If you thought the fall was prime time in the art world, think again. This summer has seen an unprecedented exhibition season in the Denver area, and, as might be expected, the big players are predominating.
None is bigger than the Denver Art Museum, currently featuring the third in a series of thematically organized shows mounted simultaneously. Spun: Adventures in Textiles takes on the shared topic of fibers — or, more broadly, materials — and includes a dozen shows. Among them are several that must be seen, notably the Navajo blanket show, Red, White and Bold; the inaugural show in the new textile-art gallery, Cover Story; the Bruce Price solo; and Nick Cave: Sojourn. Did I mention that, unrelated to Spun, the DAM is also currently presenting a Marc Rothko show?
Across the Civic Center is the recently facelifted McNichols Building, which houses First Draft, one of two official visual-art elements of the Denver Biennial of the Americas, another big player this summer. The other show, Draft Urbanism, is a bifurcated effort that features a small group of architectural intrusions downtown (none more successful than "Mine Pavilion," on Speer Boulevard, by the Chilean firm of Pezo von Ellrichshausen) and electronic and conventional billboards scattered around town that carry conceptual imagery done by local and international artists. Related biennial shows include Enviros/Around/Alrededor, on view at the Museo de las Américas, and Imagined Realities, in Sustainability Park.
Then, at the Denver Botanic Gardens, there's Catalyst, in which a veritable who's who of contemporary sculptors have installed works in and among the gorgeous trees, bushes, plants and flowers that make this particular setting ideal for a sculpture show. And up at the Arvada Center is a trio of shows focusing on hard-edged abstraction, with the main event, Perception, zeroing in on the rich tradition of this kind of art in Colorado; two solos dedicated to Yaacov Agam and Victor Vasarely are running at the same time, providing an international context for the home team.
It's enough to make an art writer's head explode — or, at the very least, to bring on a panic attack. But because all of these interesting outings have money and institutional support behind them, they inevitably overshadow the more modest efforts of the area's private galleries, the directors of which are not the fair-weather — i.e., summer — residents of the art world, but put their hearts and souls into mounting exhibits throughout the year.
With that in mind, I'm going to recommend a set of four good-looking solos and a handsome group show — all but one of which are dedicated to conceptual abstraction — put together by Jim Robischon and Jennifer Doran at their spacious Robischon Gallery in LoDo.
The Robischon summer series begins with Jae Ko, which is given over to post-minimal wall pieces by the Korean-born, Washington, D.C.-based artist. What Ko does — and it's something that links her work to the theme of the DAM's Spun — is dye and twist paper and then shape it to her desired forms. Her material is unusual, because the paper she uses is obsolete adding-machine tape rolls, which explains why spirals are often seen. The dyeing results in pieces that are either monochromes or variable shades; the paper is infused with the colors, including a gorgeous brick red and a black-hole-level deep black. For some of the works, Ko has simply pulled or stretched the rolls so that the finished works take on columnar shapes, while in others she arranges the clumps of paper into labyrinthine arrangements — all in the form of non-objective bas-reliefs.
Next is Lisa Stefanelli, a solo dedicated to a post-abstract expressionist who divides her time between New York and Pennsylvania. For these paintings, Stefanelli created grounds using sprayed automotive paints, then added carefully rendered "scribbles" by hand. By precisely rendering these languorous and linear elements, she undercuts the idea that the lines are spontaneous, because they obviously aren't. A remarkable feature seen in many of these pieces is the waxy effect of her surface treatment, created by spraying additional transparent layers of mediums over the top. Though Stefanelli raises issues about the nature of abstraction — expression versus formalism — the results are eye-dazzling rather than polemical.
It's good to see a Colorado artist in this heady crowd at Robischon. Linda Fleming showcases a part-time resident of the state and a key figure in the history of contemporary art here. Interestingly, Fleming is also included in Catalyst at the DBG. Her pieces at Robischon are wall-mounted sculptures made of steel, either chrome-plated or carried out in powder-coated colors. Formally, they're related to the pieces in Catalyst, except that the Robischon offerings are more complex. Like all of Fleming's recent works, they combine abstract shapes with references to nature, typically used in repetition. Among my favorites are "Fireball," a cluster of flat pierced panels in gray, black and yellow, and "Veil," in gray and orange. I love Fleming's use of hardware as a prominent visual element.
The group show is Ted Larsen, Peter Millett and Don Voisine, which highlights three artists with individual takes on contemporary minimalism.
The show is nearly a Larsen solo, with two-thirds of the exhibit given over to his intriguing works. The Santa Fe-based artist uses salvaged materials, sometimes appropriating their original colors, to create his work. In the masterful bas-relief "Structured Space, Happenstance and Whatever Makes You Feel Good," Larsen has arranged multicolored strips of salvaged steel to create a collapsed three-dimensional grid. He employs traditional approaches to perspective in laying out an elaborate geometric form that looks like an isometric drawing of a building. Much simpler is the floor piece "Bounce Back," which is painted yellow and has been made out of valley roll, a galvanized metal used in roof valleys to facilitate the run-off of rainwater. Larsen has cut the roll, reassembled it, and riveted the new shapes together, resulting in a work that combines the aloofness of classic modernism and a funky undercurrent, both in its gawky form and its casual craftsmanship.
Seattle's Peter Millett is represented by a trio of wall sculptures that look like conventionalized collars, as each of the three has a void in its center, while Don Voisine, from Brooklyn, is showing a pair of small and chaste hard-edged paintings, which also have voids in their centers. But in his case, it's not open wall, but deep, dark pigments that absorb light like a sponge.
The last of the Robischon exhibits, Andrew Millner, is different from the others, because although the works by St. Louis-based Millner are somewhat abstracted, they are not abstracts; instead, they are depictions of flowers, either crisply rendered or carried out as drippy lines.
Now, I know that with everything that's going on — just taking in Spun could kill a whole day — it's hard to make time for quieter attractions like these shows at Robischon, but I for one am glad I made time to see them.