Most Denver art cooperatives celebrate the turn of the year with big group shows of members' work. These exhibitions provide both an opportunity to party and a way to assess the year's achievements on the "alternative" scene, offering an infrequent overview of a co-op's talent and diversity. Last year the art-combines collaborated for the SPACE tour, a sort of once-a-year version of LoDo's First Fridays.
The idea continued this year as SPACErs Spark, Pirate, Asylum, Core and Edge expanded to seven galleries by signing up Aurora's Ulozi co-op and Genre in Five Points. Most SPACE exhibits are still up and crowded with art--much of it new work, although some has been shown before. Because cooperative galleries shelter artists from all walks of life, mixing together flowery impressionism, musclebound abstractions, representational art and lofty postmodernism, the shows can seem hectic and unfocused. But they're still the fastest way to see what these artist-rich galleries have to offer--it's a fun tour of art on the edge.
Spark Cooperative Gallery changed locations this year after more than a decade encamped in Highlands. The gallery's cozy new home, down the street from Paris on the Platte, brings foot traffic and the noise and movement of commerce to the once-secluded Spark. Its 14th Annual Members Show presents a broad spectrum of works, from brutal experimentation to suave sophistication. A tall, raw-lumber-and-plaster installation by Kevin Kabance dominates the front showroom. "How Many More Times" is a cross between a giant's abacus and a battlefield hospital. Rough slabs of plaster act as beads, alternating with plaster-molded body parts and other objects. These elements are "strung" on rows of pipe supported by crude ladders. Mounted near the top, like a trophy, hangs a stylized wooden cow head. A cardboard box holds spare feet, hands and elbows. Either a protest against red-meat diets or an indictment of the slaughter of war, this commanding piece has both humor and horror within its impromptu frame.
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The Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired surrealistic landscape portrayed in Susan Smolensky's dreamy painting "Afterwards" is a gentle sendup of the O'Keeffe-ian obsession with natural objects resembling female genitals. Aside from any symbolic meaning, the painting's luscious colors and exquisite semirepresentational forms are compelling in themselves. The primitive "lens" of David Sharpe's black-and-white photograph "KP Cafe," a pinhole print, seems to blot out its central figure, a guy in a roadhouse diner. Weird highlights and fish-eye curves in the photo are the high-impact result of the low-tech pinhole-camera method. The monster mythologies pictured in Sally Elliot's brightly colored tempera paintings recall medieval stained glass or Mexican yarn paintings. And Evan Siegel's strange, antique-looking bas-relief "Hapsburg Journey" encompasses a mythic narrative from birth to death in its cartoonlike figures and forests.
Pirate Gallery had its annual member show earlier in January, and continues the retrospective bent with Ex-Pirates, a compilation of work by former co-op members, some of whom, like the luminous but deceased Wes Kennedy, have found fame in other venues. The entire show was not hung at the time of this writing, but fine pieces by ex-Pirates Kennedy, Kevin Robb, Reed Weimer, Jennifer Melton, Art Modren, Dale Chisman, Michael Pedziwiatr and Chris Eaton reflect the growth and influence of Pirate-ized artists over the years. Kennedy's work is especially moving, though modest. The accompanying text of "Jennifer's Question," a small, black-and-white snapshot of a child's knee in a pool of water, gets at the mystery of artmaking. And Ray Schelgunov's expressionistic painting "Untitled," decorated with "fringe" made of a janitor's pushbroom, comically epitomizes Pirate's grungy but proud spirit.
While not as intense as shows with a single theme and fewer artists, member shows provide a brief taste of many artists' work in a sweeping glance. Exploring this SPACE requires no special equipment, just a quick eye and an adventurous spirit.
14th Annual Members Show, through January 23 at Spark, 1535 Platte Street, 455-4435; Ex-Pirate Show, through January 23 at Pirate, 3659 Navajo Street, 458-6058.