Susan Goldstein: Coming Home and Judy Anderson: Going Home
Simon Zalkind, director of the Singer Gallery at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, is best known for group shows based on some kind of theme, which are often plugged into other events, such as lectures, plays or films, that share the same topic. But lately he's come across another formula for exhibition success: solos devoted to under-appreciated, or at least under-exposed, artists.
Those he has chosen for this honor include artists from across the country as well as creative talents working in the area. The current exhibit in the main space, Susan Goldstein: COMING TO AMERICA: A Retrospective, is an excellent example of this type of approach. Goldstein is a Denver artist who has been producing first-rate work in several different mediums for the better part of a decade, but she does not have a relationship with a commercial gallery. Just about everything she's done has been presented at the humble Edge Gallery, an artist co-op. I can't say that I've seen every one of Goldstein's previous presentations, but as I walked through the retrospective at the Singer, I realized that I must have seen most of them, because nearly every series was familiar to me.
Longtime readers of this column know that I think chronology is an important tool in making retrospectives logical and understandable, so I was somewhat disappointed that Zalkind laid out this show without it. Then again, Goldstein made it impossible by doing ten new pieces in each series, meaning every group had elements created since the spring of 2006, no matter when the originals were started. A careful reading of the wall labels for each series tips the viewer off to the order of production of the individual elements, but it's clear that once Goldstein comes up with a successful strategy, she hardly wavers. The earliest pieces, the newest ones and all those in between are astoundingly consistent conceptually, aesthetically and technically -- at least within each individual series.
Goldstein was born in Indiana in 1950, moving to Boulder in 1968 to attend the University of Colorado. She did not major in art, but she took some classes, including a photography class from Charles Roitz, the accomplished black-and-white photographer, that would be important later in her career. She dropped out of school before graduating and moved to a cabin in Sunshine Canyon, where she made hippie jewelry to sell at shops in Boulder and Denver.
By 1977 she was being driven out of business by large jewelry manufacturers, who could produce hippie beads more cheaply than was possible for individual artisans. Goldstein moved to Denver and got various odd jobs, including doing paste-up at Westword in the pre-computer days. "Staying up all night pasting together the pages is the basis for my cut-and-paste and collage work," she notes.
In the early '80s, Goldstein began to take serious photos that she considered examples of photojournalism rather than art. "It was years later that I started to consider myself an artist," says Goldstein, "but there was a change in my mind, and I wasn't doing the kind of work that I had been doing as a photojournalist."
Based on this distinction, the retrospective at the Singer begins with pieces done in the 1990s. The series with the earliest start date is "Poli Vesture," which Goldstein began in 1992. These photos are set in an abandoned factory that once made religious statuary. They have the kind of haunting quality you'd expect in such a setting, with Goldstein posing and dramatically lighting the broken though still recognizable figural pieces.
Completely different in character are the photos of the "New American West" series, begun in 1997. In these rural images, Goldstein finds a variety of Western-themed scenes -- a motel in the form of a tepee village, a store that looks like an adobe house -- and zeroes in on them. "In photography, I go from looking at everything to selecting something and isolating it from the visual clutter around it," Goldstein explains. These "New American West" photos link Goldstein to an entire generation of contemporary photographers who look at the West with a critical eye toward conservation and preservation.
Goldstein's collages are so different from her photos that they look as if they were created by a different artist. The "First Work" series includes geometric assemblages made from surplus office supplies. There are also collages made from old anatomy books and other old documents in the "Life Layers" series, which have a surrealist quality thanks to all the flayed heads. The most fully realized of these assembled works are the dense little collages from the "Intersections" series, which were created with cutouts from Victorian-era postcards and greeting cards. In "Inversion," a large head hangs upside down over a fanciful skyline of old buildings; in "Sixth Sense," a dog barks at an angel ascending to heaven. Stylistically, these pieces are one part Joseph Cornell, one part Monty Python.
A compelling aspect of the collages is the textural quality of the heavy old papers, some of which are embossed, and the fineness of the printing techniques. That, of course, brings up a question: Is Goldstein destroying significant things when she uses them as art supplies? Without my having to ask, Goldstein makes a point of telling me that she only uses already-damaged pieces for her collages and would never destroy a fine historic example for one.
Situated aesthetically somewhere between her photos and her collages is the computer-based montage from 2003's "Good Versus Evil" series. At the time, Goldstein was predicting war with Iraq as shown in a billboard-sized piece called "Oversimplification." In it, she paired an image of Saddam Hussein as it appeared on Iraqi currency with an ersatz-old-master-style avenging angel from her collection. She scanned both into a computer and printed out an enlargement in which the angel, sword in hand, descends from the sky to smite Saddam.
I've admired Goldstein's work for a long time, but the Singer retrospective gave me new insight into the nature of her oeuvre. She's really several different artists all in one -- and highly proficient in whichever guise she takes on. Though not always completely successful (but nearly always), Goldstein's pieces are relentlessly thoughtful and consummately crafted.
In the smaller Cooper Gallery, Zalkind installed a fitting companion exhibit, Judy Anderson: Going Home, which is filled with unusual pieces on paper and works constructed from paper. When Zalkind asked Goldstein to suggest an artist whose work she admired, she chose Anderson, who is the director of PlatteForum, an innovative art-education facility that pairs accomplished artists with kids for classes, workshops and exhibitions.
Anderson's body of work was inspired by a walk she took through the Denver Botanic Gardens with her friend, poet Ginny Hoyle. The use of plants and poetry as images and content, respectively, is not overtly apparent in the pieces, but once we're clued in, it's impossible to avoid thinking of them. The artist's use of sinuous lines clearly refers to vegetation -- in particular, flowers -- and the sentences and phrases on some may be read as poems. Anderson stacks cut and torn paper in flat layers for mixed-media collages such as "Fiore Gemelli" and organizes them in a fully three-dimensional way for bas-relief constructions like "Tableau Rousseau." I though these were great in the way they suggested corsages from outer space.
In so many ways, the Singer is a modest place. The gallery proper is simply a large room with an angled wall down the middle, and the Cooper is even worse, with only two usable walls. Plus there's the tiny budget. But somehow, Zalkind, with the help of many of the area's most interesting artists, is able to step up and do shows that are as good as any in the area.
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