They also have a gravity-defying subject: Wang himself, flying through the air on swings.

In the main space are documents of performance pieces from Li Wei's "Falls" series, in which the artist is posed upside down with his head buried in the ground or other places. The somewhat violent implications of the photos suggest that he's fallen to earth from a great height. Using cranes and cables invisible in the photos, Li holds his body in rigid postures — as in "Falls to France," a chromogenic print — and further pushes the idea that people are not subject to the laws of nature. All four Lis are remarkable and somewhat disturbing, but "Falls to the Car" takes the cake. In that photo Li's head has pierced a shattered car windshield and his body projects out of it at a skyward diagonal.

Unlikely poses are also of interest to French artist Denis Darzacq, whose three photos are lyrical rather than unnerving. Some of that surely has to do with his subjects — street-performing breakdancers in Paris whom Darzacq shot from the back and at a comfortable distance. They seem to be catching the air and taking off from the ground.

Though not technically surrealist, the magical images by Chi, Wang, Li and Darzacq are surrealistic, something also true of four composite photos by Kahn + Selesnick, including two from their "Mars" series done for NASA. In their work, which apes both early-twentieth-century panoramas and nineteenth-century scientific illustrations, costumed figures cluster around a mechanical contraption.

There is also a selection of Gary Emrich's latest photos of paintings printed on paintbrushes, which create a hybrid of sculpture and photography. In another piece, Emrich does a hybrid of sculpture and digital media called "Modern Living Pre-approved." It's a handmade mailbox of corrugated metal enclosing a monitor on which a close-up of Emrich's hands going through junk mail is played on a loop. Emrich's everyday subject matter contrasts with the otherworldly quality of most of the imagery in the rest of the show.

But that distinction is nothing compared to the change in mood that happens between Out of Place and Still at CVA. Even going through junk mail beats dying, and an interest in death is what connects the three photographers in this show, which was put together by CVA director Jennifer Garner and assistant director Cecily Cullen.

It begins with a selection of grim black-and-white gelatin silver prints of battlefields taken by Sally Mann, the most famous of the three artists featured. The dark and gloomy photos evoke the idea that these bucolic views are also a place for death.

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