Founded by Laura Merage, a wealthy philanthropist and an accomplished artist, RedLine opened in 2008 in a smartly rehabbed warehouse at the northeast edge of downtown. RedLine is an unusual art institution in that it's partly a studio complex, partly a stunning exhibition venue, and partly an agent for social change and community development. But the facility is also anchored by its cadre of artist-residents, who are given partially subsidized state-of-the-art studio space in exchange for a commitment to participate in the community activities endorsed by Merage and by the group itself. Residencies currently run for two years, with the terms staggered so that every year, half the residents leave and are replaced by a new group of artists.
An annual show highlights the work of the artist-residents; the 2012 entry is Material Engagements. I like group shows that focus on artists living and working in town, because it gives me an economical way to see what they're all up to at once. But since there is no particular stylistic or philosophical requirement for membership among the artist-residents at RedLine, it's not easy to come up with a coherent exhibit. For the guest curator, Harmony Hammond, it must have been something like putting on a juried show in which the participants had already been pre-selected by someone else — in this case, the RedLine committee that selected them for residencies.
That's probably why Hammond, a New Mexico artist who was a pioneer of feminist art in the '70s, chose the theme of material, and has at the same time broadened its definition to include non-material materials like video. It allowed her to include just about anything by any of the artists, because whatever they did necessarily included the use of materials of some kind — a savvy move on the curator's part.
Through December 30 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street, 303-296-4448, redlineart.org.
The exhibit is made up of the creations of around two dozen artists, some represented by more than one work. Before talking about the show's inclusions, though, I have to point out that a key element in the success of Material Engagements is its intelligent exhibition design. Each artist has been given a dedicated area for his or her work, and in the spaces in between, there's plenty of breathing room.
As the show unfolds, viewers are engaged by a series of installations that begin in the anterooms between the lobby and the main galleries. First up is Katie Caron's "Drosscapes," which looks like an inverted psychedelic tree growing down from the ceiling. Using foam, acrylic and Mylar, Caron has created dreadlock-like tendrils in garish hues that hang evocatively from above our heads. You cannot possibly miss the Caron, but you could inadvertently skip Donald Fodness's "When Nature Takes Its Course...," because it's hidden around the corner in a niche. Fodness has created a creepy and crowded room using found lights — most notably, a hanging ceiling fixture — that give the whole thing a magical quality.
In the main exhibition spaces is a wall piece by Joel Swanson titled "Indexical Sentiments." Swanson began with several found versions of the handwritten phrase "I love you," then enlarged them and printed them out digitally. He stacked up several of these salutations, each in a different hand, and covered one side of a freestanding wall, with them running floor to ceiling. To the left is what might be a painting by Zach Reini. I say "might" because you could also argue that it's an installation. Sitting on two blocks, a canvas that's been painted in a black monochrome is leaning against the wall. Reini has gone in and partially cut out a silhouette of Mickey Mouse, with the cut-away parts hanging limply in front. I can't say why, but it really works. To the right is an untitled installation by Merage herself, which is very elegant. Scattered in a loose arrangement are beautifully crafted hardwood boxes that are open on one end. In some cases, blurry photos of the figure have been inserted into the open spaces.
There are a number of other installations in this show. Some, like Bryan Leister's "Goldman Sachs" and Alvin Gregorio's "40 Hours," have interactive features that are rooted in pieces in the gallery. For Leister, it's an Android/iOS app that, when accessed, shows the giant squid depicted in a charcoal wall drawing, attacking the gallery. In Gregorio's case, it's a wall collage that connects to an action, or forty of them, actually, in which the artist performs forty hour-long tasks, each of which has been determined by one of forty different viewer-collaborators who were enlisted at the opening. (I know what I'd have him do: vacuum my place!) Having determined his own actions is Justin Beard, who frenetically performs in a very Bruce Nauman-esque video, "Fog Fight," that's projected on the wall.
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Given that curator Hammond came up with the concept of focusing on "material," it's interesting to notice that a number of artists are using fabric, which is sometimes called material. This would include the stretched and stained mattress pad by Amber Cobb, "Amid the Ruins of Rest," which is simultaneously lovely and stomach-churning; Laura Shill's "The Hidden Mothers," which combines draped fabric, ceiling-hung lights and tintypes; "A Vast Landscape," by Theresa Clowes, in which the artist has covered the wall with recycled drapes that have been silk-screened; and finally, Derrick Velasquez's wall relief, "Untitled 27," which is made of a wedge of cherry over which strips of vinyl have been laid and allowed to fall according to gravity. Though draped and folded cloth is only one of an array of different things that Heather Doyle-Maier has assembled for her enormous installation, "Devotion," the piece is at least somewhat relevant to this idea of conflating "material" and fabric.
Though installations dominate the show, there are some paintings — not counting the ones that make up Rebecca Vaughan's "Florid and Liminal," since they were done by somebody else. Vaughan has vandalized these existing decades-old landscapes, and in the process has raised troubling issues about the nature of art-making and authorship. More traditional in the sense that they were actually painted by the credited artists are Lanny DeVuono's aerial landscapes, Beau Carey's night landscape, and Terry Campbell's oversized figure study. Also noteworthy are the neo-pop paintings based on digital images by Jaime Carrejo and the related — and really cool — screen prints by Chinn Wang. In these Wangs, shadowy images of ski masks provide the background for silhouette botanicals of flowers. They are really smart-looking.
I know there are a lot of things out there right now for art fans — after all, we're at the high point of the season, and there's even a van Gogh show in town, for heaven's sake. But still, as hectic as things are, I think it would be a good idea to swing by RedLine and check out what some of Denver's most interesting contemporary artists have been doing over the past year or so.