The crescendo on the second floor is "Dome Architecture: Drop City and Beyond," a look at Drop City, an artists' collective established outside of Trinidad, Colorado. The show puts Drop City in a seminal position in the proliferation of domes in communal settlements and clears up a prime misconception I had about the name, Drop City. I always thought "drop" referred either to the idea of dropping acid or to dropping out of college, since both activities were standard features in the biographies of the founders. But it actually descends from "Droppings," the idea of integrating art into everyday life, exemplified by the small painted stones that Clark Richert and Gene Bernofsky dropped out of the window of their studio in Lawrence, Kansas, shortly before they came to Colorado.

To explain Drop City, there's a re-created dome fragment on which moving images of the place are projected. The domes at Drop City, some conceived by Richert, were made of cut-up car bodies and were covered with patterns created by the relationships between the different colored automotive lacquers used on the various parts. There's a wall panel with an interwoven triangular structure that's dotted with photos mapping out Drop City's influence on other collectives. And there are showcases in which items lay out the origins of the domes in a set of "Zome Tools," in the theories of Buckminster Fuller and in ads and articles in the Whole Earth Catalogue.

The salute to Drop City continues on the first floor with "Expanded Cinema II: The Ultimate Painting," a re-creation of a collaborative circular painting done by Richert, Bernofsky, Richard Kallweit and others. The original, which was lost after an exhibition in New York, survives only in a photo.  Richert oversaw the creation of a full-sized digital image of the painting, which is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to rotate at a high speed. Reproduction or not, seeing it twirl is a great visual experience.

"Ultimate Painting" in front of Drop City's Theater Dome, photo by Richard Kallweit. Slide show: View images from West of Center
"Ultimate Painting" in front of Drop City's Theater Dome, photo by Richard Kallweit. Slide show: View images from West of Center

Location Info

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Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

1485 Delgany St.
Denver, CO 80202-1100

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

West of Center

Through February 19, MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org.

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Across from the "Ultimate Painting" and housed in its own darkened gallery is "Expanded Cinema I: The Single Wing Turquoise Bird," a spectacular project that's a facsimile of a light show. The original members of the group made a new light show with a hard-driving soundtrack. And they outfitted the gallery with cushions, benches and a random placement of baffles. It's very hypnotic — though few will choose to watch the whole thing, as it runs close to an hour. Still, it is memorable.

On the lower level, there's a multi-part display devoted to "Nomadic Experiments: Ant Farm Inflatables," a collective that advocated for a mobile lifestyle facilitated by vans, trucks and inflatable buildings made of transparent plastic. This part of the show includes many notebooks, photos, back-lighted transparencies and publications, along with a re-created inflatable building and a model of a video van.

In truth, West of Center is more of a cultural documentary than an art show. Reproductions are rarely acceptable in a museum setting, but I fully understand why they were necessary here. The casual and roving lifestyles of many in the interlocking counterculture crowds didn't encourage the preservation of artifacts — Drop City, for example, is gone without a trace — and even much of what did survive the initial period was ultimately lost to the ages.

Slide show: View images from West of Center

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3 comments
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Peter I
Peter I

Yes, worth seeing this show, mainly to view and understand alternatives to ways we think we understand the 60s/70s counterculture. As a CO artist and one of the workers who installed the show over the course of 2 weeks, i was impressed by its authenticity and the messages that were germinal to things being discussed today: media in the hands of the people, Occupy, queer, etc.

PFG
PFG

The art that most of these collectives made wasn't made to last - their main artwork was their lives and their communities. That's what I got from seeing this exhibition. So, yes, it's a documentary, but it's also an art show about how art is more than just something you can put on a wall. PS "That meant that few members, if any, shaved their legs or put on makeup." Is that really all you have to say about the lesbian collective movement?

denver artist dude
denver artist dude

Museums are really just studios for curators...I'm so weary of the whole thing now.

 
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