Group shows are a staple of the summer arts season

From my point of view, solo shows, and retrospectives in particular, occupy the top place in the hierarchy of art exhibitions. But group shows organized around a theme are a close second, and they are a staple of the summer season. At the moment, there is an astounding array of thematically organized group shows around town. Some of these include the multi-part set of ceramic exhibits at the Denver Art Museum under the big-tent title of Marvelous Mud; MCA Denver's conceptual and new-media-dominated Another Victory Over the Sun; the self-explanatory Toy Stories at William Havu Gallery; Space Gallery's painting and sculpture show, Art of the Real; Masters of Clay at Sandra Phillips Gallery; and the similar A Ceramic Collaboration at Plinth Gallery.

Two swank venues in LoDo — the David B. Smith Gallery and Robischon Gallery — have standout group exhibits as well. Group Exhibition at Smith is focused on conceptual realism, while New Work at Robischon zeroes in on contemporary tendencies in abstraction. But the titles of both are so thoroughly stripped of any poetic or narrative content that they strike me as being positively monastic.

The stylistically diverse pieces in Group Exhibition are connected by the theme of the environment, but that aspect of the show is pretty subtle in some of the pieces, none more so than the meticulously done charcoal-on-paper full-figure nude portraits by Paul Jacobsen. These drawings were done by eschewing the use of digital photography for studies and are meant to refer to work made off the grid, the artist has said. Furthermore, the titles of the pieces are supposed to suggest that the world's current power grid will ultimately crash. Aside from this backstory, the works are fairly traditional in character.

"AE 12 (After Empire)," by Lanny DeVuono, mixed media on panel.
"AE 12 (After Empire)," by Lanny DeVuono, mixed media on panel.
"Untitled 8," by Derrick Velasquez, vinyl and walnut.
"Untitled 8," by Derrick Velasquez, vinyl and walnut.

Location Info


David B. Smith Gallery

1543 A Wazee St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Downtown Denver

Robischon Gallery

1740 Wazee St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Downtown Denver


Through July 16, at David B. Smith Gallery, 1543 Wazee Street, #A, 303-893-4234, August 20, at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788,

It's interesting how effective artists can be at using traditional approaches like straightforward realism to come up with pieces that are clearly contemporary. This is true of the two Colorado artists in the show — one a standard-bearer, Don Stinson, and one a relatively recent transplant from the Northwest, Lanny DeVuono. The pieces by Stinson, which have been hung together in the Project Room, are scrupulously done graphite-and-charcoal drawings of junked gas pumps — part of a body of work by the artist that examines the modern ruins of the American West. The DeVuonos are multi-panel mixed-media paintings dominated by painstakingly done raking aerial views of the land, sea or sky. They come from her "After Empire" series, which apparently concerns an ambiguous future.

The final two artists here, Hong Seon Jang and Molly Dilworth, do work that's more abstract than that of their exhibition mates, but still makes reference to the natural world, sometimes simply by extension. Jang has done a small installation that looks something like pulled drapery by cutting up entire issues of National Geographic magazines and then connecting them to one another in horizontally organized rows. There are also a couple of oddball pieces done in transparent adhesive tape on small blackboards; at first glance, the tape looks like chalk. Dilworth is represented by a selection of small poured pieces in different shades of blue that served as studies for her huge painting on the surface of New York's Broadway between 42nd  and 47th streets at Times Square. Titled "Cool Water, Hot Island," the work obliquely references the sea.

Over at Robischon, which took over the former Center for Visual Art space, there's New Work, along with a full-blown solo, Ted Larsen: Rejoinder. The Larsen show clearly set the tone for New Work and has, in that way, become an integral part of it.

Larsen, who works in New Mexico, is a modernist formalist with a twist. Though geometric abstraction clearly is a key part of his aesthetic, the results aren't minimal, but instead post-minimal. That's because he uses found materials — in particular, sheets of metal — and embraces the arte povera approach, which he labels in his artist's statement as "bricolage," or using whatever's available. Substituting metal sheets for color fields as he does is conceptually the same as arte povera pioneer Alberto Burri's use of burlap scraps for the same purpose. Among the many paradoxes that Larsen resolves in these pieces is that although almost everything resembles paintings — even the freestanding works (save for the parodies of stools) — they are in fact sculptures.

Despite all the issues Larsen's pieces raise, his work fits comfortably into the well-developed, hard-edged scenes in New Mexico and Colorado, and his show establishes the character of what's to come in New Work.

A teaser for New Work is in the viewing room in the back, with half a dozen paintings by Seattle's Blake Haygood, who creates awkward compositions using jagged and ungainly forms that are vaguely suggestive of objects.

The main part of New Work begins with a small piece by Connecticut artist Jessica Stockholder, and although it is diminutive, it sports the artist's signature of using ready-made materials as elements in her expressionist-style installations. Next up are a pair of unusual wall-relief sculptures by well-known Colorado artist John McEnroe; they are made from polyurethane blobs attached to metal brackets. In spite of the materials used, these pieces have a lyrical quality, which is also true of the weird little sculpture "Foam" in which McEnroe has cast a sheet of foam rubber bundled up by plastic ties in bronze. It's very cool and relates well to the Stockholder.

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