By Show and Tell
By Byron Graham
By Jamie Siebrase
By Bree Davies
By Zoe Yabrove
By Zoe Yabrove
By Jamie Siebrase
By Emilie Johnson
For most of the history of settled humanity, there have been two forms of visual art: painting and sculpture. But in the twentieth century, new art genres were born involving mechanical features that spun or lit up. The first of these were created by the Italian Futurists right before WWI and the Russian Constructivists right after.
It took until the 1960s or '70s, though, for work of this sort to be widely embraced by artists. And with this critical mass of interest, new forms were developed: fine-art films and videos, light sculptures, installations, projections, audio works, kinetic pieces and digital creations, among others. Some were direct outgrowths of the modern movement, while others crossed a stylistic divide and embraced postmodern sensibilities.
Jill Desmond, a young curatorial assistant in the Denver Art Museum's Modern and Contemporary department, has wandered into this tangled ideological wood with Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image. A large and rambling exhibit, Blink! highlights art that employs technology, and Desmond has done an undeniably good job of making sense of the sometimes nonsensical, especially considering the issues that exhibiting this kind of work presents. She made it look easy.
Desmond, who was born and raised in Ireland, joined the DAM five years ago after earning a graduate degree at the University of Denver. When she was first hired, the idea of doing a show like Blink! had already been discussed by former curator Dianne Vanderlip and collectors and donors Mark and Polly Addison, who have a special interest in technology-based art. With the opening of the new building and the departure of Vanderlip, the idea was dropped. But a year or so ago, Desmond picked it up again, poring through the archives of the department's holdings to establish which pieces were relevant to her theme. The object lists didn't specifically bracket pieces with technological features, however — most were categorized simply as sculptures — so she had to do some extra sleuthing. To complete the roster for Blink!, Desmond supplemented the pieces from the permanent collection with loans from artists and from the Addisons.
Blink! begins in the glassed-in former gift shop at the base of the atrium that's become an ad hoc exhibition space. Here, Desmond has created what she calls the "Blink! Animation Studio," which includes sectional sofas on one side arrayed around monitors that can display seven animated videos. (These comfy-looking sofas are seen throughout the show: Desmond realized that if visitors were going to experience art that takes time to unfold, some might want to sit down during the process.) On the other side of the room are tables and chairs where visitors can create their own animations. Also in this space are a set of meticulous representational drawings by Stacy Steers, who uses them to create her digital animation; additionally, there is an abstract painting on unstretched canvas by Michael Burton that he used to create his.
Across the lobby is a signature Jenny Holzer, "Selection of Truisms," in the form of a moving, lighted sign that spells out palliatives. Opposite that is "Feng Shui Brain," a site-specific installation by Donald Fodness made of archaic speakers and TV sets.
The show continues on the second level. In the atrium is "Mice," by Stephan Reusse, which is projected onto the main wall. This moving-image work, Reusse has done laser-green outlines that describe the shape of a mouse. The outlines move naturalistically, seeming to scurry across the wall either alone or in groups. Also in the atrium — as another appetizer to the showstopper — is "Light/Albers," by Heather Carson. Made of fluorescent tubes, it instantly recalls the work of Dan Flavin and, on reflection, the squares of Josef Albers.
These initial works hardly prepare us for the shocking impact of walking into the Martin and McCormick Gallery, which is akin to entering a funhouse at an amusement park or maybe standing in Times Square at night. The viewer is immediately confronted by an assortment of images and sounds that overlap one another in the eye and the ear. It's truly a cacophonous experience that will leave you a bit jangled. The way these kinds of works tend to intrude on one another is a real problem. But to her credit, Desmond has done a good job mitigating the downsides of competing soundtracks and reflected light.
Dominating the opening stanzas of the show is "Three Love Songs From the Bottom of the Ocean," by Matthew Weinstein, an enormous animation projection on a curved wall depicting a cartoon fish singing torch songs. It is absolutely impossible to miss, and it's unquestionably engaging. More subtle are the two works by Nam Jun Paik, a pioneer in exploring television in mixed media. Back on the right is a more contemplative passage of videos; some, like Gary Emrich's "Gray Zone," are on smallish monitors. Another, Lorna Simpson's remarkable "Easy to Remember," is multi-channel, with a ceiling-mounted baffle meant to direct the soundtrack down to the viewer.
Up next is a soaring space where the spectacular "Of the North," by Steina, covers the walls with moving projections of natural materials in spherical shapes. And it is here where we begin to see that the large-scale pieces that fill their own, individual galleries are hard to beat, working not just on the level of monitor-bound videos, but also as overwhelming installations.
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