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Figures, Facts and Fountains

Detail of "Rubric IV," by Stefan Kleinschuster, oil on canvas.

Depictions of the figure are getting hot in the art world again; I haven't seen this much interest in the topic since the 1980s. Falling in line with this international trend, the Robischon Gallery is presenting Stefan Kleinschuster, a mega-sized show that provocatively fills several of the spaces up front. Kleinschuster is one of the state's best contemporary representational artists, and this very strong show goes a long way in explaining why.

The paintings are oversized, which makes Kleinschuster's subjects -- nude male figures -- seem enormous. The large sizes of the paintings and the large scale of the figures made me think Kleinschuster would be great at mural painting, though his subject matter might make the idea a hard sell to anyone other than a gym owner. There is a threatening quality to some of these pieces -- and not just because of the hugeness of the looming men, who are heavily muscled. In several cases, the artist posed them in positions of physical conflict, as in the stunning "Rubric IV," in which one hulking male nude is tackling another, who is conveyed only by his legs. This aspect of aggression -- what Kleinschuster has called "brutality" -- lends the paintings an edginess that prevents them from being decorative in any way. And I mean that as a compliment.

Kleinschuster is able to convey the figures very realistically, which is amazing considering that his brush technique is so expressionistic. The perfectly proportioned details of the men, so crisp from far away, melt into dense daubs of pigment when seen up close. And how about those fabulous colors? There are buckets of natural pink skin tones, but there are also bright and unexpected shades, including blues and reds.

Robischon paired the Kleinschuster solo with Ann Hamilton: face, a small show of conceptual photos by the internationally known Ohio artist. For these portraits, Hamilton used her mouth as the aperture for pinhole photos. The whole idea sounds goofy, but the resulting photos are actually pretty dignified. Hamilton believes that the act of looking into her open mouth visibly affects the expressions on the faces of her subjects; however, that's impossible to see in these tiny, blurry and very grainy shots. In Hamilton's defense, it must be hard to come up with great new ideas all the time.


Also cashing in on the current craze for art about people is Go Figure, at Sandy Carson Gallery. This meandering group show features representational drawings and paintings depicting the figure. Gallery director William Biety put the exhibit together, and the heterogeneousness of it reflects his broadly inclusive taste.

In the front are works in charcoal on paper by New York artist Graham Nickson, who depicts bathers at the seashore. These drawings are beautiful, and though they're very traditional in a modernist sense, they somehow don't look dated. Part of the reason is that Nickson captures the male and female bathers as they undress to go swimming, which does put something of an erotic point in the pieces.

The same could be said for Gerard Huber's utterly precise illustrations of figures in antique settings, like Imperial Rome, which are hung facing the front door. In these paintings, a representation of a man or woman is paired with a statue or bas-relief of a figure made of stone or metal. It sounds gimmicky, I know, but Huber has astounding hand-to-eye coordination, so they actually work.

Off to the side are pieces by Barbara Shark from Boulder; these include some pastel drawings and a series of small panels done as grisailles. The little panels, displayed unframed, show Shark as she goes through her Tai Chi exercises. They're pretty neat, and, taken together, the black-and-white palette causes them to resemble cartoon strips. Nearby are Wyoming artist John Giarrizzo's delicately done pencil drawings of children who have a mystical character to them.

In the center space are quirky and enigmatic paintings by Mary Connelly, who's on the faculty of the University of Colorado at Denver. These paintings are dreamlike; the best of the group is "Honeymoon at Slit Rock," which, like the others, seems to riff on the artist's Catholic upbringing. Also in the center space are large paintings on steel by Madeleine Dodge, who also lives in Denver. In these paintings, figures are glimpsed beneath a graphite grid.

Biety installed most of the show so that one artist's work leads to the next -- a typical approach for a group effort. But in the case of the last artist I'll mention in Go Figure, Lui Ferreyra, Biety has given him his own room. I can see why the gallery director gave the emerging artist this kind of star treatment: Ferreyra's paintings are very cool. He cuts the figures up into geometric shapes and then paints the shapes so that they convey the three-dimensional contours of the figure and the background. He also uses novel compositions. For example, in "Survey," an oil on panel, the young man's face is shown in profile at the bottom left corner. His idiosyncratic style looks very hip, like a cross between cubism and paint-by-numbers.

 

Ferreyra, who's part of a crowd of young representational painters working in Denver -- most of whom studied at CU-Boulder -- is just starting to get his work out there in the exhibition world. He's new to Sandy Carson, and I think that snagging him was a very smart move.

Truth be told, I thought Go Figure was rough in spots, but there's still plenty in it that's worth checking out, in particular that Ferreyra section. But if you want to see it, you'll need to hurry, because it comes down on Friday, May 20.


Last month, the board of trustees of Metropolitan State College of Denver decided to eliminate a substantial chunk of money that has traditionally been earmarked for the Center for Visual Arts ("New Directions," May 5), a flagship venue in Denver's contemporary art scene. Metro cut its support for the CVA by over half, a hit that is sure to devastate the center. During the current fiscal year, which ends next month, Metro provided some $350,000 of the center's annual $500,000 budget. However, for the fiscal year that begins this summer, Metro will be giving the CVA only $150,000.

The big budget cut doesn't doom the place completely, at least not yet; there's a year left on the CVA's lease. It does, however, mean a necessary reduction in the quality of the exhibits that will be presented. Director Kathy Andrews's position was eliminated, and she declined to take a lesser role with a reduced salary -- and increased duties -- in order to stay. The fact that the trustees made the move to cut funds to the CVA when there was no permanent president at Metro struck me as outrageous at first, but now it makes sense.

The official explanation is that the board of trustees, facing tough choices, needed to cut the CVA's budget to the bone. Considering the limited public money available for higher education, it seemed plausible -- until some other recent budget decisions were brought to light.

The board hired Stephen Jordan to be Metro's new president, and they're giving him an outrageous amount of money with an unbelievable roster of other benefits. It's a package that adds up to more than twice as much as that of his predecessor, Sheila Kaplan, earned. Jordan is to get $270,000 in annual salary, a $59,000 housing and commuter subsidy, an expense account that would be the envy of Donald Trump and a loan that may turn into a grant. True, the paltry $200,000 that the Metro board stole from CVA's coffers doesn't quite cover everything that they promised to give Jordan, but it definitely helped.


In the dry spring of 2002, the Webb administration -- in the person of James Mejia, then head of the Parks & Recreation Department -- made the ill-considered decision to shut off the city's fountains as a water-saving measure. Back then, I pointed out that the move was little more than symbolic, because the city's fountains were estimated to use four million gallons of water all season, while, at the time, the water system itself lost five million gallons every day through leakage ("Drought Relief," June 6, 2002). It was later revealed that the fountains didn't use potable water at all, but instead used processed wastewater that is not part of the drinking-water system. Not only that, but the city had actually filled the fountains before draining them almost immediately.

Shutting off the city's fountains was a bad idea. But now the Hickenlooper administration -- this time in the person of new parks-and-rec chief Kim Bailey -- is going to nullify it by turning a few fountains back on. Having griped about this for years, I'm happy to see it happen. I'm still disappointed that not all the municipal fountains will be back in action, but it's not possible to have them all going again, since the disuse created innumerable problems that will cost an estimated $3 million to correct.

Among the five fountains that are set to be gurgling is the Thatcher Memorial Fountain, a 1917 masterpiece by Lorado Taft. Located at the northern terminus of the City Park Promenade, the Thatcher is one of the finest works of public art in town. Also on the back-in-service list is Robert Garrison's beloved Seal Pool at the Voorhies Memorial in Civic Center Park.

 

Sadly, another Civic Center component will remain dry: The 1910 Pioneer Monument by Frederick MacMonnies situated at Broadway and Colfax Avenue. The fussy wedding-cake affair in bronze and stone is topped off with an idealized version of Kit Carson on horseback. It has a marvelous Wild West character that makes it a definitive Denver icon, but it's in need of substantial repairs.

The city's fountains are marvelous amenities, being both spiritually refreshing and aesthetically satisfying, and it's great that the Hickenlooper administration recognizes that. Let's hope all of Denver's public fountains are dancing with water as soon as is humanly possible -- especially the Pioneer Monument. And, more important, let's hope that no future bureaucrat ever again decides to shut them off.


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