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New Year's Edge

"Lonesome Bird," by David Zimmer, glass, wood, twigs and an LCD monitor with sound.

Ten years ago, David Zimmer was one of the hottest young kids on Denver's alternative scene. He presented impressive shows at Artyard and Pirate that immediately established his name for photography and sculpture. His ready success was clearly indicated when the Denver Art Museum included one of his installations combining both of these mediums in a group exhibit of regional contemporary photographers.

Though not exactly forgotten, Zimmer is much less well known today. That's because he moved in late 1998 when his employer, Neiman Marcus, transferred him. As a result, he fell out of the local exhibition scene, and examples of his efforts only appeared in group shows from time to time. But Zimmer is back now, having left Neiman to return to Denver and start his own graphics firm.

It's been nine years since Zimmer showed in a solo around here, making Nowhere, the current offering at Artyard Contemporary Sculpture, a welcome reminder of just how good he is.

In conceiving the show, Zimmer took into account the fact that people would either have to be reminded of him or be introduced to him for the first time. Though all the works are new, several touch on concerns from his earlier pieces. Nearly everything looks like a Victorian curiosity and a post-modern vignette all at the same time. The scientific-looking cabinets -- some, such as "Law of Gravitation," with preserved insects in them -- hark back to Zimmer's Pirate days; "Winter #4," a wall-mounted installation of photos in back-lit transparent acrylic cylinders, obviously relates to the work shown at the DAM. The utter standouts, however, are not these self-referential retro pieces, but the newest efforts: miniature tabletop installations.

Admittedly, the scientifically bent box sculptures and the wall of photos in cylinders can be described as small installations, but not compared to Zimmer's newest works, which look like diminutive interior spaces. By making tiny installations, Zimmer is doing a witty take on the normally room-sized medium. The small size has the added benefit of making the pieces salable, a word rarely used in association with installations.

Three of the best pieces include small flat-screen LCD monitors on which memory-chip versions of videos are shown. In "Tornado Vitrine," Zimmer constructed a glass-and-wood showcase set on lion's-paw feet. Inside, twigs that evoke full-grown trees envelop a small monitor playing a loop of a tornado accompanied by a storm soundtrack. It's like a Bill Viola for the mantel.

"Tornado Vitrine" is a little like a mechanical music box, but not as much as the other two LCD-enhanced pieces, "Lonesome Bird" and "Cordon Bleu Finch Box." In these, the video loops depict close-ups of finches and are accompanied by chirping soundtracks. In "Lonesome Bird," Zimmer placed the LCD screen in an apothecary jar; in "Cordon Bleu Finch Box," he installed two screens into a camera-like device, with an oscilloscope in one aperture and the finch in the other. All three of these pieces are tremendously successful.

Another group of the mini-installations includes little versions of everyday things, particularly chairs. In the title piece "Nowhere," Zimmer puts one chair into each of several apothecary jars that are partly filled with powdered chalk. The jars are encased in a glass-and-wood vitrine labeled with a metal tag, like a specimen case in a natural-history museum.

Nowhere is a great little show made up of a bunch of great little pieces. With more than two weeks left in its run at Artyard, there's plenty of time to catch it.


Lauri Lynnxe Murphy is someone that everyone's heard of because she relentlessly promotes her enterprises -- notably Capsule, her gallery on Santa Fe Drive. Like David Zimmer, Murphy first made an aesthetic reputation for herself in the city's alternative scene of the 1990s. Her work was exhibited at Edge and later at commercial galleries, including William Havu and the now-closed Fresh Art. She was also a founder of the now-defunct ILK, and her work made an appearance in the first biennial presented at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art.

However, it's been several years since her last solo, so a lot of people probably think of her as a gallery director and not an artist. Now, with CLUSTERF**K on display at + Gallery, Murphy hopes to right that wrong impression.

The show features a new direction for Murphy, who was previously known for creating rectangular pieces arranged in grids and, later, into freer clusters. She also created textile pieces, including her very Mike Kelly-ish coat made of discarded stuffed animals. In a way, the new pieces are a continuation of both sensibilities. They are multi-part compositions made up of repeated and various elements scattered across the walls, but instead of being rectangles, they're organic, like the stuffed animals. In these works, the shapes are reminiscent of recognizable things such as Easter eggs and bars of soap.  

Murphy was obviously overflowing with ideas, which explains why the show is overcrowded. There are nine pieces, which doesn't sound like much, but most are fairly large. Murphy is plugging into neo-pop -- an impression that's fortified by the use of cast resin in some pieces and cast plastic in most others, as well as by the pop-y color schemes and mid-century modern fabrics.

The two cast-resin pieces, "Swoon" and "Candy Ass," really look like they're made out of art glass. Thus Murphy joins highbrow to lowbrow -- how neo-pop -- by referencing luxuriousness with resin. For these pieces, she used a very simple, repeated loaf shape. In "Swoon," five of the transparent loaves are lined up horizontally; in "Candy Ass," nineteen loaves are arranged in a meandering vertical stack. Among all of the ideas that Murphy's been toying with, the use of the repeated transparent resin forms strikes me as one of the best.

The most ambitious piece here is "Archipelago," made up of scores of small domed forms of various sizes. The colors are predominantly whites, pinks and reds, with the work covering an entire wall. The material, cast plastic, isn't transparent like the resin, but it has a great, juicy-looking surface -- especially in the case of the red ones.

There is only one thing I didn't like about Murphy's CLUSTERF**K: that dreadful title.

Murphy's resin-and-plastic installations have nothing to do with the mixed-media wall sculptures in Andy Miller: New Work, installed in the center space at +, but somehow the two shows look good together. (Both artists will have a chance to explain themselves at a talk scheduled for Friday, January 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the gallery.)

Miller is unquestionably one of the most interesting contemporary artists in the area, yet this outing marks his first-ever exhibition in a commercial gallery. Formerly, his work was shown mostly in alternative spaces, though he has had a piece displayed at the MCA.

A conceptualist, Miller has specialized in ambitious installations that take up some difficult topics, including suicide and abortion. He typically uses the human form created in metal and employs neon and Braille, among other things, to express his ideas. The use of the Braille reveals Miller's sense of irony, as the language is meant to be felt and not seen. It's hard to say exactly what the pieces in this show mean, other than to translate the Braille that adorns them -- which, luckily, Miller has done for us.

For this latest group of pieces, Miller developed a set of reductivist icons meant to express the sentiments of the Braille statements. Instead of the human form, he's used simple geometric shapes, including a square titled "life," a circle called "love," a triangle labeled "health and beauty" and a cruciform marked "live." The simple sculptures come together in a seamless group.

The icons were executed in upholstered vinyl and metal. The vinyl forms hang on the wall, with the metal forms -- which are in the same shape -- attached to them at a distance. The metal elements are backlit, with white neon reflecting onto the white vinyl. The metal is painted and adorned with pearls and strands of horsehair bowstrings.

In addition to the icons, Miller includes a piece he showed before: "when does something qualify as being alive," which refers to abortion. It works wonderfully with the others.

I've always thought of Miller as a post-modernist, but these new works look a lot more like neo-modernism and seem to reference the high style of the mid-twentieth century. Maybe because of the ambient light they produce, they reminded me of deluxe ornaments out of a swanky nightclub or posh casino from the Rat Pack era.

The Miller show is really great, and it's moving from + after its close date to Pirate, where it will run for an additional two weekends; an opening is set for January 20, from 7 to 10 p.m. So even if you miss Andy Miller at the gallery, you'll get a second chance to see it at the co-op. It's definitely worth checking out.


Just before the holidays, + Gallery announced that director Gilbert I. Barrera was leaving and taking the job of public-relations and marketing director at Museo de las Américas. Gallery owner Ivar Zeile has not yet announced a replacement. Barrera's new job seems like a great fit to me, and, at the risk of sounding cliched, +'s loss is clearly the Museo's gain. Not only is Barrera Hispanic -- which is not a prerequisite for the job, by the way -- but he's also a gregarious and charming promoter, which is just what such a job demands. I'm sure I'll be hearing from him soon.


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