In booming Denver, the arts scene has become obsessed with real estate — and with good reason, since the creative casualties of rising rent litter the city. The latest victim is Goodwin Fine Art, which, sadly, will close at the end of the month. But some galleries, rather than being swamped by the rising tide of gentrification, have ridden the wave.
While I was checking out Wonderland, the current group show at Space Gallery, no fewer than three mother-daughter teams came in for tours as they considered the gallery or its not-yet-open annex a block south as possible locations for upcoming wedding receptions. Space does a healthy trade in event rentals, with weddings and parties booked there in the evenings and on the three days each week that the gallery is closed. This income stream clearly helps underwrite the expense of Space’s art exhibits, supplementing whatever sales revenue is generated.
Despite the gallery’s role as a part-time hotel ballroom, owner/director Michael Burnett continues to put together high-quality shows, and Wonderland definitely qualifies. It begins in the entry space with an in-depth selection of work by Canadian artist Karine Léger. The compositions of Léger’s acrylic-on-canvas paintings comprise one or two large, hard-edged organic shapes filled in with dense patterns of marks floating against light-colored, nearly white grounds. In “Keeping You Close, #13,” Léger has painted a rough sphere using slivers of shapes that carry out the three-dimensional illusion. The slivers are decorated in different ways; one is dove gray with white polka dots, another black with white scribbles.
An icy palette of grays, blacks and glaciers of white is a Léger signature. According to the artist, after focusing on portraiture, a little over a decade ago she traveled to northern Quebec, where she was deeply affected by the snow-covered landscape. The experience changed the course of her oeuvre, and since then she’s done nature-based abstractions in strictly constrained colors. One important aspect of these paintings is their graphic qualities, with big simple shapes creating visual appeal: Léger has worked as a graphic designer, too.
Taking over the walls in the main space are paintings by Karen Scharer, who used to live in the mountains northwest of Denver but recently moved to southern Colorado. Like Léger, she is inspired by the landscape, despite not actually rendering it. Instead, Scharer simply suggests the natural setting in completely abstract compositions via scribbled lines evocative of twigs and swatches of color that hint at the shape of rocks, bushes, hills or clouds, depending on the hue. Scharer says that she’s guided by instinct, and that to her, each painting is a conversation with the medium; she writes that these exchanges are “sometimes lighthearted and joyful, sometimes contentious or troubling,” though the exuberant and toned-up paintings at Space all seem to lean toward the happy side of the equation.
Scharer also uses color to conjure the landscape, working plein air (literally “outdoors”), at least on her studies, in order to mix the pigments so that they match what she sees; she’s also loosely guided by the forms in the scene in front of her. This approach is not ordinarily associated with abstraction, and instead almost always refers to landscape painting, so it’s an unexpected, interesting twist.
The last of the three artists in Wonderland is sculptor Jeff Glode Wise. The Western Slope artist sees his work as having an Asian aesthetic, but to me these sculptures seem more abstract-surreal, with quite a bit of mid-century modern about them. Wise’s pieces in this show are invariably kinetic, but only after a little push; he notes that he aims to create an interaction between his pieces and the viewer, who in that way become participants in his works. The overall forms of the sculptures are extremely complex, with multiple elements done in different materials — some of them quite luxurious. However, this sense of luxuriousness hasn’t even a whiff of empty pretension, and is undercut by the absurdity of the varied shapes out of which the sculptures are constructed, which are almost Seussian in character.
In Wise’s “Genesis Theory,” a spike rises from radiating spokes mounted on a carved and polished black concrete base. On top of the spike is a tangle of wire in the form of a cloud with a hand reaching out of one side; a rod coming out of the spike is crowned with a meandering line of bud-like growths. The spokes at the base, the wire cloud and the stems of the buds are all done in gold-plated bronze. It’s like a piece of gigantic jewelry, and it turns out that Wise has experience in that medium.
Over in RiNo, ATC/DEN has also found itself on the right side of gentrification. Like Space, it’s in a newish building that moonlights as an event venue. This is a much smaller operation, though, so instead of big weddings, during off-days and evenings the gallery is filled with intimate ones, and with meetings and other gatherings. Laura Moretz Krudener, a painter who has shown in the area for the better part of the past ten years (including at Space), opened ATC/DEN a year and a half ago. Until now, she’s painted under the surname Krudener, her married name, but she recently decided to switch to her birth name, Moretz, in honor of her grandmother, Maude Moretz, who was also a painter and an arts advocate. In The Hands of Grace: Laura Moretz the current show at ATC/DEN, highlights her most recent paintings.
Moretz, who earned both a BFA and an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute, has long been interested in stained and poured paintings. While this latest work also includes puddled paint, she’s gone in with brushes and even pastels and oil markers. For Moretz, these paintings have figurative elements, though it’s impossible to make out precisely what those are. She mostly sets her images on a white field of gesso blended with titanium white; on top are poured areas and drips, but the shapes are organized using black lines.
On the gallery’s back wall is an impressive set of eighteen easel-sized paintings in which Moretz works out the spontaneous compositions she prefers. There are also a handful of larger paintings that are more formally simple than the small ones, which are visually crowded by comparison. Well, except for the two-part mural that Moretz painted on the outside of the building as part of this year’s Crush Walls. Moretz worked on that mural — a riot of shapes and pigments — for sixty hours during the weekend-long event, splashing big swatches of colors accented by black lines and dots. Action abstraction is rarely seen in street art, so this makes for a nice change of pace, and is also more appropriate on the neo-modern building.
While it’s too bad that galleries can’t rely on art sales to keep the doors open, in today’s Denver, it’s reassuring that some have found artful new ways to keep going.
Through January 5, Space Gallery,
400 Santa Fe Drive, 303-993-3321,
Through January 31, ATC/DEN,
3420 Larimer Street, 303-656-6768,
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