Art Review

Review: Arvada Triennial Shows Off the Art of This State

Installation view of Art of the State 2019.
Installation view of Art of the State 2019. Wes Magyar, courtesy of the Arvada Center
In a way, the Art of the State exhibition is Colorado’s triennial. Since Collin Parson, director of galleries at the Arvada Center, founded the show in 2013, it’s been widely regarded as an extremely significant event in the local art world, putting pieces by major artists with careers stretching back decades side by side with works by emerging artists just out of art school.

Open to any artist living in Colorado, Art of the State 2019 attracted 1,555 submissions from 566 artists. Parson was a juror, along with Joy Armstrong, curator at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, and Daisy McGowan, director of the galleries at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs; together they whittled the submissions down to 154 pieces by 135 artists. The result is an enormous show that reveals that the state has a well-established and varied abstract scene, and an even wider-ranging interest in some type of representational imagery, from conceptual realism to all-but-traditional work. There’s surprisingly little alternative media included and not much sculpture, though a few three-dimensional installations make oversized statements. Everything else is some kind of two-dimensional work, including paintings, prints and photos.

click to enlarge Sculpture by Suzanne Faris (foreground) with paintings (from left) by Lola Montejo, Mark Villarreal and Carol Browning. - WES MAGYAR, COURTESY OF THE ARVADA CENTER
Sculpture by Suzanne Faris (foreground) with paintings (from left) by Lola Montejo, Mark Villarreal and Carol Browning.
Wes Magyar, courtesy of the Arvada Center
Standouts among the modernist abstractionists are Lola Montejo, whose all-over composition is made up of broad brushstrokes stacked on top of one another, and Ania Gola-Kumor’s dark yet lyrical automatist painting. Mark Villarreal scatters shapes and marks across a light-colored ground, in an updated formalism with a whiff of the ’60s. Also somewhat mod is the luscious pattern painting by Sam Smith, which riffs on the decorative since it’s covered edge to edge with overlapping circles, many adorned with radiating lines, in a range of appealingly bright colors; it’s like op-y wallpaper. Other artists using aggregations of similar shapes to create their compositions include Trine Bumiller, represented by a signature work that has a graph laid over the topography, and Jan R. Carson, who stretches silk covered with wavy rectangles over a lightbox, creating the ethereal impression that the drawing is floating.

Moving even further afield from the classics is the ballpoint pen-on-paper work by Matt O’Neill, which strikes a cross between the heroics of abstract expressionism and the mindlessness of the doodles of high school kids. That makes it a parody of abstraction rather than an exemplar of the approach.

Other works pushing at the edges of abstraction include Kelton Osborn’s installation, a series of elaborate geometric forms that have been simply painted and mounted on the three walls of an open niche. In another niche is Justin Price’s striking installation of concrete blocks piled into a pyramidal stack. Using toned-up colors, Price painted stripes on the blocks, some of which are crumbling. Jennifer Ivanovic also deconstructs geometry in her piece, with triangular components covered with stripes that can be assembled in myriad ways.

click to enlarge Pam Fortner's "Phantasm I & II" in Art of the State 2019 at the Arvada Center. - WES MAGYAR, COURTESY OF THE ARVADA CENTER
Pam Fortner's "Phantasm I & II" in Art of the State 2019 at the Arvada Center.
Wes Magyar, courtesy of the Arvada Center
Pam Fortner’s funky, fuzzy phallic shafts have a decidedly different vibe from those geometric works; the closely related sculptures are cylindrical forms covered in colored strips of curled paper. And speaking of phallic imagery, there’s a remarkable wall relief by Jessica Moon Bernstein-Schiano that evokes — more than a little — the idea of fringe made from dozens of flaccid penises. The vaguely biomorphic quality of the Fortners and Bernstein-Schiano’s piece link them to other nature-based items in the show, such as Nicole Banowetz’s enormous, inflatable sculpture of black blobs and white mounds and spikes, which is a real showstopper.

Among the works that trade in recognizable imagery are a moody, magic-realist painting by Kevin Sloan depicting a hooded falcon perched on an outcropping in a body of water, and Susan Blake’s two enigmatic landscapes incorporating renderings of wrinkled fabric into the natural setting. Also noteworthy is Eleanor Sabin’s view of a forest with a screen of colorful two-by-fours floating at the picture plane. Sloan, Blake and Sabin are consummate realists, but they interrupt the credible illusions they conjure by introducing non-credible content.

click to enlarge From left:  photo by Joshua Palmeri, two paintings by Keith Oelschlager, and a mixed-media piece by Mark Penner-Howell. - WES MAGYAR, COURTESY OF THE ARVADA CENTER
From left: photo by Joshua Palmeri, two paintings by Keith Oelschlager, and a mixed-media piece by Mark Penner-Howell.
Wes Magyar, courtesy of the Arvada Center
Some artists root their pieces in traditional realism but twist it to their own ends: Melissa Furness lays a complex line drawing on top of her subject, a standing woman, while wrinkled sheets reveal the mark of a body that’s no longer there in Irene Delka McCray’s disturbing painting. Others simply rely on straightforward hyperrealism, which displays the advanced rendering skills of these artists. The hand-eye control shown off in Anna Kaye’s take on a forest fire, Keith Oelschlager’s views of amusement parks and Monique Crine’s portrait of a friendly dog are really impressive.

More pop-influenced is photo-based work by Gary Emrich that raises environmental issues via bottled-water packaging, as well as Mark Penner-Howell’s mixed-media painting of a female fighter pilot, her mask serving as a veil, revealing only her eyes. And there’s Gregory Santos’s print of a skull in a cowboy hat placed above crossed axes, like the international symbol for poison set on a field of chain-link fencing.

Pop culture also informs several weird little machines, such as the hand-cranked flip-card animation contraption by Dave Seiler. Mark Gibson’s pseudo-pinball machine has only one bumper, and when the ball hits it, you hear not the usual bells, but the sounds of machine-gun bullets. It’s very intense. Violent imagery is also part of the beautifully carved wooden ray gun by Phillip Mann, which has a replica of a pistol handle and a cord with wooden plug ends, a nice touch. The ray gun has no function, but it implies its would-be use. The same is not true for Martin Joseph’s Jetson-y bric-a-brac assembled from found elements; they don’t look like they work, and they don’t.

click to enlarge Installations by Justin Price (left) and Jodi Stuart. - WES MAGYAR, COURTESY OF THE ARVADA CENTER
Installations by Justin Price (left) and Jodi Stuart.
Wes Magyar, courtesy of the Arvada Center
More in the realm of engineering than machinery are three suspension sculptures that function as installations. Lara Whitley creates the impression of the outline of a house with shards of broken glass hung from wires. Jodie Roth Cooper’s hanging cube anchors the atrium and looks great both from below and at eye level, when seen from the second floor. And then there’s Jodi Stuart’s hanging open frame, carried out in plastic webs done with 3-D printing pens, complete with a set of pointy teeth.

Created from an open-jury call, every Art of the State is inevitably an aesthetic free-for-all. But improbably, 2019’s edition also surveys nearly the entire span of artistic expression being carried out by contemporary artists around the state.

Art of the State 2019, through March 31 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200,
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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