You'd have to have been living under a rock for the past few weeks not to know that something's up in Denver's exhibition world. Everywhere you look, some gallery, museum or art center is hosting a show devoted to photography -- photojournalism, fashion, pin-up, fine art, experimental, and lots of things that aren't even photographs but are based on photographic methods. The occasion for all this shutterbugging is "The Educated Eye," the Southwestern regional meeting of the Society for Photographic Education being held at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus October 15 through 17.
It was dealer and photographer Mark Sink who came up with the idea of having a "Month of Photography," in which art venues would present shows coordinated with the SPE meetings. It's funny, but because of the vagaries of exhibition schedules, the "Month of Photography" does not coincide with a calendar month. Nearly all of the shows opened in mid-September and will be closed by mid-October, so I guess we're almost halfway through already.
There are so many great exhibits around that it's hard to know where to begin, and even harder to see them all. I'd recommend the following three, but there are a dozen others worth checking out.
The William Havu Gallery only rarely displays photos, but it has gotten into the "Month of Photography" act with the prosaically titled Photography exhibition: Randy Brown, Lawrence Argent. Though it is very apparently a duet, Brown is given the lion's share of the space, with almost two dozen works, while Argent is represented by only four pieces.
The Browns are displayed in the window gallery to the right of the entrance and in the two spaces that unfold straight ahead. It makes sense to begin in the window, because that's where examples of his "Spirit of the Trees" series are installed. These images are signature-Brown self-portraits. In "Aboriginal Grasp," an archival silver print, Brown, who is seriously out of focus, seems to be running away through a grove of bare trees. The appeal of the photo is that it's essentially an abstract composition, with an anthropomorphic shape surrounded by strong diagonal lines.
The "Spirit of the Trees" pieces glow like jewels, with deep, rich blacks and a stunning array of gorgeous grays. From a certain standpoint, they anticipate Brown's more recent "Entrance/En-trance" series, which is displayed in the two spaces beyond the entrance; in another way, though, they represent a tremendous break with his past concerns. Like the "Spirit" photos, the "Entrance" images are self-portraits, but instead of being silver prints, they are carbon pigment inkjets. The "Entrance" photos are Brown's first foray into digital, which is partly why they have a crude quality that belies their high-tech origins.
Brown took shots of himself in the nude, striking dramatic poses. Then, using photo-altering software, he isolated the figure, reduced the details and, in some cases, covered his body with lines or spots. Take, for example, the paired photos "Yin" and "Yang," hanging opposite the front door. In "Yin," Brown, his body covered by a pattern, is seen bent over to the right, set against a solid black ground. As could be expected, "Yang" is the opposite, with Brown bending to the left against a solid white field. In another group of pieces from the "Entrance" series, Brown uses his own body as a decorative element, laying multiple images over one another to create patterns, as in "You Again?"
The four Argent C-prints have been hung opposite the information desk. The group of abstract photos is meant to give a taste of Argent's work in anticipation of a major exhibit coming up later this season at Havu. The photos, in heavy plastic frames that lend them a sculptural feeling, are close-ups of pacifier nipples. The palette of amber, green and cream is lovely, and those white frames are perfect.
In truth, pairing Brown with Argent doesn't really work, but Havu's floor plan allows the two to be displayed in completely separate places, so it's not as incoherent as it might sound.
That's close to what I'd say about Vapor, at Walker Fine Art, just up the block from Havu. Though it never gets off the ground as a group show, it's not as disjointed as it sounds.
Vapor includes the work of three artists: Colorado photographers L. L. Griffin and jsun Van Tatenhove, and Montana sculptor Brian Scott. Griffin's photos are installed in the front, Van Tatenhove's digital montages are in the center space, and Scott's sculptures are arranged throughout.
Griffin, who lives in Denver, has had her pieces published nationally and has done a wide variety of work over the years. Her latest efforts focus on clouds, a seemingly inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists. Using various non-photographic materials in her printing, Griffin does pieces on canvas, watercolor paper and unstretched silk panels that hang from the ceiling. These rough surfaces make her photos look like paintings, which is pretty neat. Also wonderful are the remarkable blues she captures. Though they are clearly based on the natural color of the sky, the shade has an unreal character -- especially in the free-hanging silks, which are the best of the group.
Van Tatenhove's pieces are hardly ethereal. Instead, his jarring juxtaposition of ordinary images in loud colors is very confrontational. Van Tatenhove uses close-ups of faces and objects. The best ones are "Unspoken," with a little boy and an abstract box, and "Dryadic Impulse," with a woman and a chain. Both pieces are digital images in crystal archive prints. The paired images are somewhat narrative, but it's very hard to say just exactly what Van Tatenhove means. His use of color, subtle in places, bold in others, gives his work a neo-pop sensibility. The young Fort Collins artist has shown around Denver over the past couple of years, and I've been impressed by his work in various group shows. However, Vapor marks the first time I've seen more than just a few.
Scott's sculptures do not, of course, follow the photo theme, but they were used to fill up the open spaces in the cavernous Walker. Made of fabricated and cast aluminum with panels of heavy slag glass, they're are all essentially the same, being made in the form of flat steles mounted on cylindrical poles that are anchored onto rectilinear bases. Despite the use of aluminum and glass, these pieces are not sleek: The metal has a dull sheen, and the glass is crazed. Oh, and they don't stand up straight.
The works of Griffin, Van Tatenhove and Scott are individually interesting -- but not as a group.
Leave it to William Biety, director of the Sandy Carson Gallery, to pull off a cogent group show, as he's done in PHOTO-OP, despite juggling the work of more than half a dozen artists. He gave the artists their own discrete spaces by cleverly using the gallery's moveable walls and arranging them so that the work of each artist subtly segues into that of the next, using perceivable similarities to link them.
The first space beyond the entryway includes a group of Carol Golemboski's "Psychometry" series of toned silver gelatin prints. These photos are somewhat creepy and have an enigmatic narrative content, which is implicit in the series title. They look sort of like nineteenth-century photos, an effect Golemboski achieves with elaborate darkroom manipulations and the use of drawing. The simple, iconic images -- one of a little sweater, another of a pair of wooden boot stays on a staircase and so on -- suggest the realm of fantasy, though they are not exactly whimsical. This line that divides fantasy from whimsy links them to the collaborative pieces by Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, which are hung right around the corner. In these signature C-prints, Gerlovina is both a model and a prop, with drawing and set-dressing used to create surrealistic scenes, such as one of the artist's head in a centerpiece as though it were a bunch of fruit.
Bracketing these on the two adjacent walls is the work of internationally famous Manitou Springs photographer Andrea Modica. On the south wall are a group of untitled pieces from her "Fountain" series, depicting the members of a rural family in Southern Colorado. These are the kinds of psychological scenes that made Modica famous. On the opposite wall are landscapes, which are less immediately identifiable as her work.
Up in the front corner are several color digital prints by Stephen Roach, a number of which have been published in the New Yorker. They are horizontal montages that typically include a young female model. Roach assembles separate photos and combines them in single prints. The resulting pieces definitely refer to pop art, especially "Decoy," in which the woman, her head cropped out of the frame, is in the top half, with a separate shot of two open kitchen drawers in the bottom.
Back beyond the Modica landscapes are nature-based images by Frank Hunter and oddball landscapes by Jeff Hersch. Hunter takes close-ups of flowers and blows them up to maximize their formal qualities. On one wall is a group of laboratory silver prints; on another, digitally made ones. The Hersches are in their own small gallery. These photos of unusual scenes -- none stranger than the salt domes depicted in "Salt, Solar de Ilieni, Bolivia" -- have a monumental quality, but only partly because they're so large. The rest of the story is that Hersch's black-and-white compositions are extremely simple, which contributes to their strong presence.
PHOTO-OP at Sandy Carson is a dynamite show. Seeing it, along with the interesting Photography exhibition at William Havu and the intriguing Vapor at Walker, would be the perfect way to spend an afternoon enjoying a tiny part of Denver's first-ever "Month of Photography."
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