A major event in the local art world of the 1980s was the "21 Year Show," presented eleven years ago at the now-defunct Progresso Gallery. It displayed the works of a group of local artists 21 years after they came together at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Now comes the long-awaited followup, the 32 Year Show, on display at Auraria's Emmanuel Gallery. Like its predecessor, the exhibit attempts to link the works of widely varied artists--including some household names in local contemporary art.
Several of the thirteen artists in the show left school to establish "Drop City," a nationally famous experiment in communal living then situated outside Trinidad. This 1960s period piece, photos of which ran in magazines around the world, was a cluster of geodesic domes made of multicolored auto salvage. It now stands in ruins.
As "Drop City" fizzled in the early 1970s, many of the artists drifted back north, some winding up in Denver. Others never left the area. Still others departed for New York or Los Angeles. But some continued to express their interest in working together by establishing the art group "Criss-Cross," which even generated its own scholarly journal of the same name. And later, some of these same artists were among the founders of the Denver alternative scene. (Spark Gallery, for example, is named for Margaret Neumann's dog, the now-departed Sparky.)
Without Neumann, sometimes called the mother of the local new wave, could there have been neo-expressionism in Denver? Didn't John Fudge engender an entire school of academic surrealism? Clark Richert, Jerry Johnson, Dale Chisman and Joe Clower have all likewise fostered many followers through their examples and their teachings. And though no group formed around John De Andrea, he did turn out to be world-famous.
It's no exaggeration to say that the artists in this loosely defined group were essential to the development of contemporary art in the region. And for this show, while some of the participants did not come through with the expected signature pieces, most did.
Neumann's painting "Mnemosyne," for example, illustrates her use of corporeal elements to signify spiritual suffering. Fudge's "Everything in One Place" continues his exploration of time. The depiction of space that's long been Richert's concern is again his subject in the painting "Melencholia V (B)." The mixed-media drawings from Johnson's "Canyon Suite" feature hard-edged natural forms evocative of the western landscape. Chisman's abstract-expressionist work, notably the painting "Alter," demonstrates his exploration of spiritual issues through the construction of instinctual compositions. Clower's small but elegant installation, "It's a Long Story," is hard to understand--it's about electricity--but the piece is visually satisfying anyway. And De Andrea's "Joan," a painted polyester sculpture, is the product of the artist's dazzling hand-to-eye coordination. (This piece alone is worth the hassle of Emmanuel's inconvenient location on the Auraria campus.)
In spite of their long tradition of working toward the creation of an art community, these artists have little in common. Each has found his or her own way to artistic accomplishment. And though the show's organizers make the claim of a "synergy" among them, any attempt to categorize their work as being of a single piece is either doomed to failure or limited only to the vaguest of platitudes.
If one didn't know better, one might think that the artists included in The 32 Year Show had been chosen at random. But what the exhibit lacks in coherence, it makes up for in quality--and it's definitely worth seeing.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.