Shows around town display a range of expressions
Contemporary art is characterized by stylistic diversity, with a wide variety of different approaches vying for attention — each with its own roster of adherents. This week, I'm looking at conceptualism, realism and abstraction, all of which have long traditions and yet are completely contemporary in feel.
First, let's look at conceptualism. Some may have noticed the recently erected sculpture in the form of a sign on the side of the building at West 13th Avenue and Acoma Plaza; the structure connects the Ponti tower of the Denver Art Museum to the Hamilton. The sculpture is by big-time conceptualist Lawrence Weiner and is simply a three-dimensional rendition of the phrase "AS TO BE IN PLAIN SIGHT" executed in large blue letters. A different version of the same work was part of Embrace!, which closed a few months ago at the DAM. The museum acquired the piece with funds provided by donors Vicki and Kent Logan; it's meant to honor retired DAM director Lewis Sharp, whose vision led to the construction of the Hamilton.
Weiner, who is based in New York, is part of a generation of artists that emerged in the '60s and '70s using language instead of paint or metal as their medium. Weiner, who was present at the work's unveiling on June 22, is an old hippie with a flowing beard and a ponytail. In an informal interview with me, he said he came from humble beginnings, which is fairly uncommon for a world-famous artist. "I was born in the Bronx in an apartment over a candy store," he told me. "And what little college I had was at public college." He's come a long way since — a point made clear by the who's who crowd of wealthy people who attended the debut of "AS TO BE IN PLAIN SIGHT."
A homegrown conceptual artist who has been at it almost as long as Weiner is the subject of Incomplete: Carley Warren at Artyard Contemporary Sculpture. Warren, of Golden, is well known as an installation artist, and examples of her efforts are in the permanent collection of the DAM and of the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art. Her signature style is one in which she employs natural materials, often wood, and uses them to obliquely refer to human emotions and relationships.
The show's title refers to partial circles that take the form of wall-hung bas-reliefs. In each piece, two part-circles overlap one another. They've been made of small pieces of elaborately cut natural wood that have been sanded smooth. For Warren, these semi-circles are brimming with conceptual content and have special meaning for her. She's written that the shape "is endowed with symbolism," going on to link it to everything from the cosmos to a wedding ring.
There are two compelling shows over at Pirate Contemporary Art. The Landscape of Science Fiction: Amanda Gordon Dunn is made up of abstract wall sculptures that delve into formalist abstraction. Theresa A. Anderson: Goosey, Goosey, Gander in Stickywater comprises examples of conceptual realism in quirky paintings, quirkier photos and a provocative installation. Unlike Weiner and Warren, Dunn and Anderson are at the beginning of their careers; both are just a few years out of school.
Dunn's pieces are hybrids of paintings and sculptures, and they've obviously struck a chord with many since the show is essentially sold out — something that rarely happens anywhere, especially at an artist cooperative like Pirate. Oh, sure, they're pretty inexpensive by art world standards — just a few hundred dollars apiece – but they are also undeniably powerful from a visual perspective. Dunn creates her works by building hidden armatures within rectilinear formats. She then stretches plastic fabrics from the fetish clothing world to come up with simple three-dimensional shapes.
In a piece such as "Hoth," in steel, resin and automotive paint, Dunn has constructed a reddish metal frame that encloses an off-white field punctuated by a series of pointy mounds that are scattered across the horizontal plane. In "Eternia," done in wood, steel, plastic and resin, submerged cylindrical forms are canted and are visible just below the surface. Perhaps my favorite pieces are the six works from the "Space Craft Series," in which various horn-like forms jut out from behind the stretched fabrics.
There is absolutely no aesthetic connection between Dunn and Anderson. Anderson was a student of John Hull's at the University of Colorado Denver, and although her work is very different from his, you can sure see Hull's influence. This is especially easy to notice in "McFairlane and battleships, Apostate memories conflate pleasure," in charcoal, gesso and acrylic on canvas, wherein an awkwardly proportioned Ford Fairlane is juxtaposed to a number of weird things, including a fragment of a residential interior complete with a partially nude woman lying on a bed.
This painting and the others feature the use of odd scales and weird perspectives. Anderson's compositions are extremely complicated, and although the viewer can make out what the various details of the paintings are, the different elements, taken together, result in enigmatic subjects, the meaning of which are hard to discern — and, as shown by "McFairlane...," the titles provide no insight into what they are actually about.
Anderson has also created an installation of a bedroom, complete with bed, nightstand, a lamp, a mirror and a pair of red high-heeled shoes. One creepy aspect is the use of wads of human hair covering the bedspread. The installation — or the bed, at least — provides the setting for a performance that was recorded in a set of photos hanging nearby. With this show, and others I've seen by her, Anderson proves she's one of the city's up-and-coming talents.
There's a similar pairing of artists at Walker Fine Art. Altered features Mark Castator, who creates metal abstract sculptures, and Marie Vlasic, who carries out hyper-realist portraits that are astounding technically.
Castator, who lives in Boulder, is a master with welded metal, and is best known for his marvelous spheres and columns made from small chunks of sawed steel tubes. His pieces at Walker, however, are very different formally. He has written that he is influenced by abstract expressionism, and that relationship is not hard to understand. The elements he uses to make the sculptures — cut metal tubes mounted sideways, just like in his spheres and columns — have been freely assembled, aping the instinctual sense for composition associated with abstract expressionism. The overall forms are like puffs of smoke, meandering up from the floor. And because the cut tubular metal is mounted sideways with the open end facing out, there's lots of negative space, which heightens the sense of lightness. But they actually must be very heavy since they are made of steel, so they're simultaneously delicate and monumental. This is a neat visual trick.
Vlasic, meanwhile, has chosen tattooed nudes as her subjects and has done so with a fanatical attention to detail — so much so that at first they look like photos, but they're not; rather, they're done in oil on canvas. Although you could argue that they're fairly traditional from a stylistic standpoint, Vlasic's portraits are really in-your-face because she's depicting naked tattooed men and women — and with unflinching accuracy, including genitalia and pubic hair. Some are fairly demure, like "Candice II," a seated young woman, while others are really graphic — notably "Ian," a gym-rat biker-type who lets it all hang out.
The summer is supposed be a time when the art world takes a break, but as these shows reveal, things are going along at a rapid and hectic pace – and that's not counting the King Tut show at the DAM and the several exhibits associated with the Biennial of the Americas, all of which have just opened or are about to.
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