RedLine's Transit of Venus pays tribute to the Front Range Women

RedLine's <i>Transit of Venus</i> pays tribute to the Front Range Women
“Parable of Bordeaux,” by Sandra Wittow.

During his tenure at RedLine, former director P.J. D'Amico brought an interest in social activism to the programming there. A little over a year ago, he and then-deputy director (and now director) Louise Martorano decided that the 2014 schedule would be given over to exploring the role of women in art.

At about the same time, artists Sally Elliott and Margaretta Gilboy approached William Biety, a freelance curator and owner of Space Editor, an interior consultant, with an idea. The two had been members of Front Range Women in the Visual Arts since its founding, in 1974, and were hoping that Biety would curate a fortieth-anniversary exhibit for them. Biety was taken aback: "I was surprised that they asked me, and so I said to them, 'Are you sure? Wouldn't it be better to have a woman do this?' But surprisingly, my being a man wasn't an issue with them at all."

Biety took the idea to D'Amico and Martorano, who quickly realized that the show would be a perfect opener for their planned series. He then spent 2013 tracking down as many members of Front Range Women as he could — a difficult task, since nearly half of them are no longer in the region. The impressive result is The Transit of Venus: Four Decades, Front Range Women in the Visual Arts, which is about halfway through its run at RedLine.

Location Info

Map

RedLine

2350 Arapahoe St.
Denver, CO 80205

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

Through February 23 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street, 303-296-4448, redlineart.org.

I first became aware of the Front Range Women in 2000, when the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art mounted Green Tea & Elbows. At that time, Cydney Payton, then director of BMoCA and the organizer of that show, called the group a "body politic," which is a very apt description. Its members didn't constitute a school or movement, but rather were unified by an interest in feminism. The genesis of the group had to do with discrimination against women in the arts: Many were routinely rejected from exhibits in the '70s. Front Range Women became part of a network of similar collectives across the country that aimed to fix that.

For his exhibit, Biety decided not to do a historic survey, but to look instead at what the members had been up to lately. "Some are more active...than others, and sometimes I had only a few pieces to choose from," he says. But some of the artists are still at it, and a few have national reputations.

It should also be added that since they were all practicing artists forty years ago, when the group was launched (though some were student-age at the time), today they are seniors, for the most part, a few of them elderly; at least one of them — Sandra Wittow — is dead. It is for this reason that the show starts off with a small niche dedicated to Wittow. On the back wall is her striking "Parable of Bordeaux," a complex diptych that is further divided into sections in which she's inserted references to earlier imagery, including a rendition of Walt Disney's Snow White and one of Caravaggio's Bacchus.

There's a straightforward realism to Wittow's rendering of the found references, which makes this painting the perfect starting point for the rest of the show, with all its various stripes of realism coming together to become the dominant stylistic thread. Despite there not being any specific style associated with the Front Range Women, most of the artists were — and are — interested in figural approaches. This is a result of the fact that abstraction was viewed in the 1970s as an aesthetic that supported the patriarchy. But this was a somewhat self-serving viewpoint for representational artists; in fact, some of the best-known women artists of the previous generation had been abstractionists. Even in this show, which is dominated by figuration, some of the strongest works are abstracts.

Other artists whose works can be linked to this realist current include Gilboy, who was one of those who tapped Biety to put together the show. Her "Idyll" reveals a couple embracing on the ground with a Doberman standing guard behind them. There's an expressive quality to the brushwork, and the edges of the composition are particularly painterly, driving the eye to the center, where the action is.

Related works by Virginia Johnson and Rebecca Van Buren have a delightful retro '30s-'40s character, and it's amazing that these kinds of things aren't better known, since they would so easily fit into that contemporary-Western category that's been on the upswing lately. Other artists that followed related realist paths include Marilyn Duke, Jaci Fischer, Ann Isolde, Georgia Pugh, Helen Redman, Celeste Rehm, Marcia Rehn, and Elliott — the other artist who asked Biety to put the show together.

Distinctly different are the handful of photo and photo-related pieces, though they, too, are representational by their very nature. These include photo-realist paintings by Barbara Shark and remarkably detailed hyper-realist landscape drawings by Fran Metzger. Carol K. Brown's C-prints are really intriguing: Using digital programs, she alters and inserts figures of homeless men into straight shots of comfortable bourgeois interiors. The photos of the men have obviously been painted over, which only heightens the sense of their displacement in the domestic scene.

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2 comments
babylonart
babylonart

Sandra Wittow was an excellent artist.  But inexplicably, she stated at a panel discussion at the old MCA we were involved in (2000) that "gender of the artist doesn't matter"  (!)   Her roots were in old-school Modernist thinking.  I'm sure she was trying to avoid the "essentialism" of some feminist theory.  But the effect is confusing, to say the least.

Important show at Redline.    Glad to see Becky VanBuren included.

kfoto
kfoto

Thanks for a thoughtful and informed review. It is in stark contrast to the cringe - worthy one published in the other paper aka the Post. 

However,Vidie Lange began doing her Las Vegas work many years ago.  She was really ahead of the curve.

 
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