Cydney Payton's name has been on the tip of everyone's tongue because of the roster of 72 artists that she included in Decades of Influence: Colorado 1985 -- Present, the over-the-top spectacular currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art ("Home Run," June 22), the Center for Visual Art ("Basis Loaded," June 29), the Gates Sculpture Triangle (Artbeat, June 22) and the Carol Keller Project Space (Artbeat, June 29). The response to the show has been unbelievable, with some people raving about it and others panning it. Like it or not, Decades is an important moment in the state's art history.
When I interviewed Payton, she told me that she was one of the only people in town who's been around long enough to do this kind of show. But I've been around, too, and have seen a lot of Colorado art over the years, so I also have the perspective to survey the scene. I think Payton mostly made choices that are unassailable -- anyone who knows anything about the topic would have to have Betty Woodman, Clark Richert and Dale Chisman -- and my fantasy version of Decades would be only slightly different from hers, with more than sixty of the artists appearing in both renditions. It's in the remaining group that I find some who could have been left out to make space for others.
Payton's show starts at her venue, the MCA, so I'll begin my hypothetical revisions there. I'm hardly the biggest fan of video and experimental film, but there is a place for it in my fantasy show. However, I would deal with it differently. Right now, a DVD projection by Phil Solomon occupies an entire small gallery at the MCA. I would schedule weekly screenings of it to satisfy the 200 people in the time zone who are interested. (The Stan Brakhage film and the video projection by Stacey Steers, both at the CVA, could also be handled this way.) By presenting screenings, a lot of space could be freed up in both venues, leaving room to add another artist of this type. I nominate Gary Emrich, a local pioneer of the medium.
With the Solomon in a screening program, I'd reinstall the room. On the back wall, there'd be one of those perfect black-and-white photos of the mountains by the late Ron Wohlauer. To the left, there'd be a large abstract painting by David Yust, one that juxtaposes hard edges with organic shapes. Across from it would be an expressionist still life by Amy Metier.
The first artist I would eliminate from Decades is Francesca Woodman -- not because she hasn't been influential (she has), but because she died before the show's 1985 start date. Her work hangs in the east gallery, which also includes paintings by John Fudge and Jeff Starr, so I'd hang a Matt O'Neill in there as well. (For more about O'Neill, see Artbeat, page 48.) I'd also swap the Chuck Forsman photos for one of his eco-political landscape paintings, leaving just enough room for a Jeffrey Keith color-field painting. I would then squeeze a Paul Soldner ceramic sculpture into this gallery, a small one that sits on a pedestal.
Upstairs are two artists I would replace: Mark Sink and Burt Payne3. Sink is a major figure in the Denver art world, but not because of his photographs. Payne3's pieces are respectable, but he's maintained too low a profile to be equated with the others in this show. I'd move the Jim Johnson word installation where the Sinks are, then put up one or two of John Haeseler's photo-based self-portraits, the ones in which he depicts himself as glamorous women. Finally, I'd take Tracy Felix's Jellystone Park-style landscape from the CVA and put it where the Payne3 was. The Felix would stand up to the existing Gary Sweeney, which it would hang next to, and hook up nicely with the Joe Clower comic-inspired drawings across the room.
Now over to the CVA, where I really have my work cut out for me, since that's where most of the weak links can be found. Again, I'm not questioning the quality of the artwork, just whether it's appropriate for this particular show. Because Nick Havholm has a very low profile, I'd replace his photo in the entry gallery with one of Paul Gillis's still-life compositions recalling the style of Rube Goldberg cartoons. I think the Pamela Joseph installation is marvelous, but she is almost completely unknown in town. So in place of the Joseph pieces, I'd hang one of John McEnroe's sprue-tree wall sculptures, ones similar to those at the Colorado Convention Center. Doing this would also open up a space at the Gates Sculpture Triangle, where McEnroe's work is currently displayed.
On to the multi-part space that runs across the back of the CVA. First off, the Susan Wick has to go. Wick, like Sink, is important socially, but not based on the quality of her work. Here I'd hang a John Hull painting, perhaps one of his studies of boxers. It would riff off the Daniel Sprick, playing up their commonalities and differences. Based on her relative obscurity, I'd also remove the Paola Ochoa pieces and put up a Mary Ehrin feather painting.
Connected by a corridor is a mid-sized gallery where the Brakhage film is being shown. Since films are all on a screening schedule in my imaginary show, this space would be open. On the back wall, I'd hang a grid of those color-chip post-minimalist paintings by Evan Colbert. To the right would be an abstract-expressionist still life by Steve Altman, hanging next to a retro-realist Jerry Kunkel. Across would be a Susan Goldstein photo of the West paired with one of David Sharpe's pinhole enlargements of the region's scenery. In the center, I'd put a Dave Seiler installation from his carnival series.
Toward the galleries that lead to the front would be a large opening created by sending the Steers to a screening. In its place I'd put one of Stefan Kleinschuster's monumental figure studies. Occupying an entire wall across from that are drawings by Rebecca DiDomenico, who is little known in Denver, so I would trade them for a wall's worth of Bill Stockman's enigmatic surrealistic drawings. (There. With this one change, I've upped the show's quality by 10 percent!)
In the next gallery, I'd scoot the James Balog tree photo over to make room for an Emilio Lobato collage, perhaps one of those he covered in pages from an old book. I'd also move the Carley Warren sculptures out away from the wall so I could hang a couple of Mark Brasuell's giant, abstract black-on-white drawings. On the other side, I'd replace the Jeanne Quinn installation with one by Tsehai Johnson, preferably a piece incorporating the dildo form to reference the censorship campaign she was subjected to last year.
Next to it, I would bump the Heidi McFall and put up one of Jeff Wenzel's sublime torn-and-painted paper abstractions. Between the Wenzel and the two Clark Richerts at the other end of this long wall, I'd place a pedestal to display one of Kim Dickey's fanciful lidded vessels. Then I could free up quite a bit of floor space by packing up her other three installations in the show. In place of the first two, I'd display a small Bryan Andrews installation and a similarly scaled work by Virginia Folkestad.
Taking out the third Dickey piece and the Barbara Takanaga near it opens up the entire window gallery. Takanaga's painting is perfectly done, but like so many others I would cast out, she's not had a presence in the community. This is space enough to shift Rebecca Vaughan's "Lure" over from the Carol Keller Project Space, opening up enough room at that gallery for four more artists. On the way out of the CVA, opposite the business end of the information desk, I'd display Lauri Lynnxe Murphy's teddy-bear coat.
Next on the agenda is the Gates Sculpture Triangle. Since I removed the McEnroe earlier, I'd replace it with a big Chuck Parson constructivist steel sculpture. I'd also scatter the Carolyn Braaksma benches around as they would be if they were permanently in the triangle, opening up a slot for an Emmett Culligan in steel and stone. The Parson and the Culligan would really cook if put together with the out-of-this-world Carl Reed that is already there. The park is big enough to take at least two more pieces: I propose a David Mazza linear steel sketch, and one of Jerry Wingren's orbs on skewers in wood and stone.
Concluding at the Carol Keller Project Space, which is now open floor space, I'd salute the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, just as Payton does, but instead of focusing on one faculty member (Rebecca Vaughan), I'd pick former students. In the middle there'd be a Justin Beard installation. On the wall to the left would be a set of those beautiful conceptual self-portraits in photographs by Jason Patz, to the right a group of cut-up self-portraits in oil by Jenny Morgan. Finishing off this fine group would be a pair of Colin Livingston's word placards that are part post-minimal and part neo-pop.
Well, that's it. It's been fun to second-guess Payton, but to be honest, I'm glad my job is to comment on art shows and not to take on the grueling and thankless task of putting them together, like she does.
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