"Boar," by Jeff Starr, glazed terra-cotta.
"Boar," by Jeff Starr, glazed terra-cotta.

Group Dynamics

The summer will be over sooner than we think. Culturally speaking -- though not in terms of the weather -- it's set to end with Labor Day weekend. Everyone knows what Labor Day means in America: Halloween candy is in the stores, new episodes of The Sopranos are scheduled for HBO, and it's time, thank goodness, to put away those Birkenstocks.

For the art world, the seasonal change is marked just as clearly as it is in these other realms of social reality. The end of summer means that the many group shows heavy with emerging and little-known artists will soon shut down, and the futuristic-sounding 2003-2004 season will soon begin, with serious shows coming at us like fastballs. So before the game starts up again, I thought it might be fun to check out some of the free-for-alls around the area.

"Free-for-all" is not a bad description of the Colorado Art Open 2003 at Foothills Art Center in Golden, but that's not unexpected, considering that "open" is in the show's title. Traditionally, an open show is one in which everything submitted gets shown, but the Foothills title is ultimately misleading; it is actually a juried exhibit, and "open" only meant that anyone working in Colorado was eligible to enter.

This year's two celebrity jurors -- wealthy art collector and benefactor Jan Mayer and Ann Daley, the curator of the Mayer Collection and associate curator of the Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum -- spent three full days going through the more than 2,000 slides sent in by 500 different artists, winnowing from them 123 artworks by 110 artists.


Colorado Art Open 2003, Anthology: Metro State Art Faculty and Summer Group Show 2003/Introductions

Colorado Art Open 2003
Through August 24
Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden

Anthology: Metro State Art Faculty
Through August 23
Center for the Visual Arts, 1734 Wazee Street

Summer Group Show 2003/Introductions
Through August 23, Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway

The jurors slanted the show toward representational sculpture and painting, which seems the right thing to do in a conservative town like Golden. It might be unfair to say that Mayer and Daley excluded abstract and contemporary art (other than contemporary representational works) in favor of traditional art, but it wouldn't be that far wrong.

Some of the representational art in the show is impressionistic and recalls the style of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century works, but there's still a big audience for this kind of thing in the local art market. Standouts in this group include landscapes by David Passarelli, Jan Myers and Ginger Whellock. More up to date in style are the two hyper-realistic psychological studies in oil on canvas by Wes Magyar and the conventionalized female nude in bronze by Michael Brohman. Magyar and Brohman, along with Tony Ortega, are among the few well-known artists in the show; most Colorado Art Open participants represent what might be called the flip side of the art scene.

An exception to the predominantly representational atmosphere at Foothills is Charles Wooldridge's "Symbol vs. Texture -- Six Paradigms," a monumental mixed-media installation that covers one entire wall and is clearly the best thing here. This truly spectacular non-objective piece includes photo-based elements and 21 odd-shaped maple boxes. The black-and-white imagery is set off beautifully by the rich, mellow color of the unfinished maple boards.

Though the Colorado Art Open is dominated by representations of nature, there is still a lot of diversity. This heterogeneity and the appearance of works from many new names are the two main reasons to see this uneven show before it closes this Sunday, August 24.

It's a much different mood at Metro's Center for the Visual Arts in LoDo, where Anthology: Metro State Art Faculty, a gigantic group exhibition highlighting the efforts of the more than thirty artists who work in Metro State's fine-arts department, is showing. Then again, downtown Denver's art audience is as progressive as Golden's is conservative. So I guess they're both examples of the successful formula of giving people what they want.

Traditional art is as different from contemporary art as night is from day, so, not surprisingly, Anthology seems to include works in nearly every contemporary style and medium other than the straightforward representational ones seen at Foothills. Even the photos of actual objects that wound up in the Metro show, as in the two great montages by Merlin Madrid, are thoroughly abstracted.

The Madrids are only two of the striking objects in the front gallery. Also here is a pair of idiosyncratic Andrew Speer paintings, "Shelter" and "The Want of Peace," which sport various picture-plane layers. Speer is as well-known an influential art teacher as he is an artist, and the original ILK group attended his studio classes at Metro. Yuko Yagisawa, a sculptor and metalworker, is not as recognizable, but she soon will be, based on the examples at the CVA: "Drops of Sky," a silver biomorphic vessel, and "Pillow Layers -- Whisper," a sculpture made of miniature pillows and metal elements.

There are many worthwhile pieces on display in the series of spaces running across the back of the CVA, most notably the neo-abstract-expressionist painting "Pond," by Mark Brasuell, and Charleen Weidell's gorgeous metal objects, particularly "Apothecary," a sculptural group in a showcase, and the rather threatening-looking vessel "Vagina Dentata."

Other somewhat threatening works are the ones from Clare Cornell's "Lingual Discharge" series that lampoon the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy by festooning models of fighter jets with sequins. Around the corner are the more vaguely confrontational "Untitled" ceramic sculptures by Tsehai Johnson that look like a cross between microscopic life forms and beauty aids. Adjacent to the Johnsons is "Gentle M," a totemic expressionist painting by Homare Ikeda characterized by fanatical brush strokes applied in many layers. The Johnsons and the Ikeda are perfectly anchored by the biomorphic sculpture "Ostiole," which Gail Wagner made of found metal and crocheted twine painted green. On the other side of the gallery is "Telepulation," a combination neo-pop, neo-minimalist photo-based montage with a good dose of monumentality owing to its simplicity, black-and-white palette and image repetition.

One of the most interesting conclusions of the show is how many of these Metro art teachers are also among the area's most talked-about artists, while even more of them are entirely unknown. Don't dawdle: Anthology is almost at the end of its very brief three-week run and is set to close Saturday, August 23.

Another exhibit that's heavy with vanguard art is Rule Gallery's Summer Group Show 2003, which in many ways is just like the show at the CVA -- except it doesn't have a high-minded organizational underpinning. The theme here is much more modest, made up of nothing but an assortment of pieces out of the cozy stock room. It's apparent that those pickings were pretty good, however, because this is the best of the soon-to-be-out-of-season attractions.

For this show, director Robin Rule moved the wall that had been just a few feet from the front door, pushing it back toward the middle of the gallery and thus creating two separate spaces. The expanded front space is a knockout, and it features two of Denver's modern masters, Clark Richert and Dale Chisman. Showing alongside them are three emerging painters: Addrienne Amato and Michele Bury, who are just a year or two out of art school, and Wilma Fiori, who completed her formal studies in the early 1950s, when Chisman and Richert were still in grade school. Fiori is a major up-and-comer, proving you're never too old to be the new kid on the art-scene block. All five delve into formalism, with Chisman at the abstract-expressionist end of the movement and Richert at the opposite pole, doing mathematically calculated hard edges. Somewhere in between are Amato, Bury and Fiori.

"I wanted to tie the show into 10 + 10, so I thought of including Wilma, immediately," says Rule, referring to the 2003 Colorado Biennial at the Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition to Fiori, Summer Group Show includes three other artists from 10 + 10, Phil Bender, David Brady and Jeff Starr.

Starr, who has been known since the 1980s for his quirky narrative paintings, has redirected his art career and is now also an amazingly accomplished ceramic sculptor. The two pieces here, both in expertly modeled forms made of fired terra-cotta and featuring naturalistic modeling, are knockouts. "Golden Monkey" sports a spectacular Italianate gold luster glaze, and "Boar" has a multi-dimensional brown finish that recalls classic Chinese glazes.

Supplementing Summer Group Show, Rule is presenting a small solo, Introductions, spotlighting recent work by Tom Beresford. The exhibit, made of digitally produced landscape photos executed in archival inkjet prints, takes over much of the informal viewing room in the back. The essentially abstract pieces have evocative titles, such as "Weapons Testing, Aurora, Colorado" and "The Convergence of Ross and Office Depot, Aurora, Colorado," that are accurately descriptive but at odds with the lyrical artworks they refer to.

Beresford's Introductions is part of a series of shows that opened at galleries around town in a program endorsed by the Denver Art Dealers Association, in which unknown artists would take the center stage in August. Now the month is nearly over, as are the runs of Summer Group Show and Introductions, which close this Saturday, August 23.

There are many who complain to me that there's too little art being done in Colorado. Yet right now, there's the Colorado Art Open, Anthology and Summer Group Show -- not to mention 10 + 10 -- in which, collectively speaking, there are nearly 200 Colorado artists with work on view, and that's amazing. Even more amazing is that only about a score of them are known to anyone other than their friends and family, which means there are lots of new names to recall. And this long roster of talent does not include the crew featured in the group show now at Andenken Gallery.


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