It’s hard to believe that RedLine is celebrating its tenth anniversary, for two seemingly contradictory reasons. On the one hand, RedLine still seems so fresh and vibrant, it couldn’t possibly already have a decade under its belt…could it? On the other hand, RedLine has had such an outsized impact on Denver’s art scene, it’s amazing that it’s done so much in just ten short years…right?
To mark this milestone, RedLine is presenting 10X: RedLine, a spectacular exhibit highlighting the artists who have been its residents. The show, which opens on February 2, will not only fill the galleries, but will spill outside into the forecourt and parking lot. When I went through last week, it was still getting its finishing touches, and there, in the lobby space, I spotted RedLine founder Laura Merage working on her gigantic “Nausy Nauzy” installation. The piece, made of felt-covered foam pillows, chairs and poofs, climbs the back wall and covers the floor below. For Merage, it’s meant to provide comfort “in uncomfortable times,” she says with a laugh, and viewers are supposed to interact with the elements, lounging on the pillows or moving them, sitting on the chairs and poofs.
Back in the spring of 2008, Merage had invited me to take a hard-hat tour of a former vacuum cleaner parts warehouse in what was then a rundown area near the Ballpark neighborhood that she was converting into what she called an “art incubator.” It was an ugly concrete-block box, but already undergoing a reconceptualizing overseen by Semple Brown Design — then, as now, among the most respected architectural firms in the state.
The results of the exterior facelift and the interior reconfiguration were inspired, creating a building that looks like a museum on the outside as well as on the inside, where it boasts one of the largest exhibition halls in town outside of the Denver Art Museum. Running along both sides of this space and behind it is a studio complex for artist residencies.
When Merage first laid out her concept, I thought it sounded pretty pie-in-the-sky, but given her resources, I knew the building project would get done, at least. What I didn’t realize then was that in addition to having the financial means to realize her dream, Merage would be tireless in her determination — what she calls her “stubbornness” — to make RedLine work. Her original idea called for providing subsidized (later free) studio space for “resident artists,” as well as space for mature, established artists who would be known as “resource artists.” The concept was to create a collegial atmosphere in which ideas and skills would be freely shared.
The spark behind RedLine was Merage’s realization, even a dozen years ago, that many of her fellow artists were being displaced by gentrification; she wanted to do something to help. Looking back, though, it’s ironic that this bulwark against gentrification also became an engine for it: The changing nature of the built environment on the blocks surrounding RedLine demonstrate the rapid and brutal transition that the area is experiencing as it goes from a low-income community to one that caters to a wealthier crowd, filled with new townhouses, apartments and lofts. And for better or worse, RedLine is a major landmark for this new era in Denver.
Looking back over RedLine’s history, Merage confessed there were times she didn’t think the project would make it. “I had my doubts after we opened,” she said. “It had to do with funding. People thought of RedLine as being my baby and believed that I would fund it entirely, but it wasn’t my baby. I had created it for the community, and unless the funding was diversified, showing widespread support and interest in RedLine, we risked our nonprofit status.” Today RedLine is well funded by an array of sources, ranging from the Andy Warhol Foundation to the SCFD, in addition to Merage and her husband, David Merage.
The unwieldy 10X: RedLine — which includes work by 75 of the 86 residents who have passed through — was curated by Cortney Lane Stell, the director of Black Cube, a nomadic museum that’s a formal spinoff of RedLine.
The exhibit reminds us that Stell is at her best when putting together a sprawling and ambitious group show such as this, making order out of what could easily be visual chaos, given that every artist is doing his or her own thing. Stell also oversaw the exhibition design, and she had the great idea of assembling the movable walls so that they strike a diagonal through the high-ceilinged main space — and “continue” into the project space, at least in the mind’s eye, since the two spaces are not directly connected. The arrangement gives RedLine a triangulated floor plan, which is a very Hamiltonian touch. (I’m referring to the DAM building, not the Broadway show.)
10X: RedLine proves how significant RedLine has been in the Mile High City’s visual culture; it includes pieces by many of the most noteworthy contemporary artists working in Colorado today. In truth, some were already established before they became involved with RedLine — notably the resource artists — but some of the resident artists also brought impressive résumés to their residencies. That’s certainly true of early resource artist Clark Richert, whose stunning mural “R-P Curvature” is painted on an exterior wall near the entrance. Except for the fact that it’s a wall mural, the piece is done in Richert’s signature style.
A number of other RedLine artists show classic examples of their work, including Stephen Batura, who’s represented by one of his well-known painted views based on an old photo. Also true to form are a particularly expressive depiction of a woman by Margaret Neumann and a pair of meticulously done drawings of imaginary landscapes in outer space by Lanny DeVuono. Working against type is Mark Sink, who placed colored dots on faces in photos, and Bruce Price, who painted his geometric patterns not on the usual board or canvas, but on found graphic images of male nudes. Other artists who contribute some surprising pieces are Theresa Anderson, Virginia Folkestad, John McEnroe, Viviane Le Courtois, Conor King, George Perez and Rebecca Vaughan, among others.
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For many artists, a RedLine residency was a notable credential in itself, and one that helped boost careers. Artists who benefited in this category include Joel Swanson, Dmitri Obergfell, Laura Shill, Jonathan Saiz, Zach Reini, Terry Campbell, Derrick Velasquez, Jaime Carrejo, Justin Beard, Mario Zoots, Ian Fisher, Amber Cobb, Jeff Page, Molly Bounds, Ramon Bonilla, Collin Parson, Libby Barbee, Sandra Fettingis, Donald Fodness, Sarah Rockett and Gretchen Marie Schaefer. And I could name-check forty more. This show is a virtual who’s-who of artists in this town under forty, along with a sprinkling of their older mentors.
Laura Merage’s dream of founding an “art incubator” has been realized beyond even her own wildest expectations. Sure, it took the Merage fortune to pull it off, but there are many rich people in Denver, and few have put their resources to work doing as much for the arts in this town — and none have done as much for local artists.
10X: Redline, through April 1 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street; opening reception 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, February 2, 303-296-4448, redlineart.org.