Art Review


It's hard to believe that Pirate: a contemporary art oasis (3659 Navajo Street, 303-456-6058) is a quarter of a century old, but since exhibition titles don't lie -- and the current one is 25 Years of Pirate: Past and Present -- it must be true. The venerable artists' cooperative debuted on New Year's Day 1980, just a few months after Spark opened. Thus, even though Pirate is often thought of as the city's oldest alternative space, it isn't.

Pirate has always reminded me of one of those Andy Hardy movies from the 1930s, where a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs pull off some big gig. Only in the case of Pirate, instead of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland putting on a show, it's been Phil Bender, an artist and arts advocate. He's almost single-handedly kept the whole thing together from the beginning.

Bender is among a large group of Pirates and Pirate alums -- approximately seventy of them -- showcased in the birthday bash. His "25 25-Year Old Mexican Coca Cola Bottles" (detailed above) represents just one of the latest entries into his conceptual trip of arranging found objects in rows. It's the kind of thing he's been doing as long as there's been a Pirate.

As the only artist in the show who was there from the start, Bender spans the many different eras in the co-op's history. Among the dozens of other artists who came and went over the years are Dale Chisman, Jesus Polanco, Gary Sweeney, Martha Daniels, Stephen Batura, William Stockman and David Zimmer.

That's a lot of talent, but with their work haphazardly thrown around (and with plenty of terrible things mixed in), the show is a disaster. This anything-goes approach is indicative of the prevailing attitude at Pirate, which is why there has never been a proper exhibit dedicated to the best that has gone through its doors. Worse, right now would have been the perfect time to do it.

Despite all my serious misgivings, 25 Years of Pirate is an absolute must-see. It closes this Sunday, January 16.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia