About a year ago, Colorado’s Doug Kacena came up with a provocative idea for an exhibit: He would paint over other artists’ paintings employing his own style, while those other artists painted over his works in their own respective styles. It was an unusual move, even if there were art-historical precedents, notably Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” in which Rauschenberg erased a de Kooning, creating a completely new work. But Kacena notes that Rauschenberg’s act was a one-way statement, whereas his concept goes both ways.
The resulting show, Crossover, is on view through the holidays at LoDo’s Mike Wright Gallery. The context of what’s to come is provided by the initial pairing in the entry: To the right is “Awash,” in which Kacena painted over Kevin Weckbach’s “Watergate,” allowing the ghost of a landscape to float below an all-over abstraction; to the left, the relationship is reversed, with Ed Kucera’s “Majesty in Blue” covering Kacena’s “Air Above Ground” and, in the process, turning an abstract into a background for a painting of a horse. Weckbach and Kucera are famous traditional realists, as are all of the painters recruited for this project. According to Kacena, he wanted to create a bridge between these traditional artists and, as exemplified by his own work, contemporary abstraction.
Other artists tapped by Kacena include Quang Ho, a superstar in the realist realm who unexpectedly embraced abstraction in his “Winter Sonnet,” a reworking of Kacena’s “Unfolding.” An unanticipated convergence happened in a few cases when both halves of a pairing wound up looking as if they’d been done by the same artist. This is particularly true with “Adagio,” in which Ron Hicks covered over a Kacena, and its opposite, “Redacted Memory,” in which Kacena obscured a Hicks. Another surprise is the three-panel flower painting by Terri Lombardi done over an abstract Kacena triptych; Lombardi created a progression from realism on the left panel through expressionism in the middle to abstraction on the right.
When I told Kacena that it was interesting that he’d attempted to reconcile realism with abstraction by turning everything into conceptual art, he reminded me that there’s also a performance aspect to the project: The artists are shown working on their paintings in a documentary by David Schler. In addition, the exhibit includes photographic reproductions of the originals next to the finished alterations.
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Crossover runs through January 14 at Mike Wright Gallery, 1412 Wazee Street; the gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more details, call 303-590-9800 or go to the Mike Wright Gallery Facebook page.