Off Limits

The Oh My Goddess coffee shop, at 1526 East Colfax Avenue, found many followers when it introduced its "We're Not Starbucks" specials, but goodwill wasn't enough to overcome the very bad vibes of Brent J. Brents. After the serial rapist confessed to being a regular at the joint, no amount of karmic cleansing could rid the Capitol Hill hangout of his stench.

And last week, Oh My Goddess finally closed after a three-year run. "We're actually desperately trying to sell it," says owner Kaewyn Kulsar. "But I own two other businesses, and I'm tired. It's so hard. Unless you have the marketing skills of a Starbucks corporation or a product that no one else has, it's just impossible. There's a big difference between a good person and a good businessperson. I'm a great person, but not such a great businessperson. It's on Colfax, and if people are hungry, I feed them and water them. Energetically, as much as I love it, I just couldn't support the space anymore."

Three potential buyers have taken a look, then backed off, and now Kulsar's about ready to give the place away. "I might just gift it to some beautiful person and make it a tax write-off," she says. "We've lost our shirts. It was successful every way but monetarily."

Tanks for the memories: The even more down-and-out Triangle Park -- known to Denver cops as "Seal Beach" because of all the homeless who flop there -- looked like it, too, was closing, as city crews began installing a six-foot-high chain fence around the slice of land at Lawrence Street and Park Avenue West. But within a few days, the fences were down and the shantytown was back up.

"The Broadway Triangle project that is happening right now is to get rid of gas tanks that were buried underneath," explains Mark Upshaw, a city architect and planner. "It was a filling station in the '50s, and we didn't know that until a couple of months ago. We're doing it in anticipation of design improvements for the park. It's going to be the most wonderful traffic island in the city."

One with plenty of trees and shrubs, but no bathrooms. When the city floated the idea of placing public facilities in Triangle Park, nearby loft-dwellers shot it down, fast. Instead, says Upshaw, "what we decided in conjunction with city councilwoman Judy Montero is that the best approach for restrooms for all downtown users was to look at restrooms in the downtown area as a whole." Which means they're going in at Skyline Park -- which should come in handy when the Palm's potty lines back up.

Scene and herd: Ahoy, mateys! Pirate no longer has the corner on the art market in northwest Denver. On Friday night, after 25 years in the same space at 3659 Navajo Street, the co-operative gallery opened its first show at the same official address, but in a much smaller space. The artists/landlords have turned the section that runs along 37th Avenue into a separate spot that they plan to lease, and are giving the co-op a new door to fit its current address and trimmed-down home. Pirate brigand Phil Bender says he's still hoping to squeeze in the crow's nest that once stood by Pirate's entrance. ... Those who think Mayor John Hickenlooper is still involved in the day-to-day operations of his restaurants obviously skipped his recent tour of Capitol Hill with members of the Unsinkables. As he headed onto Colfax, Hick told business owners that he understands their concerns because he owns a restaurant in the area. Better make that past tense, Your Honor: Wynkoop Holdings, the trust that's running the properties, sold the Red Room to its manager many months ago.

On the Record

Off Limits can't pass up any scandal involving state-funded dildos -- and that includes Governor Bill Owens. But the big boss wasn't referencing himself last week when he denounced Denver artist Tsehai Johnson 's "Large Implements on Hooks" installation (otherwise known as "Twelve Dildos on Hooks"), which had helped win her a $5,000 fellowship from the Colorado Council on the Arts in 2003. After the Independence Institute found an image of the piece on the CCA website while looking for examples of government waste, things got a little steamy. We went in search of Johnson to clear the air.

Q: What's your reaction to the sudden disapproval of your fellowship award?

A: For someone to just condemn it outside the larger context of my greater work and criticize it without even seeing it, I feel is really inappropriate.

Q: What inspired "Large Implements on Hooks"?

A: My work explores boundaries between public and private life and, in specific, how these are expressed through functional objects that punctuate the home. I'm trying to explore the roles that the body plays in personal identity and biological, social and cultural construction, so all my work sort of is in dialogue with domestic space. Those pieces in particular are exploring the notion that we have all these public objects for what I think is the very sensual activity of eating food, but nothing that allows private bodily objects to have that same public display. For something typically taboo and private to hang on hooks, it challenges that notion.

Q: Specifically, why dildos?

A: I was exploring issues related to sex and sexuality, especially issues such as AIDS, and I wanted to flesh that out a little. My work isn't just about AIDS, but private aspects and taboo aspects associated with sex. Sex toys seemed like a very obvious place to extend that dialogue.

Q: Do you think the CCA understood your work when it awarded you the fellowship?

A: Since this thing has come out, I looked up what I had in my application. As part of the process, they asked for a slide list, including a description of each of the slides, so I can read to you what I wrote about that piece: "This series of large implements from last year could be viewed as related to erotic pleasures, but they hang on the wall rather than hide in the drawer. Aesthetically, their glossy white glaze and chrome-plated handles demand to be hung in the bathroom and to be viewed in a manner similar to a toilet or a sink. Thus, they bring out questions about the traditional divisions of our bodies into public and private activities." In the text, as I was describing the piece in question, it was very clear that there was sexual content to the work.

Q: When CCA executive director Elaine Mariner was hired in 2004, she decided that new grant recipients "must show evidence of community involvement and benefit." What do you think that means?

A: I think it mirrors a much larger move nationwide away from individual artists' grants to funding larger, community-based work, stuff like that. As an artist, getting a grant that allows you to work more freely is a wonderful benefit, so there's a certain sadness in watching those grants go. At the same time, there is a recognition that the United States is not a place that is very conducive to public financing of the arts, and that's kind of sad.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm working on a series of large pieces, installations that will be exhibited this fall. All my work continues to explore domestic space. Earlier, I would have said my work explores the public and private aspects of the home, thinking in terms of the bedroom and dining room. I'm now exploring the overlap or lack of overlap in labor and pleasure.


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