"Ply," by Bruce Price, acrylic on canvas.
"Ply," by Bruce Price, acrylic on canvas.

Triple Threat

The current art season, which is just approaching its final bell, has been one for the record books. With the opening of the Denver Art Museum's Frederic C. Hamilton Building this past fall, there's been an unprecedented upswing in art-related activities. At the DAM itself are several important displays, particularly in the realm of contemporary art. Not only are the third and fourth levels mostly taken up by modern and contemporary art, but the second level is, too, where RADAR, featuring the collection assembled by Vicki and Kent Logan, is on view. And there have been a raft of significant exhibits at the smaller museums, art centers and commercial galleries. Surely at no time before in the city's history has so much important art of this century and the last been on view at the same time.

But wait: The final shows of the season have only just opened during the past few weeks, so there are still many wonderful art experiences to be had. Rising to the top of the must-do list is the triple-header at + Gallery.

The three artists being feted with solos, Bruce Price, John McEnroe and Evan Colbert, are definitely among the best in the region, and though each has a distinctly different point of view, their shows are somehow compatible. Perhaps this is because all three are ultra-sophisticated in their approaches. Gallery director Ivar Zeile has sometimes struggled to pick the right three artists to present simultaneously, but not this time.

Beginning in the entry and filling the first space beyond is The Plane Upon Which Events Happen: New Paintings by Bruce Price. This show is both spectacular and a bit of a surprise, as it marks a new stylistic direction for the artist. As Price's career has unfolded over the past decade, he has conscientiously followed a certain path. Price had already done some hard-edged work before becoming a protegé of the great Clark Richert, the dean of geometric abstraction. The first Price paintings I remember seeing were simple formal compositions using rectangular shapes. This led to pattern painting, and then Price was off and running. He began to pointedly violate the laws of hard-edged abstraction, such as flatness, and began working against the grain in 3-D, with different planes pictorially crashing into one another.

With this remarkable new body of work, Price has gone all expressionistic on us. He's changed from being a post-minimalist to becoming something of a neo-abstract-expressionist. The shapes he uses to create his compositions are loosely done and only sort of rectilinear, and the paint is brushy and layered. This painterly tactic is not new for Price, but it does have a completely different appearance and effect than when it's being held tightly in place by straight lines.

The title of the show, The Plane Upon Which Events Happen, reveals Price's interest in addressing issues that get to the very nature of painting as an art form. The "plane" that he refers to is the picture plane, and the "events" are anything any painter wants to put there. This means, according to Price's polemic, that painting is infinite in its possible expressions and is arguably the most relevant visual language that exists.

But thinking is one thing, and seeing is another. What makes Price one of Denver's art stars is that his work succeeds visually. The first of the five large paintings that make up this solo is "Segmentation," which hangs facing the front door. A scattering of angular forms -- most filled in with dark smudgy paints -- and arching bars done in a similar way overlay a color-field of spattered and runny blues and greens. There's a similar feeling to "Ply," but the composition is much denser, with a puzzle of colored shapes over an organic field, which is itself on top of a painted square.

Price's new work has a pronounced decorative quality, and it proves once again that in art, as in life, being smart and easy to look at is always a winning combination. That's also what's on tap with Nuovo Rococo: New Work by John McEnroe, which hangs in the center space. McEnroe is well known for his work in plastics, which he's exhibited around here for more than a decade. Typically, he uses various plastics in a number of ways to create sculptures and total environments.

McEnroe's work is conceptual, displaying widely different appearances. Sometimes the artist works realistically, as in his tool installations or his Western-themed panels; other times, he's completely abstract with his forms, as he is with his big red acrylic curtain or with the new sculptures he created for this show. McEnroe did a series of closely associated wall-relief panels that are organically derived from abstract shapes; as the title's Rococo reference indicates, they are also formally complicated to the extreme.

At first you might think that these sculptures are made of aluminum, but they're actually made of rolls of transparent plastic sheeting sprayed with a heavy coating of aluminum paint. In the back of the gallery is a video loop of McEnroe making the sculptures -- shaping, rolling and scrunching up the plastic sheets into the desired shapes, making the folds and bends permanent with a blowtorch. The video -- and the pieces themselves -- reveal McEnroe's deft touch with the fire, because surely it would have been easy to burn holes in the plastic, thus ruining the sculptures while working on them. His surfaces also mark his skillfulness with the torch.

The six sculptures, all of which have Italian titles, are very dignified and create an elegant environment with a contemplative mood. The display looks absolutely great, but I've come to expect nothing less from McEnroe since first seeing his efforts at the long-defunct ILK cooperative.

That's also where I first came across the smart post-pop paintings by the third artist now in a solo at +, whose latest smart-alecky daubs make up Stop Signs of the World: New Paintings by Evan Colbert.

For this exhibit, in the small niche toward the gallery's office, Colbert hung paintings of stop signs inscribed with warnings written in languages that do not use our Roman alphabet, such as Laotian and Ethiopian. The paintings are the same octagonal shape as a stop sign, and each has a white border and white lettering, so there's a repetitive quality to the installation. The only difference is which version of the word "stop" is used. Though clearly a new vocabulary for Colbert, the idea behind these paintings is completely in line with what he's been doing all along -- in particular, his well-remembered paint-chip paintings. Like the paint chips, these stop signs have an archetypal form that accommodates many variations.

I think the solos dedicated to Price, McEnroe and Colbert at + Gallery are all marvelous and smart. I run into people all the time who bemoan the lack of sophistication in the Denver art scene, then have the nerve to miss shows like these. My advice to you? Don't be among them.


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