Beauty Contest

During the past four or five seasons, a legion of exhibitions have been presented in the area that explore the rich topic of abstract art in Colorado.

These shows, of both modern and contemporary stripes, have revealed the presence of an indigenous Front Range modernist scene -- dating back over sixty years and including several noteworthy talents -- in which abstract and non-objective styles have flourished.

Cydney Payton, director of Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, has mined this particularly rewarding aesthetic vein for years, and she recently shipped an idea she developed off to New York, which is absolutely, positively, the center of the art world.

The resulting show, called Flat Out, is on view at the Cornell DeWitt Gallery (547 West 27th Street, 212-695-6845) in Chelsea. Its focus is the geometric abstractionist Clark Richert and his progeny among his former students at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design; they include Mary Ehrin, Bruce Price and Karen McClanahan.

I'm going to have to miss the show, which closes on October 12, but if you're in New York in the next week or so, you should check it out.

Back home, a major abstract mural has been unveiled downtown. "Suez," by Boulder painter Amy Metier, has been installed in the lobby of the US Bank tower at 950 17th Street.

Metier is well-established in the region's art scene, having exhibited her work in the area for the last 25 years. (Her lyrical abstractions may be seen by request at the William Havu Gallery.) In the 1970s, she was a student of David Yust's at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Like Richert, Yust is an acknowledged master of contemporary art in Colorado. Interestingly, though, Metier's style has almost nothing in common with that of her former instructor.

In "Suez," Metier continues to explore her interest in color-field abstraction. Her classic instinctual automatist method riffs not only on New York-school abstract expressionism, but also on a variety of Parisian modernist styles.

The 15-by-22-foot mural looks smaller than it really is in the large yet intimate lobby space. The formalist-style building in which it is installed is quite interesting: Completed in 1972, the skyscraper is one of the finest buildings downtown and is among the greatest accomplishments of its designer, Minoru Yamasaki. (This, of course, is the same Minoru Yamasaki who designed the now-lost twin towers of the World Trade Center.)

The crisp rectangularity of Yamasaki's design provided some of the inspiration for Metier. Writing about the lines she used to connect various painted passages in the mural, she notes that they "were used to echo the strong linear divisions throughout the lobby."

Another point of inspiration for "Suez" was its urban setting -- or, as Metier calls it, "the modern landscape." The reference to the landscape was also partly determined, she says, by the painting's site-specific horizontal format. It's hard to say for sure, but there do appear to be buildings and ships, or at least highly abstract versions of each.

Surely one of Metier's great strengths is her sense for color; there's no doubt that she is a master colorist. More than anything else, "Suez" is an example of her advanced expertise in manipulating and contrasting tonal effects. Generous splashes of various blue shades, ranging from dark navy to light sky blue, predominate, but Metier accents them with judiciously used and strategically placed reds, whites and greens.

The mural is on permanent display in the lobby of the US Bank tower, which is open to the public during business hours.

Abstraction by a significant Colorado artist is also the attraction at the William Havu Gallery, in the Golden Triangle, where Emilio Lobato: Solo is the fall opener. This fabulous show is unbelievably vast, with more than sixty pieces hung throughout the various spaces on the first floor and practically overflowing the mezzanine.

In many ways, Lobato, who traces his heritage back to the early Spanish settlers of the San Luis Valley, is a quintessential Colorado artist. He received his formal art training at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where he studied with the late Mary Chenoweth, a respected teacher and artist. Chenoweth's influence is still visible in Lobato's work, especially in the way he addresses the same ideas again and again, but each time with a clearly different approach.

This attribute is seen in spades in the Havu show, and although everything here is signature Lobato, the new work looks fresh and different.

As usual, Lobato's palette runs to the earth tones of ecru, tan, brown and ivory. But he also employs reds and, to a lesser extent, other colors. His color choices are somewhat predetermined because of a typical feature of his work: the use of found materials. He disassembles old books and incorporates their pages, spines and covers into his pieces. The paint used in and around these collage elements is in the same hues.

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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