It's a Home Run

"Mitosis: Episode 2," by Josh Levy, mixed-media wall sculpture.

After moving three times in only two years, Hyland Mather and Malia Tata appear to have finally found a promising spot for their Andenken Gallery and Design, which combines fine-art sales with a graphics studio.

Andenken originally opened in the Raven's Nest studio complex. But despite a spectacular gallery space and an interesting -- if light -- schedule of exhibitions, virtually no one noticed. The problem was Raven's Nest itself, which is in an obscure location on the edge of Lincoln Park and usually not open to the public. These are two nearly insurmountable limitations to launching a new business of any kind, let alone an ambitious enterprise with a doubtful future in even the best of locations and circumstances -- as any new gallery is.

Mather and Tata thus decided to relocate earlier this year to Patrick Ryan's GOOG design center on Santa Fe Drive, where the normal stock in trade is custom furniture. Andenken occupied the front of the large outfit, with GOOG in the spacious back offices and workshop. But a desire to have their own space led them to lease the early-twentieth-century Spray Building in the Ballpark Neighborhood. This building, which Mather says originally housed a coffee and tea distributor, is just a block east of Coors Field.

The Ballpark Neighborhood, which is nearly half surface parking lots, has mostly languished, in stark contrast to booming LoDo, just across 20th Street. (Had LoDo not been named a Denver historic district, which protects the existing buildings, it would look just like the Ballpark Neighborhood -- which may get its own historic designation soon, if neighborhood activists get their way.) Since it's only a few blocks from LoDo, however -- one of the city's prime areas for art venues -- any gallery that moves into the Ballpark area is afforded instant high-profile status and cachet.

Over the years, this fact has enticed several gallery owners to the district. Among these were two who, like Mather and Tata, had the vision and resources needed to make a genuine run for the top. But both of those galleries are now unfortunately gone. The Round World Gallery, which was open for just over a year, featured work on the secondary market by big-name artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. After that was Guiry's, the city's oldest art- and painting-supply chain, which opened a gallery in association with its downtown store. That gallery did some wonderful shows focusing on emerging local artists. But even though the retail portion of Guiry's is still going strong, the gallery portion closed down last year in response to sluggish sales.

Both of these places tried to join the ranks of Denver's top commercial galleries, an elite corps of about a half-dozen that, based on the quality of their exhibits, dominate the city's contemporary scene. To some extent, both galleries entered those ranks. But each also failed to run in the black.

Now it's Andenken's turn at bat in the neighborhood, and hopefully it will succeed where the others failed. There's every reason to believe it will. The Spray Building comprises some 12,000 square feet, and though just about half of it is devoted to studio spaces, what remains easily makes it the largest private gallery in the region. This grand showroom is an indication of the financial resources behind it. The gallery has secured a five-year lease on the place.

Plus, Mather is a fairly gutsy guy, and based on his past experiences, opening a high-end gallery is a walk in the park. He's the former lead singer for the punk-rock band Won Lump Some. The band traveled a national circuit of college-town gigs, and its album, Clean Hit, got as high as number four on Rolling Stone's alternative album chart. The beginning of the end, however, came when Mather was arrested in Fort Collins for appearing nude on stage. It was a harmless gesture not unlike the kind of thing those guys from Blink-182 or The Red Hot Chili Peppers have done innumerable times. But what flies in Los Angeles doesn't necessarily fly in Fort Collins, and Mather was sent to jail. Worse yet, he had to call his parents and tell them about it.

When he wasn't taking off his clothes and singing, though, Mather was painting, and that's what ultimately led him to the decision to forsake his music career in favor of art. Mather is the gallery's director, and Tata runs the studio.

The unusual gallery name, Andenken, comes from the German language. Tata, whose mother is from Germany, grew up speaking German as well as English. "Andenken refers both to a memento of a trip or experience, or a gift, or to the memories triggered by such an object," Mather explains. "For example, your friend gives you a gift, and later, when you look at it, it inspires you to remember that friend. Both the gift and the memory may be described as Andenken."  

The inaugural presentation in the new building is Andenken Group Show, an exhibit with a title as open-ended as its content. Mather has put together a free-associational mélange in which a wide variety of styles are seen simultaneously. Had the gallery been any smaller, or had Mather installed it more densely, the show wouldn't work as a coherent whole. It succeeds, though, because regardless of how discordant Mather's comparisons are, the individual pieces, for the most part, hold their own.

A disorienting pairing, and one that really doesn't say anything, can be found right inside the front door. On the floor and hung from the ceiling are Bonnie Ferrill Roman's naturalistic installations, including "Covenant Arch," a ceremonial arch made of twigs that visitors are meant to pass through. Mather put Roman's earthy pieces together with some high-tech, wall-hung lightboxes by Kelly Shroads. Although the lightboxes and the installations negate rather than enhance one another, the terrifically large room allows them to be appreciated individually.

In a sense, the show is a series of mini-solos with some guest spots thrown in. The best approach is to wander through with no expectation that there is a connecting pattern linking the work of various artists. Instead, imagine that it is a collection of thought fragments loosely connected like words in a Beat poem.

There is one passage in the large exhibition in which things do seem to flow together in the manner of a traditional group show. The various sculptures at the back of the mammoth front space are marvelous and relate well. First up is the ceiling-hung "Return to Cosmos," by Munro DeForeest, a biomorphic sculpture made up of a cluster of yellow blown-glass forms gathered around a larger pair of white ones. DeForeest, who is in his early twenties, has been blowing glass for less than four years, but he's already helping run the Jack Pine Studios in Lakewood, where he also teaches glass-blowing. He typically has created functional pieces and is just now beginning to create fine-art pieces; the example here draws from the tradition of Venetian glass and the work of Dale Chihuly.

"Return to Cosmos" seems to lead our eye to one, then the other of Josh Levy's sculptures. The first is "Mitosis: Episode 2," a wall-mounted installation of polyurethane, polystyrene and acrylic; the next is "Globes," made of insulation foam and red-light sources. Both are spectacular '60s retro pieces that evoke the coffee-shop-and-casino lounge culture of the Vegas of the imagination. "Mitosis" is an anthropomorphic jigsaw puzzle done entirely in off-white. "Globes" is done in a sickly yellow that references the tacky glamour of the Age of Aquarius. By virtue of his interest in ad hoc materials more related to construction than to fine art, and because, aesthetically, his work's so darn good, Levy is obviously vying for this year's title as the most interesting emerging sculptor.

Another soon-to-be-well-known young sculptor, Zack Smith, is represented by the subtly detailed, wood-and-metal "Collusion." It's a major departure from the artist's kinetic and self-destructing performance installation hybrids seen around the area over the last year or so. Nearby is "Error & Ingenuity," by Joe Riché, who's built a reputation in mechanized sculpture over the last few years. This piece is a kinetic sculpture activated by a foot pedal in which a rod whirls at a dizzying speed inside a metal circle.

Down a ramp is another gallery space; the other major Riché is here. "Hammers" is a gigantic and ominous-looking device. On each end of an exaggeratedly long rectangular form placed close to the floor, a pair of hammers connected to engines and cables seem poised to smash the floor to smithereens. But when you activate the foot petal, the hammers hammer gently, and they never hit the floor.

It's too early to say whether Andenken will become a must-stop on the city's art ride, but the signs look very good. Next month, the gallery is sure to be jammed with newcomers when the AHA (Artists Helping Artists) auction to benefit collector David Adams is held there.

Andenken Group Show acts as an introduction to the gallery and the hard-to-categorize taste of director Mather. Originally set to close at the end of August, the show's been extended through September. "I'm exhausted," says Mather, describing the months of remodeling he oversaw and the travails he suffered in the organization of a large and unwieldy show. "I just didn't have it in me to put on another one so soon after the first."

To unwind, Mather took off for "Burning Man," an art event involving Gen Y-ers playing with matches that's held annually over the Labor Day weekend in the Nevada desert.  

"Did you burn anything?" I asked him when he returned.

"My pants," Mather deadpanned.

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