The University of Colorado is the state's premier learning institution, and Boulder is the region's only true college town, on par with Madison, Wisconsin, or Ann Arbor, Michigan. Changes initiated by Hank Brown, the school's president, have put a damper on the famous party atmosphere there, but there's still a palpable energy and enthusiasm that not even a former Republican senator can snuff out completely. CU-Boulder is my alma mater, and when I left, I had both a BA and an MA as consolation prizes for having to give up all the tremendous fun I had while working to get them.
The campus is undeniably beautiful, partly because of its dramatic setting right against the Flatirons, and partly because there's an astounding degree of architectural harmony to the buildings. Since the 1920s, everything constructed has followed an architectural vocabulary that mandated the use of Lyons sandstone for the walls and red tile for the roofs, with both coming together to broadly refer to Tuscan-revival architecture. There are some exceptions to this, like Old Main, which is an impressive Italianate confection, or the Sibell Wolle Fine Arts Building, which is a functionalist red-brick industrial building of no particular distinction.
I used to love hanging out in Sibell Wolle, and between art history classes, I'd catch the shows at what is now the CU Art Museum. I was overcome with nostalgia while on campus last week, because it was the first time I'd been there since learning that Sibell Wolle is going to come down to make way for a new art center (see Artbeat, page 47). I feel a little bad about it, but it's long overdue: CU definitely needs better facilities for studio art, art history and the art museum.
2007 Faculty Exhibition
Through March 23, CU Art Museum, Sibell Wolle Fine Arts Building on the Boulder campus, 303-492-8300.
Lisa Tamiris Becker, the museum's director, is on cloud nine regarding the impending construction that's to get under way this summer, even if it does put her exhibition schedule into limbo until fall semester 2009, when the new complex is set to open. In order to deal with having no venue for a couple of years, Becker plans to partner with the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art for an exhibit or two and mount the required BFA and MFA candidates' shows at the Dairy Center for the Arts.
For one of the last shows to be presented in the current space, Becker organized the 2007 Faculty Exhibition, which features pieces by full-time professors as well as adjuncts and demonstrates that the art instructors at CU embrace a wide range of mediums and work in a variety of styles. Despite all this diversity, the show, as put together by Becker, looks good and, more surprisingly, holds together.
The exhibit begins on a touching note with a piece by Antonette Rosato, who died last year from breast cancer at the age of 53. Rosato had been on the art faculty since 1989. Her Faculty work is a part of an installation done in 2005 in which she took fallen leaves and sewed gauzy containers for them. "Pattern That Connects" is really beautiful, with the leaves in their slipcovers being very delicate in both appearance and materials.
Rosato is best known in Denver for a piece she did with her husband, William Jackson Maxwell, who also died prematurely. "Kinetic Light/Air Curtain" at the Denver International Airport is something everyone knows: It's the propeller-lined train tunnel. Like "Pattern," "Kinetic" is made up of many parts orchestrated into an impressive whole.
Among other installations are two by Yumi Janairo Roth that use luxurious references in the context of workaday objects -- in this case, the pallets that forklifts move. In the floor-bound "Paleta :: Pallet (Made in the Philippines)," Roth uses boards carved with baroque decorations; for "Paleta :: Pallet (Made in the U.S.A.)," it's fine, dark-finished mahogany planks accented by bits of mother-of-pearl. Roth sets up a tension between the functional and the decorative, thus raising questions about work and social class.
Another standout is the major multi-part painting "Counter Parts," by Chuck Forsman, one of the region's premier contemporary realists. Forsman often puts political content in his work, but this one stands out even more than usual. The subject is death in the perspectives of Vietnam and Iraq. A row of severed pig heads and a stuffed lizard are put together with a stack of four portraits at the extreme left depicting Ho Chi Minh, Lyndon Johnson, Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush. The meaning is clear: Ho was to LBJ as Saddam was to Bush.
The department used to be a center for representational art, but with the retirement of Frank Sampson some years ago and Jerry Kunkel more recently, and with Ken Iwamasa being represented here not by paintings but by digital prints, that's no longer the case. On the other hand, there's quite a bit of neo-expressionism that's either a continuation or a revival of the 1980s style. Would that make it neo-neo-expressionism? Examples of this abound, including ink paintings by Kay Miller, monotypes by Melanie Yazzie and the over-the-top site-specific installation "Tulog Na (Sleepytime)" by Alvin Gregorio. This piece includes a wooden shanty covered with painted and pasted images enclosing a group of television sets that display videos. Behind all of it are mixed-media murals painted directly on two walls. Gregorio says it's about a closet full of toys.
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If the styles used by Miller, Yazzie and Gregorio indicate that the '80s are back, several things in the show remind us that the '70s are, too. Particularly relevant to this observation are two great installations: C. Maxx Stevens's self portrait, which includes a dead bird and a feathered dress and looks classically feminist, and Chris Lavery's fabulous two-part contraption made of wooden structures and plastic shapes that includes an audio component. The Lavery is completely captivating, looking like a funky comic in three dimensions.
A departmental strength is ceramics, and the chief reason for that is Scott Chamberlin, who's developed a unique formal vocabulary based on conventionalizing organic shapes. His three pieces, which cover an entire wall, are remarkable for several reasons: the unusual and evocative shapes that seem to refer to sex; the technical achievement of pulling these complicated and large shapes out of the kiln in one piece; and the stunning colors, particularly that unbelievably rich blue. Another standout in the ceramics field is the ruffle of clay glazed in a spattered ivory color by Misuhng Suh. It's clearly one of the best things in the show.
There's also quite a bit of interesting photography, especially Alex Sweetman's two inkjet prints of the sights in Washington. More narrative are the enigmatic black-and-white digital prints of people with boxes on their heads by Melanie Walker, the compelling three-generation portraits by Mia Semingson, and Albert Chong's vaporous and mystical inkjets on canvas. Also delving into storytelling is Mark Amerika's "Nature Photography, 2006-2007," an interactive computer creation.
I've left a lot out in this quick run-through of the 2007 Faculty Exhibition, but if you think it's important to know about the artists who teach in the most significant art department in the state -- I sure do -- take the time to make the trip to Boulder. The next chance you'll get to see what the faculty is doing will be a long time from now -- way after the new facility comes on line in two years.