An art exhibition -- even those devoted to the work of a single artist -- is typically made up of anywhere from a dozen to three dozen pieces. Some exhibits include more than that, with a blockbuster generally having between seventy to a hundred different things on view. It's unusual to find single works of art functioning as entire exhibits, but that's exactly what's happening right now at three area institutions. At the MCA Temporary Contemporary, there's a single light installation; the Lab at Belmar is hosting a multimedia installation; and at the Denver Art Museum, a favorite sculpture has been brought out for a brief appearance.
It was last fall that I got a call from Cydney Payton, director of Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, with some big news. The museum was immediately decamping from Sakura Square and had to shorten the run of Extended Remix, the marvelous chaser for the highly successful Decades of Influence mega-show of last summer. What a bombshell. But in November, the MCA was able to celebrate its tenth anniversary in a new space directly across the street from its under-construction David Adjaye-designed building at 15th and Delgany streets.
I understand the sense of the move; it's great to be right next to where the new building is rising out of the ground. But I do miss the Sakura Square facility. Although it was originally designed as a fish market, the building was a great space for art shows -- better than some places that have been custom-built for displaying art. The new exhibition space has little to recommend it, but the MCA is ratcheting down its public activities as it prepares to move into its new home later this year.
This reduction in public activities helps explains the appeal of using a single work by a single artist as the MCA's one and only attraction. The piece, which is stunningly beautiful and visually luxurious, is Fade, Denver, by the Austrian-born New York artist Erwin Redl. The piece is part of Redl's "Fade" series, which he began in 2004. Works in the series are made up of computer-activated LED installations in which lights hung in strips define specific spaces. At the MCA, thousands of red lights hanging like strings of beads from the ceiling enclose a circle. The lights dim and brighten according to a preset computer program. The red color in the dark room produces some unusual optical effects; for example, at first the lights seem to be strobes, but it's actually just our eyes creating the illusion. As we adjust to the darkness, we can make out the actual room in which the piece is installed.
Few people have come out to see Fade, Denver, what with the bad weather and all, but there's still a month left to do so. And whatever else can be said about the MCA's super-modest digs, the Redl is a stunning visual experience.
Making a striking aesthetic statement is not of paramount importance to Liam Gillick in Weekend in So Show, which opened about a week ago at the still-nascent Laboratory for Art and Ideas at Belmar, known as the Lab for short. Don't get me wrong: Gillick is interested in visual effects. It's just that he's more attracted to subtlety than to the glitziness that Redl embraces. And Gillick wants to tell some kind of story about politics, society and culture.
Gillick emerged in the 1990s as part of a generation of artists showing in London who were dubbed the "YBAs," or Young British Artists. He came to the Lab as a visiting artist working with a group of around a dozen students from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, which, like the Lab, is in Lakewood. According to Lab director Adam Lerner, Gillick "collaborated" with the students in the creation of Weekend, but that's hard to believe, since the resulting piece is signature Gillick -- right down to the miles of wall text and the elegantly simple three-dimensional elements.
More likely, Gillick guided the kids into helping him pull off this multi-part installation according to his vision. I'm sure he took an idea from them here and there but still kept a hold on the reins. Imagine the mess if a committee of artists had actually thought this piece up; it's doubtful that it would have resulted in the chaste, elegant, unified work that it is.
The subject of Weekend is a documentary about a 1972 wildcat strike in France titled Week-end à Sochaux, which was made by an agitprop collective called the Medvedkine Group. Portions of the amatuerish movie's speaking parts have been translated into English and put on the walls in large vinyl letters. There are also large plywood boxes which are pushed together in the main space to form a stage; in the long side room, they are arranged like a Donald Judd piece. Also in this room is a lineup of monitors, some hung sideways or upside down, on which the film is running.
Lerner has ambitious plans for the Lab, but I think he needs to tweak them a bit. Currently, the Lab has no real connection to the exhibition-goers around here, and it wouldn't kill Lerner to forge one. The art he likes is what used to be called "cutting edge" -- and I don't need to tell you that there's only a small audience for that material anywhere, let alone in Lakewood. One thing he could do to increase local interest is to salt his schedule with exhibitions of regional artists who are doing the kinds of things he favors, people like Lawrence Argent, John McEnroe, Mark Amerika, Gary Emrich, Andy Miller, Rebecca Vaughan or newcomer John Goe, among others. He could even go out on a limb and showcase some of those RMCAD kids. In that way, Lerner could help himself by helping them. It's a thought, anyway.
The Denver Art Museum doesn't do enough to support the artists working around here, either, but unlike at the Lab, the locals are part of the mix. Sure to draw crowds there is the reappearance of Linda, the remarkably realistic sculpture of a nude woman by Colorado's own John DeAndrea.
The sculpture is in a niche-like gallery space just off the atrium on level three of the Hamilton wing. This area is big enough for a small show, and it's great to see it being used for temporary displays. Linda has been closely associated with the DAM since it was first exhibited in 1984, and it's the piece most often requested by visitors. Alas, they usually leave disappointed, because the sculpture, which was created from a painted polyvinyl that turned out to be extremely light-sensitive, must be kept mostly in dark storage. The recumbent nude appears only about once a year or so, and then for only a very short time.
DeAndrea became internationally famous in the late '60s and early '70s by adopting a photorealist approach to sculpture, as seen in Linda. Years ago, the artist told me his initial inspiration was the nineteenth-century religious statues he'd seen as a child in his Italian-American neighborhood in north Denver. Despite these traditional sources, the sensibility of his sculptures dovetailed beautifully with the contemporary art of the time, especially the late expressions of pop art, like photorealism.
My ordinary practice is to go to the DAM in the morning hours on a weekday so I can count on being virtually alone with the pieces I'm writing about. Sad for me but good for the museum is the fact that now that the Hamilton is part of the complex, it was even crowded when I went there last Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Lewis Sharp really knew what he was doing when he set about to expand the institution, in particular when he put Daniel Libeskind in charge of conjuring up that stop-you-in-your-tracks facility. It's already fulfilling its implied guarantee of drawing crowds. Linda doesn't hurt matters, either.
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