Kathy Andrews was named curator for the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities only about a year ago. But she's already come through with a must-see show. A Gathering of Galleries/A Gathering of Artists is an exciting look at the art market in Denver.
Andrews, who says she wanted to provide a look at "what the art community is about," asked nearly every important art showcase in Denver to choose two artists as representatives. Participating in the exhibit are sixteen venues: eleven commercial galleries, one private nonprofit and four alternative spaces. Rather than curating the exhibit, Andrews for the most part acted as a facilitator, giving the galleries a single instruction--to choose one nationally "famous" artist and one who is well-known locally.
Many galleries simply didn't follow Andrews's direction. One that did was Rule Modern and Contemporary--no doubt why this gallery was given its high-profile, up-front location. Unfortunately, however, the genuinely "famous" artist named by Rule is Sandy Skogland.
Skogland is a one-trick pony who, in this show, is stretched to the breaking point by being represented by three different pieces. A great pretender, she came to fame during the go-go art market of the 1980s, when many people as new to art as they were to their money invaded the scene. Most of those nouveau riche have since left the art world for the brewpubs, but not before helping ensure that Skogland's vacant pretties actually ended up in some museum collections, including the Denver Art Museum's.
The three Skogland pieces included here share an identical formula: Life-sized rubber animals installed in incongruous settings (dogs in a grass-covered living room, for example) are the subject of large color Cibachromes or photo-lithos.
At least Rule redeems itself by choosing Lawrence Argent as its local representative. Included is one of Argent's exquisite white and gold diptychs. On the left panel, the image of a spiral tower, evocative of the biblical one of Babel, is "drawn" in black encaustic on white. The other panel is a grid of gold leaves laid over a pastiglio squiggle.
The only other gallery to follow to the letter curator Andrews's dictum is Inkfish. The gallery provides two wonderful, if small, examples of the work of George Rickey, a living pioneer of the kinetic-sculpture movement. "Parallelapipeds" and "Gyratory/Gyratory" are both stainless-steel sculptures in which rectangular shapes move not because they are mechanized but because their perfect balance responds to the movements of the air. (At the Arvada Center, the kinesis is encouraged by an invisible--but noisy--electric fan.)
For local flavor, Inkfish chose the old master of mid-century art in Denver, Vance Kirkland. The late artist is represented by a wonderful painting that combines cubism with regionalism. The view of the "Monastery at Ronda, Spain," a 1931 oil on board, reduces the scene to the flat planes of the building against the three-dimensional purple mountains of a distant landscape.
Since none of the other galleries have artists in their stables as widely known as Skogland or Rickey, most of them interpreted "famous" to mean someone who's well-known to art-world insiders, creating an ironic situation in which many of them paired a little-known "famous" artist with one who has achieved considerable local fame.
That's surely the case with Artyard. Around here, Chuck Parson is much better known than the "famous" Jesus Bautista Moroles--in fact, Parson is probably as well-known nationally as Moroles. But it's a minor complaint, because both artists really come through. The fabulous sculpture "Untitled (From the Fragility of Permanence Series)," by Parson, is a spectacular example of his signature style, in which industrial ready-made materials are used to convey emotional content. "Musical Stele," a granite sculpture by Moroles, also seems to infuse inanimate materials with human passion.
The Grant and Mackey galleries put a clever spin on Andrews's requirement, selecting entries in which both the "famous" and the local artist hail from Denver. And that take turned out to be the most intellectually satisfying approach.
Alone among the participants, Grant has been given a virtual branch of the Arvada Center to display its artists, and it's a good advertisement for the gallery. Denver heavyweight Ed Lowe contributes an elegant glass-and-steel console table punctuated by a bronze twig, its roots protruding underneath. The table sits in front of "Fire and Light," a mammoth and breathtaking Duratrans photo of a campfire with a freestanding hologram of a light bulb in front. Lowe is paired with the boy wonder of abstract mixed-media painting, Steven Altman. Here Altman shows his accomplished all-over linear works where dark underpaintings show through light-colored surfaces and where scratches and abrasions stand in for subject matter.
Mackey, a champion of abstraction, includes two of the best painters in the area: old master Homare Ikeda and young master Jeff Wenzel. Ikeda's "Untitled" oil and wax on canvas features his character-istic surface, where paint looks to have been squeezed from tubes and then worked with brushes or maybe even sticks. Underneath the murky surfaces, organic forms show through with what can only be described as an inner glow. In Wenzel's large mixed-media-on-paper works, the artist has torn and twisted the painted paper, reassembled it, painted it again and tacked it onto black plywood sheets. The results are sublime, the product of Wenzel's skillful grasp of color and composition.
Exempted from the burden of pairing the "famous" and the local were Denver's four alternative art spaces, where only local artists are members. And perhaps as a result of the anarchic nature of these places, the selections for some of them defy explanation. Pirate, for example, had members draw straws, a selection method that illustrates both its strength (an anything-goes ethos) and its weakness (no real direction).
In this show, it is Edge, where choices were made by founder and guiding spirit Ken Peterson, that really gets to show off. It was saddening to learn through Edge's Mark Brasuell's somber painting and ethereal installation that Denver artist and critic Dan Thigpen had died. Both of these sophisticated works are dedicated to his memory. More lighthearted, though equally serious in its aims, is the thoughtful installation by the local grande dame of that medium, Virginia Folkestad. The humor comes in relating the shovels and concrete forms that resemble toilets to the piece's title, "Flotilla." Folkestad must think it's getting pretty deep out here.
Only one gallery fails entirely to present work that's up to the standards of this show. CSK, which recently lost its heart and soul with the forced departure of art treasure Mark Lunning and his fabulous printmaking outfit, Open Press, is obviously reeling in the wake of his departure. There's no other explanation as to why CSK, so recently one of the city's most respectable galleries, would have chosen two pedestrians--Gina Schrawyer and Grant Williams--to represent it.
In association with Andrews's much-needed exhibit, a panel discussion will be held tomorrow (Thursday) night at the Center. And on June 27, a progressive dinner will be held at several of the participating galleries. This second event is guaranteed to elicit interest from even the most jaded of gallery-goers, owing to the stated admission policy. Though the general public is expected to pay $25 for the event, the policy states that "exhibitionist members" will get a five-buck discount. Given their entertainment value, perhaps the exhibitionists should be let in free.
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