Denver artist Michael Brohman is known for conceptual sculptures and installations with ambiguous narratives. He's also known for having edgy, if not questionable, tastes that result in the use of stomach-turning materials like human bones and skulls, animal pelts and remains and, believe it or not, horse manure. And then there are those disturbing hybrids of babies and plucked chickens that have become something of a signature for him. These attributes make a trip to one of his shows something of an adventure.
His latest effort, now at Pirate Gallery (3655 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058, www.pirateartonline.com), has the evocative — and open-ended — title of Human Nature, and it features all the things I've mentioned and more. But either I'm becoming inured to his extremism or he's calming down a bit, because I didn't find this offering to be as outrageous as usual — and I mean that as a compliment. I found the show, which fills not only the main gallery but stretches into the Associates Space, to be pretty compelling, and I didn't feel like throwing up even once.
Maybe it has to do with Brohman's artist statement, wherein he points out that he's a Western artist: With that revelation, the pieces reveal themselves as having a regional character, something I hadn't considered before. Cow horns, elk antlers, rusting bed springs, a bear skin, a hunter's weight, even a tractor tire all say "American West."
The title piece, "Human Nature" (pictured), is a bear skin that's been pinned to the wall and has a human skull attached to the head; it's definitely eye-catching. Another standout is "Ascent," a bust with elk antlers placed on top of a tall ladder. One of the most powerful pieces is the three-part installation "Cowboys," in which the rusted frame of a folding cot has a pair of cow skulls on top; hung on the end walls on either side are two pairs of bronze-cast briefs. Cow horns standing in for erect penises emerge from the leg-holes of the briefs, giving the piece a very Brokeback Mountain quality.
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The Brohman show at Pirate runs through September 13.