Having people from both inside and outside the art world come to me and plug a show is a standard feature of my life as an art critic. What's funny about it, though, is how many of them think they're doing me a favor.
You see, in their fantasies about the local art world, I must need to scramble to find enough stuff to talk about every week. And they've got just the ticket to help out: a friend with a show in a hospital waiting room or an omelet parlor. They're sure -- and they've already assured their friend -- that I'll jump at the chance to see it and write about it.
Of course, they couldn't be more wrong about my topical options. Right now there are more than a hundred shows around the metro area, so I doubt I'll ever get to those being presented in hospital waiting rooms or omelet parlors. With a once-a-week gig like this, there's too much going on to keep up with. Reviewed below are seven shows in four central Denver galleries that represent just the tip of the city's art-scene iceberg.
Sandy Carson Gallery, clearly the most important spot on Santa Fe Drive, is presenting two notable solos, Gwen Laine and Lorelei Schott, that were installed as a duet. Laine is an experimental photographer, Schott an abstract painter.
Laine, who lives in Denver, has photographed the sights around her house, with a favorite subject being the contrast between light and shadow. She takes photos using a 35mm camera, then rewinds the film and takes another series of photos on the roll, then repeats the process again, resulting in triple exposures. Since she takes the shots randomly, she has no way of knowing how the photos will come out until they're printed into contact sheets. She digitally prints the ones she's happy with onto rag paper, using carbon inks in a process she has dubbed "carbon printing." The photos are then fixed to sheets of metal and sealed so there's no need for glass, the glare from which is the bane of all photographers.
A definite up-and-comer on the local photo scene, Laine is going to be included in the June issue of Black & White magazine, where she's been chosen as one of the fifteen hottest young photographers in the country.
Schott's paintings are quiet abstractions about the natural world, but her process is unique. She buries her canvas underground so that the forces of weather stain the raw material, which becomes the basis for the paintings. By using pieces of metal and other elements, she controls the stained shapes to create her compositions. Later, she digs up the canvas and then clarifies and highlights the stains with paint. The best of her works on display at Sandy Carson is "Untitled, Part I and II," a heroic diptych.
Gwen Laine and Lorelei Schott work well together at Sandy Carson, though I couldn't help but wish they'd been installed separately so that each could have defined its own dedicated space.
Just a door north of the swank Sandy Carson, in the storefront where the Assembly used to reside, is the handsome if humble Kanon Collective. The current show there is PARALLEL LINES, with photo-based abstracts by David Menard paired with small poured paintings by Kym Bloom. Menard and Bloom are two-thirds of the Kanon Collective, with the last member being Carlos Michael Finn. Since Finn maintains his painting studio in the back, a selection of his work makes for an additional, ad hoc exhibit.
The Menards are photo transfers floating between layers of acrylic glazes. Menard has used images of various things, from twigs to wires, and made them ambiguous in different ways, including the manipulation of lighting and shadow. As a result, these earth-toned pieces really look more like paintings than photos.
Bloom's paintings are different from the Menards in any number of ways, but particularly in the bold colors she employs. Bloom allows the acrylic paints to run and flow, as in "Nautilus," which shows evidence of being spun when the paint was wet. On other panels, she apparently tipped the paintings, allowing the paint to move before it set. These Blooms are closely related to Ryan Anderson's paintings, which have been seen frequently at Space Gallery across the street, but they're also different enough to avoid the accusation of copying.
PARALLEL LINES has a lot to recommend it, but it's way too crowded. This is a frequent pitfall that young enthusiasts such as Menard, Bloom and Finn stumble over, and I guess that's what makes it forgivable.
Right now, three interesting solos fill the William Havu Gallery. In the main space on the first floor is Michael Brangoccio, with Margaretta Gilboy installed in the intimate area in the back. Up on the mezzanine is Stan Meyer.
Brangoccio, who's a Denver native, has been exhibiting his beautifully painted magic-realist pieces in the area since the mid-1980s. His style comes out of traditional Western landscape and wildlife painting, but he tweaks that sensibility with the surrealistic juxtapositions of incompatible subjects. This is what separates his work from the trite retreads of neo-traditionalists.
At Havu, there are several major Brangoccios, and all of them are fanciful in their conception. "Living Water II" is almost a typical old-fashioned painting of a bear in the woods, and it actually would be if Brangoccio hadn't put a toy fire truck in the foreground. In "Stumble Bums: Audition," two bison surrounded by discarded shoes face the viewer. In the background is an incredible orange sky that is, on close examination, a scenic backdrop from a theater's stage. Taking in these idiosyncratic Brangoccios brought to mind local master Frank Sampson, who was the subject of a solo last month at Sandy Carson. Those two artists would look great together in some future show.
Gilboy's works would also qualify for this imaginary exhibit, because she also does somewhat surrealistic representational paintings. The topics of most are still-life scenes rendered with a distorted perspective that results in an oddly stilted quality. Gilboy lives in Boulder and was a protegé of Luis Eades (another candidate for that fantasy show) when she was his student many years ago at the University of Colorado.
Upstairs are three-dimensional pieces by Stan Meyer. These striking new sculptures are unexpected even if they are, in retrospect, coming straight out of his signature woven tarpaper wall panels. Maybe it's the colors, or maybe it's the totemic shapes, but for whatever reason, there's a whiff of the Ancient Egyptian to them.
Meyer's approach has nothing to do with Brangoccio's and Gilboy's, so I was glad his work was separated from theirs by an entire floor and not scattered around through their shows, as so often happens with sculptures.
Sculpture is the matter at hand at Walker Fine Art, across the street and down the block from Havu. Walker, which is one of the city's largest spaces, is on the first floor of that big fat Greek high-rise, the Prado. Though Walker has an address on West 11th Avenue, its front door is actually on Cherokee Street, at the south end of the building.
Currently on exhibit is Memory and Desire, which pairs Montana-based artists Brian Scott and Phoebe Knapp. Scott, who has shown at Walker before, works in metal and glass, creating freestanding metal spires with thick, blown-glass windows in them. The glass is richly colored, and Scott makes most of it from scratch. Even better are his patinated-steel wall panels with thick glass tiles mounted on top. Though of uneven quality, the best of them are extremely nice.
Knapp is interested in monumental sculpture, and the gallery is filled with her gigantic works, such as "Gate," which is so big it wouldn't even fit in most of the city's other art venues. The piece is essentially made of wood, with a pair of low walls flanking an arch in the middle that viewers are able to pass through. Outside in the parking lot is an even bigger piece, also made mostly of wood. Called "Tomb," it's a cage-like pavilion that can be entered. Moving through it, viewers ultimately arrive at a small contemplative space in the middle.
Memory and Desire is admittedly a mixed bag, but Walker should be lauded for having the ambition to mount such a substantial display.
There was a reception at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art last week to introduce representatives of DCI -- a New York-based public-relations firm that will be working with the Denver PR firm of Linhart, McClain Finlon to promote the Mile High City's cultural explosion. Also announced was the launching of a new arts group that's grown out of the Golden Triangle Arts District. Now called the Golden Triangle Museum District, it includes the many museums in the immediate area, such as the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado History Museum, the Kirkland Museum and, soon to come, the Mizel Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum.
Now, I hate to be a party pooper, but I'd like to advocate for the dropping of the "Golden Triangle" part of the name. After all, most of these institutions are not even in the Golden Triangle, but in the greater Civic Center area. How about calling it the Civic Center Museum District? That would be so much better, partly because the Golden Triangle moniker suggests a Chinese restaurant more than it does an area of town.
Though the developers active in the Golden Triangle have argued that the Civic Center is part of their made-up neighborhood, that's hard to stomach. The Civic Center has been where it is for nearly a century and has an established character that predates the unfortunate "Golden Triangle" branding from the 1980s. Not only that, but the Civic Center already has an identity -- with no help from PR firms -- something that the Golden Triangle has failed to accomplish despite a couple of decades of trying.
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