Sandy Carson Gallery

New owners take the venerable gallery in a new direction.

Sandy Carson Gallery is featuring two sculpture shows in the front and a large print show in the back — the latter being a late addition intended as an introduction to the gallery's new owners and a new era there. I've covered the changes previously, but here's a recap: Sandy Carson sold her namesake gallery to Jan and Bill van Straaten, who own Riverhouse Editions, a fine printer, and the van Straaten Gallery in Steamboat Springs.

The first sculpture show is Life Is but a Dream: Caroline Douglas, which highlights the Boulder artist's interest in magic realism and whimsical subjects that have a children's-storybook quality. Figural ceramics has had its ups and downs, and the medium invariably brings to mind figurines like Hummels, which, I don't need to tell you, is not a good thing. But the rough and folksy clay modeling that Douglas employs — and, even more so, the gorgeous glazing she carries out — clearly separates her work from Grandma's bric-a-brac. The pieces depict people and animals, sometimes put together in unlikely pairings, and often feature disjunctions of scale between them, as with the giant rabbits on either side of a seated woman in "Family Portrait," a three-part sculpture.

In addition, Douglas's works are clearly technical triumphs that would be a real challenge to fire without mishap for anyone but a truly accomplished ceramicist. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and this recent batch is the product of a three-decade-long career. Douglas earned her BFA at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and later spent time living and teaching in Scotland before moving to Boulder.

"Freeway Chase," by Marc Berghaus, mixed-material sculpture.
"Freeway Chase," by Marc Berghaus, mixed-material sculpture.

Details

Through May 31, at Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585, www.sandycarsongallery.com.For a complete slide show of these exhibits, go to slideshow.westword.com.

Some of these pieces were previewed in Colorado Clay at Foothills Art Center a couple of months ago, including the two-part standout "Spoon Bending"; in both parts, a child is riding a giant fish. In a similar vein is "Night Ride Home," in which a little girl is astride an enormous fox. The most elaborate of Douglas's sculptures are the boats filled with figures, including "Slow Boat to China" and the even more ambitious "Summoning the Wind," which has a batik-dyed sail (how Boulder!).

I only have two criticisms of the Douglas show: It's too crowded, and the life-sized figures don't work well with the other pieces; I wish they'd been left out.

The second sculpture show, Clearing: Marc Berghaus, is made up of a heterogeneous group of mechanical sculptures by this Kansas-based artist. Despite the distance between his studio and the Mile High City, Berghaus has had an ongoing presence here in the form of exhibits presented during the past ten years. He's best known for his photos, which he's been doing since the 1980s and which Sandy Carson has shown before. But this is the first time the gallery has showcased his three-dimensional creations, previously exhibited at Artyard Contemporary Sculpture.

The Clearing pieces were done over the past fifteen years or so, but the show begins with his newest one, 2007's "Freeway Chase," which is very cool and pretty unforgettable. For this contraption, Berghaus has set a rotating cylinder at a diagonal perched on a motorized stand. He's painted the surface of the continuous side as though it were a miniature highway. Held slightly above the moving cylinder are small model cars that seem to be driving on the highway. A portable TV screen that viewers can look through creates the illusion of watching TV while the car chase unfolds from the perspective of a helicopter camera.

"Freeway Chase" makes an interesting comment on video art, since the piece is a mechanical imitation of it, as opposed to an electronic or digital one. Plus, the frame of the TV screen also comments on photo-based mediums. Berghaus doesn't mask the stuff outside of it as a real television picture would, so we see what's beyond that defining box, including not only the cylinder, but also the machines below it that allow it to turn.

Another work based on a turning cylinder and related to photography is "Zoetrope #1," from a few years ago. A zoetrope is a proto-film projector in which still photos mounted on the inside of a cylinder are glimpsed through an aperture as they spin by. The idea is to create the illusion of moving pictures by lining up the separate photos precisely. Berghaus uses black-and-white images of the sky and creates the highly convincing illusion of clouds moving naturalistically as the wheel is spun.

Clearing also includes some Berghaus pieces that deal with sound. "Tapestry #1 (Giuco Piano)," from 1997, is a retro-'60s chess table made from electric guitars that are pieced together like a puzzle, complete with a found Star Trek chess set in place. In another, "Randomized Red Piano," from 2005, a mechanism strikes toy piano keys at wide intervals — which must be driving the gallery's staff absolutely crazy.

Reflecting on the Douglas and Berghaus shows, it's clear that they have nothing in common, nor do they bear any similarity to the print exhibition, Riverhouse Editions, that fills several spaces in the back of the gallery. Founded in 1988, Riverhouse carries out prints for artists and provides residences for them while they spend two to three weeks creating their pieces with master printer Susan Hover Oehme. Works completed there are in the collections of public and private museums and institutions around the world.

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