As a curator, Daisy McGowan is interested in going beneath the surface of every work she places in a group exhibition. It’s the reason she defines herself more succinctly as an “art-centered curator/collaborator”: She doesn’t just size up each piece in conjunction with the others; instead, McGowan considers the person behind the art, and all the everyday struggles and personal experience that went into making it. Artists, she understands, must often live from artwork to artwork, struggling equally for funding, materials, workspace, housing and food on the table, all while living in a society that doesn’t appreciate the effort.
In Denver, that line of subject matter is overripe, and the time is right for a show like RedLine’s 2017 resident exhibit, Nice Work If You Can Get It. McGowan, whose own day job is director/curator at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Galleries of Contemporary Art, asked 27 past and present RedLine residents to make art commenting on the sacrifices they must make daily in order to simply be artists. The exhibit opens at RedLine on Friday, January 20, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m.
“I personally grew up with an artist father who raised a family on an artist’s salary, so I know the trade-offs and the stress and anxiety of trying to choose that path,” McGowan says, also noting her father’s disappointment when she chose a similar track in life. As a result, she adds, “I find the idea of how artists make their own path endlessly fascinating. I wanted to know, how do you do this?” As the RedLine residents went to work on the project, she began to see how every story was unique.
Current resident Megan Gafford’s backstory involves the backwash of a catastrophic accident. “She is able to support her art career thanks to the settlement,” McGowan says, calling Gafford’s installation, “Subatomic Chorus,” consisting of five Geiger counters “arranged in a chorus that beeps and clicks in response to radioactivity in the air,” a “meditation on mortality.”
In contrast, artist Mario Zoots went back to his roots as a street artist for the show by building a large-scale concrete wall painting. And another muralist, Sandra Fettingis, references a pile of rubble in her wall installation, inspired by street art she contributed to the Duct Work project underneath I-70 that will eventually be demolished to make way for interstate expansion. “You put up work, it comes down — that’s really symbolic of Denver right now,” notes McGowan.
Jennifer Ghormley, on the other hand, comments on the “tension between being an artist and supporting her work by selling more craft-oriented work, printed on aprons and tea towels,” McGowan says. “That's what sustains her art career.” Ghormley’s installation is a pop-up shop, which she’ll restock throughout the exhibit’s run.
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"All of the artists really rallied around the concept," McGowan continues. "They appreciated the opportunity to take risks and expand on their practice. They work competitively in their studios there, and it's a two-year gig: What a perfect group of artists to use. I think RedLine artists are the best-suited in Denver to tell that story, and the timing feels serendipitous. In reality, to make it work, they’ve got to juggle." In preparation for the show, McGowan compiled a composite list of the jobs all 27 artists had taken over their careers in order to survive. "I want the visiting public to understand and have empathy for artists," she adds.
Suffice it to say, that list is too long to reprint here, but you can see it — and all of the artists' statements — at RedLine, where Nice Work If you Can Get It runs through February 26 as part of the gallery’s overarching 2017 exhibit theme of (Dis)place. Additional events in conjunction with the show are in planning stages, including a panel discussion McGowan says will feature “local artists at different points in their careers, giving advice to their younger selves.” Check RedLine’s website for updated information.