Art Review: Nicole Banowetz Infests Pirate With Inflated Fabric

Over the past several years, Denver artist Nicole Banowetz has been getting attention because of the unusual medium she employs: inflated cloth. Banowetz is a member of the Pirate co-op, and her work is the subject of Gentle Infestation, now on display at the gallery. While the exhibit marks the Denver debut of the pieces included, they were originally shown in Poland, where Banowetz had an artist residency. This was just one of a number of such international opportunities that she’s taken advantage of, with her pieces also having been shown in Italy, Ireland, Russia, Germany and England.

Although it’s made up of several separate components, Gentle Infestation is a unified installation; the pieces, which seem abstract, are actually scaled-up depictions of Radiolaria, a single-celled sea creature.
Banowetz has carried out the complex forms in a white-colored, woven plastic fabric that’s been sewn together, with some of the elements suspended from the ceiling by threads.

These white shapes are accented by small roundels of transparent acrylic. When viewers look through the acrylic “windows,” they can see tiny white porcelain sculptures that have been sewn into the inside of the inflated forms. The porcelain pieces represent the “infestation” referred to in the exhibit’s title, but it could also be argued that the front space at Pirate has likewise been infested.

Banowetz came up with the idea of creating inflated sculptures when she worked on a holiday display for the Museum of Outdoor Arts that featured the kinds of inflated decorations that are now fairly common and are similar to the character balloons in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Though I’d seen Banowetz’s works before — and had always been impressed — this connection, obvious in retrospect, is something I would never have considered if she hadn’t pointed it out to me.

Paired with the Banowetz show is Lucas McMahon’s High on Fire, Burning Down the House, in the associates’ space in the back. McMahon has blown up and altered photos from magazines and books. These enlargements are enigmatic but vaguely disturbing, and McMahon means for them to raise issues about climate change.

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McMahon is also showing textiles that have been dipped in concrete and allowed to harden into shape; these are used both in combination with the enlargements and as stand-alones. They are very intriguing and fit in perfectly with a lot of work being done by others in town right now.

Both exhibits close on Sunday, February 21, at Pirate: Contemporary Art, 3655 Navajo Street. Call 303-458-6058 or go to pirateartonline.com for more information.

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