With the Labor Day weekend looming just ahead, and the important fall season hard on its heels, there's only one or two days left to catch two of the most significant exhibits presented this summer: Peter Durst, which combines installation with ceramic sculpture at the Curtis Arts and Humanities Center, closes tomorrow; Floors & Walls, featuring big-time New York artist Carl Andre and his talented companion, Melissa Kretschmer, at the Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery, comes down on Saturday.
The Durst exhibition, which highlights a group of ambitious mixed-media pieces, is part of a series being presented this year at the Curtis Center that features the work of artists who are residents of Greenwood Village. "The year 2000 is the fiftieth anniversary of Greenwood Village," says Jo Cole, who has run the Curtis Center since the municipal gallery opened in 1992. "And I thought it would be nice to show off the important artists who live here." Work by Joellyn Duesberry was seen last spring, and pieces by Deborah Carlson and Rik Sargent will be presented together this fall.
Although he hangs his hat in the suburbs, Peter Durst has maintained a studio, gallery and sculpture garden in the city for several years (the handsome, turn-of-the-century storefront is on South Broadway's Antique Row) and has been exhibiting his ceramics around here, as well as around the rest of the country, for the last thirty years. Trained as a lawyer with a degree from New York University, he first came to Colorado to study at the renowned Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village. He worked there in 1971 and 1972.
For this show, which is spectacular and well worth the arduous trip to the fancy south suburb, both galleries of the Curtis Center have been filled with a variety of work ranging from a case displaying small ceramic vessels to several large mixed-media installations. There are also many free-standing and wall-hanging sculptures.
The front gallery is dominated by two large installations that occupy most of the floor space. In the back gallery, a single, monumental installation fills the whole room. All three installations clearly concern the natural environment, as tree trunks are used in each. In his artist's statement, Durst describes how his old friend, prominent Denver artist Stan Meyer, inspired this group of installations. Some time ago, Durst writes, Meyer asked him to collaborate on a large-scale environmental landscape. At the time, Meyer was working on outdoor pieces that incorporated living trees and tree trunks. But whereas Meyer was, in a way, bringing the inside out, Durst began to think of ways to bring the outside in.
When Meyer gave Durst four eight-foot-tall tree trunks as a birthday present -- the kind of thing only an artist would think of doing, and only an artist would appreciate -- Durst was inspired to create the three pieces seen at the Curtis Center. The original four trunks were obviously not sufficient to satisfy Durst's material needs, because a whole forest of trunks has been used here.
To the left, just beyond the entry, is the first of the three: "Roots," a circular assemblage, suggests a path through a grove of trees. Three tree trunks in a triangular arrangement stand on flat, cast-concrete bases that are roughly circular in shape. An elaborate rigging system of cables and turnbuckles and other hardware holds up the heavy trunks. In the center of the triangle formed by the trunks, Durst has placed a vertical stack of triangular paving stones. The stones, suspended on the cables attached to the trunks, act as counterweights in the elaborate tension system. (It must have been very difficult to work with the piece before the entire cable-rigging system was in place.)
The second installation, which continues the garden theme, is "Arch Series #2." Here Durst uses a real log for one side of the gateway and a ceramic one for the other. The lintel is formed from an old discovered beam that has become gray through weathering. Durst may be inspired by natural forms, but it is the cultivated landscape that he's conjuring up in these installations. For instance, he creates clearly artificial limbs and roots out of clay and decorates them with brightly colored glazes. These ceramic branches are attached to the top and around the bottom of the three trunks, which are themselves unnatural-looking if only because they've been precisely cut at the top and bottom.
"Roots" and "Arch" are large-scale pieces, but they're downright small compared to the gigantic and incredible "Passage," which can be found in the back gallery. For this monumental installation, a dozen trunks have been lined up in a pair of sixes, creating an allée. Down the middle, Durst has suspended a series of rectangular stones that hang at waist height and suggest a floating -- or imaginary -- pathway. This thing's a knockout.
The same could be said for Floors & Walls, at the Rule Modern and Contemporary Gallery. This is the second time gallery director Robin Rule has presented New York sculptors Andre and Kretschmer in a summer show. Last year, Andre had the small entry space, while Kretschmer was in the main room. This time they've switched places, so despite the show's title, Floors & Walls, we see Kretschmer's art on the walls first and Andre's art on the floor second.
California-born Kretschmer has lived in New York for the last decade, and her work has been exhibited internationally since that time. Her sculptures at Rule are made of sheets of clear glass stacked in layers that are held together with clear silicone. Parts of the glass have been painted in hard-edged patterns using beeswax, paraffin or ink. Since the panes are transparent, the resulting patterns in each layer are visible through the entire stack. They are similar to the work she showed last year at Rule, but much smaller in size. "These new pieces are so much more intimate than her pieces last time," says Rule, "and much lighter in feeling."
Stylistically, Kretschmer's glass wall reliefs are at an intersection of two long-standing currents in contemporary art, minimalism and illusionism. Kretschmer uses minimalist geometric abstraction as a device, but the compositions recede into the stack and convey the illusion that they are shifting as you move your eyes across the pieces. The way Kretschmer uses this technique to comment on perception is revealed in a piece such as "Latticework," in which the glass has been ornamented with paraffin and beeswax in a three-dimensional checkerboard pattern.
In the Andre section, it is stillness, not movement, that creates the mood. And it is thinking as much as seeing that's of interest to this artist.
Andre first achieved fame in the early 1960s as a part of a group of mostly much-older artists who pushed formalist theory to the edge with the minimalist movement. The minimalists were opposed to the abstract expressionists on one hand and the pop artists on the other, forming a third column. The ideas they laid out have done much to keep modernism alive after all these years, through its many stylistic progenies, from neo-minimalism to conceptual art.
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For this show, as usual, Andre has gathered material locally -- he found aluminum panels cut into rectangular tiles at a local scrap yard, the same place he got the aluminum bricks he employed last time -- and used the exhibition space itself as a key determinant in the process of creating the sculptures. Andre has laid the aluminum rectangles flat on the floor to make four distinct but related sculptures. The sculptures are placed in such a way that they relate sensitively to the shape of the room. The sculptures are lined up in relation to the walls: Some are laid parallel, and some are perpendicular.
The four sculptures work together as an installation, but each was conceived as an individual piece. They are from Andre's Algon series. The word "Algon" was coined by Andre to combine the chemical abbreviation for aluminum, "Al," with the Greek suffix "gon," which refers to geometry. Two of the sculptures are thick rectangles, while the other two are more like bars or lines. Each has a numerical preface to indicate the number of elements used. For example, in "21 Algon," the most robust of the rectangles, there are 21 aluminum panels laid in three rows of seven. In "19 Algon," which is the most linear of the four, it's a single line of nineteen panels.
This show at Rule, along with Peter Durst at the Curtis Center, is worth checking out before Labor Day has us putting away our casual clothes. But perhaps both shows were out of step with the shorts-and-sandals season to begin with, as each is among the most formal and sophisticated exhibits to have been presented this year.