Basis Loaded

Cydney Payton, the director and curator of Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, has really outdone herself with Decades of Influence: Colorado 1985 - Present, her four-part paean to the art of our region. The first chapter in the blockbuster is on view at the MCA itself, where Payton has installed the pieces representing the period of 1985 to 1995 ("Home Run," June 22). At the Center for Visual Art in LoDo, there's the second chapter, covering 1995 to present. The date division between the MCA and the CVA is fairly arbitrary; many of the artists at the former could have been at the latter, and vice versa. And though there's no question that Payton choose the crme de la crme for the MCA, most of those at the CVA are also first-rate.

Payton starts off strong at the CVA with an out-of-this-world installation by Floyd Tunson, "Delta Queen," that explores poverty through the imagery of rural black life in Mississippi. The piece is enormous -- almost as big as the timeworn front porch it references -- and immediately catches the eye, showing off a collage of found architectural elements, furniture and backlit photo boxes.

Across from the Tunson is a digital enlargement by Daniel and Maruca Salazar that also explores identity. In this more modestly sized piece, antique found images -- including that of a birdcage -- and symbols of Mexico are stacked in a grid. Individual perspectives are also explored in this gallery, with a homoerotic painting by Wes Hempel and Jack Balas, a gay couple who've worked together and separately for decades, and a wall of carved cutting boards emblazoned by cheesecake characters done by Pamela Joseph. It's hard to say if Nick Havholm's silver-gelatin print of a black man fits this theme or not, but it looks good where it is, regardless.

Mark Amerika's blog is featured in the show, and signs in this section direct you to it. Proceeding to the set of spaces that run across the back of the CVA, viewers will notice that any pretense of holding a theme is dropped, as it was at the MCA. Just ahead is Susan Meyer's "The Enterprise," a mixed-media installation with a soundtrack. The piece is made up of oddly shaped planes of black plastic that are stacked and set parallel to each other. Some of these stacks hang from the ceiling, but the central element of "The Enterprise" is on a stand a few inches off the floor. The piece conjures up architecture or a spacecraft, considering the title and the soundtrack.

Hanging on the walls around the Meyer are several remarkable pieces. There's a monumental bas-relief by Terry Maker that is made of canisters, pencils, markers and rolled-up photos all glued together and then buffed with a grinder to produce her remarkable surface. There are two marvelous examples of Roland Bernier's "Talking Trash" series, "Forced" and "Devious," which are mixed-media wall hangings that depict words written in a cursive script. Next to the Berniers is a spectacular post-minimal pattern painting by Bruce Price that pointedly violates all the rules. Adjacent to that is a trio of altered color photos mounted on aluminum by Paola Ochoa.

In a small room next to the Ochoas, Payton set up a room for viewing "Commingled Containers," a non-narrative film by the late Stan Brakhage, who lived in Boulder and was one of the most famous experimental filmmakers in the world.

A niche in the main space is installed with a small group of works, including a Tracy Felix painting of the mountains. Until I saw this show, I don't think I realized how different Felix's characteristic cartoonish style is from everyone else's. The same could be said for Frank Sampson's work, which is hanging nearby. Sampson is the old master of magic realism, and it's surprising how fresh his approach still looks. Finishing out the niche are a group of Western landscape photos by Eric Paddock. His work hooks up very well with that of several other photographers in the show, including Chuck Forsman, whose has pieces on view at the MCA.

Back by the Meyer installation is another niche that sports one of the most unlikely pairings in the entire show: On one wall is a hyper-realistic still life by Daniel Sprick; on the other is a neo-expressionist composition by Susan Wick. Their names might rhyme, but their approaches to art are as different as night and day: Sprick is meticulous, while Wick is purposely sloppy.

Across from these opposites are pieces by three artists. There are a pair of lenticular photos -- the kind that change as you move around them -- by Linda Girvin, who is known for this kind of thing. On a stand against the wall is Phil Bender's "30 Green Boxes," made up of -- you guessed it -- thirty green boxes. It's amazing how effective this piece is, considering that he didn't make the boxes but only arranged them. Bender has been successfully employing that simple method in his conceptual works for the past 25 years.

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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