Ronald W. Wohlauer, whom everyone called Ron, was one of those artists who always seemed to be at the top of the visual-art pyramid around here -- until, that is, his untimely death earlier this year. During his long career, which began more than thirty years ago, he was a respected photographer, a master printer and an influential educator.
In a way too poignant note, Wohlauer's latest book of photographs, SMALL ROOMS and HIDDEN PLACES, came out only days after he died, leaving his widow, Elizabeth, with stacks of them. The book, which has been selling briskly, includes photos Wohlauer took during what would be his last few years, as well as images done over the past thirty years. The Colorado Photographic Arts Center used these works to create a beautiful memorial exhibit with the same name as the book, SMALL ROOMS and HIDDEN PLACES: photographs by Ronald W. Wohlauer, which is currently on display at CPAC. Next year, the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture will present a proper career retrospective for Wohlauer.
The Wohlauer solo was organized by John Grant, the public-art program director for the Mayor's Office of Art, Culture and Film. Grant is also the former owner of the long-gone Grant Gallery, once an important center for local photography, which mounted Wohlauer's last solo, 25 Year Retrospective, back in 1992. As many shows as I've seen since, I still remember that one. It started off the same way the CPAC exhibit does, with a photo of Wohlauer done by his wife. I met the artist at that time, and he graciously gave me a tour of the retrospective and shared many of his ideas about photography.
SMALL ROOMS and HIDDEN PLACES
Through October 9, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, 1513 Boulder Street, 303-455-8999
Wohlauer kept a low profile and only rarely exhibited, so SMALL ROOMS will mark the first time many have seen his work. However, among local enthusiasts, his was a household name. In fact, a who's-who crowd of Colorado photography mobbed the opening, coming to pay their respects. "It was like the old days, before the scene became so fractured," says CPAC director Lisbeth Neergaard Kohloff, wistfully. And, I would add, so much larger.
Wohlauer was a Colorado native, born in 1947 in the small town of Akron. He grew up in Denver as part of a prominent Jewish family. Though he became interested in photography while still a youngster, he pursued an academic career in history, earning a bachelor's and a master's degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder and working toward a doctorate at Cambridge University in England. In the early '70s, he started to work seriously in photography and received an M.A. in the subject from the University of Oregon while also studying with Brett Weston in California. The influence of Weston and his father, Edward, is easy to recognize in Wohlauer's pieces at CPAC.
It might be expected that because all of the photos in the exhibit are taken from a single, thin volume, they would all be connected to one other, but they're not; it's a very eclectic group. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that they're in black and white. Oh, and they're all expertly printed.
Broadly speaking, there are four main types of images, all in silver gelatin prints, based on Wohlauer's four favorite subjects: the British Isles, the Mountain West, the West Coast and the studio. These are catch-all categories, though, because single topics are manifested in multiple expressions. The studio, for example, refers not only to still-life scenes, but also to female nudes. This makes the show even more diverse than it sounds.
Wohlauer is at his best in the landscape, especially the shots taken around here and in California. They're so Weston-y! In fact, I'd love to see a Wohlauer show that was limited to his Western shots alone. Alas, there are no plans for one, and there likely never will be. Too bad, because their power gets diluted when they're in the presence of his many other modes, particularly the figure and character studies, which are intimate rather than expansive like his landscapes. This means that viewers are constantly forced to change the way they look at the pieces as they go through the show, which prevents it from gaining momentum. But for the discerning viewer, there are many pleasures right from the start.
One of the first images is a fine example of Wohlauer's classic Western landscape, "Tailing Pond: San Juan Range, Colorado," an absolutely gorgeous photograph of the mountain range in the background reflected in the water in the foreground. It's breathtaking, which is the same way I'd describe "Trees, Fog and Road: Del Monte Forest, California." In this shot, the brightly lighted haze in the background is bracketed by the dark silhouettes of trees and brush on either side of the foreground. In very much the same mood is "Roadside Pond: Oregon," in which black trees are juxtaposed with glowing clouds of mist.
SMALL ROOMS and HIDDEN PLACES is not to be missed, and the entire art world, not just the photo crowd, owes a debt of gratitude to guest curator Grant and CPAC for rushing it into production. It's a fitting sendoff for one of Colorado's greatest artists, the late Ron Wohlauer.
As happened with the conference of the National Society for Education in the Ceramic Arts, which came to Denver in 2000, and the gathering of the Handweavers Guild of America this past summer, the upcoming Southwestern Regional Conference of the Society for Photographic Education has been used as a hook on which to hang shows highlighting a particular medium -- in this case, of course, photography.
The SPE conference has been dubbed "The Educated Eye" and is scheduled for October 15, 16 and 17 at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus. Exhibition venues all over town are -- or will be -- hosting photo shows in honor of all the shutterbugs who will be here. The so-called Month of Photography was partly organized by SPE and partly by art dealer Mark Sink.
A number of Denver galleries are dedicated to showcasing photography, including the Camera Obscura Gallery (1309 Bannock Street, 303-623-4059), Gallery Roach (860 Broadway, 303-839-5202) and Gallery Sink (2301 West 30th Avenue, 303-455-0185), and all of those spots will be hosting photo shows. And there's a new gallery, the Blue Space (760 Santa Fe Drive, second floor, 303-571-5404), that appeared out of the blue, so to speak, and just had its grand opening last week when Ruth Bernhard: Still Lifes and Nudes was unveiled. Bernhard, who's in her nineties, is an acknowledged modern master, making this an auspicious launch for the Blue Space. The Bernhard show runs through October 16.
CPAC (1513 Boulder Street, 303-455-8999) will also get into the act, though the Wohlauer exhibit will be closed by the time the conferees deplane at DIA. Instead, the meeting's flagship venue will present Emmet and Elijah Gowin: Photographs, which opens Saturday, October 16 with a reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The father-and-son Gowin team will be the keynote speakers for the conference. Their show closes November 27.
In addition to the aforementioned photo specialists, a number of the city's top galleries are giving themselves over to exhibits about photography. At the William Havu Gallery (1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360), which only rarely shows photographs, there's Photography Exhibition: Randy Brown, Lawrence Argent, which opens with a reception this Friday, September 17, from 6 to 9 p.m. Brown is a well-known Denver photographer, while Argent, who teaches at the University of Denver, is better known as a conceptual artist. The Brown and Argent duet is on through October 16.
Just up the block, at Walker Fine Art (300 West 11th Avenue, #A, 303-355-8955), Vapor will also open on Friday, September 17, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. This show, which closes November 6, combines digital media by talented young photo-artist jsun Van Tatenhove with photos by L. L. Griffin and sculptures by Brian Scott.
The Sandy Carson Gallery (760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585), which has a long-term commitment to the medium, is featuring an impressive group show called Photo-Op, which opened last week. The exhibit includes work by both local and international artists. On the roster are collaborators Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, along with Carol Golemboski, Jeff Hersch, Frank Hunter, Andrea Modica and Stephen Roach. Photo-Op closes October 16.
The Robischon Gallery (1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788) is another space that has often shown photography, and it's presenting a trio of exhibits on the theme -- FAR AFIELD, AWAY OUT OVER EVERYTHING and CONFIGURATION -- that open with a reception on Thursday, September 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. The three interrelated shows concern the idea of place. FAR AFIELD is a large group effort with Edward Burtynsky, Guido Guidi, Ray Metzker, Richard Pare, Laura McPhee, Virginia Beahan, Kahn and Selesnick, Gary Emrich, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen and George Woodman. AWAY OUT OVER EVERYTHING is a solo dedicated to photos of the Northwest by Mary Peck. CONFIGURATION includes additional pieces by Woodman and others by Eric Schwartz, Owen O'Meara and Janieta Eyre. The three exhibits come down October 30.
Area museums and art centers are also part of the festivities. Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs is currently on display at the Colorado History Museum (1300 Broadway, 303-866-3682). Muscovites: Ilya Ilf and Mark Markov-Grinberg: Photographs 1930-1940 is at the Singer Gallery in the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture (350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360) until November 4. The exhibit, a collaborative effort of the Mizel and DU's Center for Judaic Studies, explores the work of two notable Russian Jewish vanguard artists who worked in the decades following the Russian Revolution. At the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, two legendary figures from the history of photography have been brought together in Ansel Adams Edwin Land: Art, Science, and Invention: Photographs From the Polaroid Collection. In the '60s, Adams was invited by Land, the inventor of the instant-film camera -- the Polaroid -- to try out the company's ever-changing technologies. The show highlights the pieces Adams did with the Polaroid equipment. Art, Science, and Invention is on display until October 24.
The photo offerings I've mentioned are just a few of the many around the area being presented now and for the next several weeks. Considering how hot photography is in contemporary art, it makes sense to check out as many of them as possible. And if I were you, I'd start with that handsome Wohlauer memorial over at CPAC.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.