Every once in a while, a show at one of the city's alternative spaces is as good as -- or better than -- any exhibit in a prestigious gallery or museum. Chain Reaction: new works by Gail Wagner, at the Edge Gallery through Sunday, October 6, is just such a show. Although the 2001-'02 season is only now getting under way, it's not too early to peg this exhibit as one of the year's best.

For her installations, Wagner crochets twine into sculptural shapes and then dyes or paints the finished elements in an array of colors; in some places, she ornaments the forms with tiny charms sewn on in an all-over pattern. Chain Reaction features six of Wagner's pieces; although each stands on its own, they also work together as a single cogent statement, creating an undeniably emphatic atmosphere.

Five of the works are mounted on the walls of Edge's center space, while the sixth, "Cystopod," lies on the floor in the middle of the space -- the preeminent position. The main form of this organic sculpture, made of crocheted twine that's been painted a rich sky blue, has several tentacle-like extensions radiating from the center and reaching across the floor; little buttons in the shape of beetles have been sewn onto some of these appendages. Arranged on top and around this form are veinlike elements, also made of twine, but colored a deep burgundy that makes for a brilliant pairing with the blue.

Arrayed around "Cystopod" are the wall installations; all are very good, and all display Wagner's gift as a colorist. Especially delightful are the selections of rose, red and rust used for the sublime, descriptively (if unfortunately) titled "Wall Worms" (detail above).

Wagner was one of this year's Colorado Council on the Arts visual arts fellowship recipients -- and with work like this, it's no surprise.


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