Act II

This past summer, Cydney Payton, director of Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, put together a mini-blockbuster, Decades of Influence: Colorado 1985-Present. In that exhibit -- which was displayed not only in the MCA's own facility, but also extended to Metro State's Center for Visual Art, to the Carol Keller Project Space and to the Gates Sculpture Triangle -- Payton used a broad brush to take on Colorado art history over the past twenty years. Decades was a big exhibit that included the work of more than seventy artists, but it was hardly big enough to truly survey that important period.

Decades was not just the most popular show that the MCA has ever presented; it was also the talk of the town. As far as I'm concerned, it was the smartest thing Payton has ever done. But it's hard to miss when you turn the spotlight on your own community. Another smart thing was the timing, with Decades being presented right before the DAM's new wing opened. Payton generated attention for the MCA at a time when it was hard for any of us to think of anything but the Hamilton building. And she did it again with Extended Remix, a tweaked Decades, opening it more than a month ago so that the show would be on display while all those art and architecture gliberati were in town for the Hamilton's ribbon-cutting.

Remix begins out on the MCA sidewalk, and as visitors approach the entrance, Jim Green's sound piece, "Affirmative Greetings," utters welcoming if startling remarks. There's another Green inside, "Courtesy Phone," that connects directly to the artist. Green has done a number of these sound installations in the area, including the "Singing Sinks" at the DAM.

Once inside, the initial space showcases work by three artists who, like Green, have well-established art careers. Facing the entry is Bruce Price's "Fold, unfold, refold," a post-minimalist acrylic on canvas. Price takes apart pattern painting by creating an undulating three-dimensional abstraction. On the opposite wall is "Bubbly Dance," a mixed-media painting by Homare Ikeda, in which mounds of pigment are piled up to achieve a lyrical expressionist composition. The Ikeda is as different from the Price as night is from day, as is the third piece in this section, John DeAndrea's "Released," a hyper-realist sculpture of a nude woman made of polyvinyl. It's a brilliant start, because the pairing lays out Remix's broad scope of styles and aesthetic interests.

The exhibit continues to the left, where two cut-and-assembled paper pieces by Robert Brinker are paired with related works by Ana Maria Hernando. Brinker uses scribbles as the basis for his meticulously done cut paper and Mylar, while Hernando uses found embroidery patterns to build up collages of giant flowers. I loved the way the Brinkers worked with the Hernandos, and both provided the perfect lead-in to Clark Richert's "A/C Triacon," which hangs adjacent. Richert is one of Colorado's most important contemporary artists. And although his work has changed over the years, recent paintings such as "A/C Triacon," which is covered with fractured circles made of smaller circles, continue his lifelong interest in mathematics as an aesthetic device.

On a low stand in the middle of the floor are two of Lawrence Argent's very Brancusi-oid stone sculptures that are based on baby-bottle nipples. It's amazing how dignified and monumental Argent makes the mundane. Not far away is a metal sled loaded with logs that are partially wrapped by Carley Warren, a pioneer of installation art in the area. The Warren serves as something of a sentry for the work under the mezzanine.

First up in this area are pieces by hot emerging artist Matthew Larson, who's interested in conceptual art, such as intended-to-fail efforts to get into the Guinness World Records book. His efforts include such feats as "Most Boring Artist Statement" and "Most Crumpled Letter." Beyond the Larsons is a compelling video projection by Leafe Zales. Scores of metal washers are dropped onto a wooden floor, and the soundtrack is the resulting sounds. Also installed under the mezzanine is a painting by Paul Gillis, "Someone's Fishing in My Pond" in oil on canvas. Gillis is no newcomer, with a thirty-plus-year career under his belt, and the painting features his typical cartoon-like approach. Also common for Gillis are the disturbing aspects of the piece that are enhanced by his dark palette.

Around the corner in the central space is one of the strongest passages in Remix: Jason Patz's 1,200 photographic self-portraits, the culmination of a project spanning three years. It's compelling on any number of levels. There' a cinematic quality to the collection, with Patz playing various roles from grunge dude to punkster to straight arrow. There's also an all-over abstract shaped by the repeated images of his head, as well as a secondary abstract created by the swaths of color in the backgrounds. I've admired Patz's self-portraits since I first saw them in 2003, but I've never thought they looked better than they do in this stunning piece.  

Across from the Patz is Steven Read's "The Color Channel," an installation of found television sets and antennae, as well as some custom software used to translate UHF signals into geometric abstractions on the TV screens. It's such a smart idea, especially the tension between the beat-up thrift-shop TVs and the high-tech interference of broadcast signals. Finishing out this space are three enigmatic photo enlargements by Patti Hallock that depict what appear to be a handle from an exercise bike, a pool table and some antlers. This is part of the artist's ongoing homage to, and indictment of, suburban life.

In the last of the main-floor spaces is a blast from the past: an Ivan Wilson painting. On a powdery lavender ground, Wilson arranged a jagged gold form against two elaborately dense drawings in red and black. It's really cool. And I can honestly say I don't recall ever seeing a Wilson in a show before.

Ahead and filling a lot of floor space is an installation that seems to be a parody of a jewelry store -- or would that be an advertisement for a jewelry store? -- by Mary Ehrin, who is best known for her feather paintings. Ehrin placed found pieces of coral on top of transparent blue Plexiglas stands, then set twisted, gold-colored abstract forms on top of that. There's also a lighted landscape photo that is meant to serve as a background. The Kim Dickey sculpture "Pot Bonsai" is a beautifully made pot-plant bonsai tree done in cast brass and cast iron. The Dickey complements the Ehrin perfectly.

On the adjacent wall, Paola Ochoa is represented by abstract paintings on paper from her "Hot" series. The title refers to the game where people look for something with their eyes closed, and the person who hid it guides them by saying "cold" or "hot." The paintings depict what's been found. The paintings are unified by a delicious charcoal color covering the wall. Adjacent to the Ochoas is a big photo-realist painting of a rattlesnake by Don Coen, who's made a specialty of depicting Western plants and animals with astounding accuracy.

The show continues on the mezzanine, where a group of quirky figure-study photographs by Suchil Coffman-Guerra are displayed at the top of the stairs. I'd heard of nearly every artist in Remix and have written about most of them, but I'd never been aware of Coffman-Guerra, who is a Texas-born artist interested in the art of identity. As far as I'm concerned, she's the biggest revelation of this show.

To the right of the Coffman-Guerra photos is a piece by the dean of Colorado conceptualists, R. Edward Lowe. "Beuys' Depression: Homage to Joseph Beuys" is a small sculpture made of rock salt, brass and paint that has been placed on a pedestal. The salt has been cast into the form of a pillow, and on top are tiny brass antlers. Lowe met Beuys in Germany in the 1970s, and his homage riffs off Beuys's use of ad hoc materials and iconic found objects.

On the back wall is a grid of Stacey Steers's photocopies of archaic-looking drawings that resemble Victorian children's-book illustrations; next to them is a video projection based on the copies. The mezzanine is finished off by a mural-sized drawing by Barbara Shark based on a photo of the artist's friends in Hawaii. The black-on-white palette is in marvelous harmony with the black-and-white photocopies and video by Steers.

As with Decades, there's an extension of Remix in the Gates Sculpture Triangle. For this part of the show, Payton left pieces by four Decades artists: one of Bob Mangold's signature multi-colored whirligigs; a group of Carolyn Braaksma's concrete benches, combining structural elements with anthropomorphic details; a big bronze version of Lawrence Argent's nipple-based series; and, finally, the huge abstract steel-and-wood sculpture by Carl Reed.

To this group, Payton added pieces by three conceptual artists: Chris Lavery, Atomic Elroy and, last but hardly least, Rokko Aoyama. Lavery played with hermeneutics by creating models of three of Denver's best-known sculptures: Donald Lipski's "Yearling," Lawrence Argent's "I See What You Mean" and Herbert Bayer's "Articulated Wall." Elroy took three mailboxes and covered them with threats carried out in crisp lettering, such as "I Have Evidence of Your Secret Life." The best of the new additions is Aoyama's installation, "Out of the Blue," in which she shaped earthenware into forms reminiscent of river rocks, then painted them a vivid "Honda Blue" and arranged them in a circle.  

Payton hasn't completely figured out how to use the Triangle, but she'll have plenty of time to learn, since it looks like she'll be able to use it repeatedly in the future. Luckily, it's only a block away from where the new David Adjaye-designed MCA building is going up.

Speaking of the new building, the MCA is pulling up stakes at its current home on Sakura Square and moving to 15th and Delgany streets, directly across the street from the construction site. But there is one glitch in this happy plan: Remix must now close this Sunday, October 29, two months earlier than originally planned! With all the hubbub about the Hamilton, fewer people have checked out Remix than took in Decades. Needless to say, it's incumbent upon everyone who was waiting to see it to go without delay.

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