“The Approach,” by Jon Geiger, mixed materials.
“The Approach,” by Jon Geiger, mixed materials.
Third Dune Productions

Review: Black Cube's Valley Boy: Jon Geiger Lands at RedLine

Black Cube and RedLine were both founded by Laura Merage, the artist/philanthropist, though their conceptual underpinnings are distinct. RedLine, which celebrated its tenth anniversary earlier this year, has focused on building communities of artists through subsidized studio spaces and significant exhibitions, including 10X: RedLine, the recent show highlighting the work of RedLine residents over the past decade. Cortney Lane Stell, Black Cube’s director, served as guest curator for 10X, but while RedLine is grounded in Denver, Black Cube is nomadic.

Founded in 2015, Black Cube aims to serve visual-arts audiences around the world. To give the project a presence, there’s an actual black cube — one of those omnipresent shipping containers — that serves as a little shop when the cube is on site. The expense of hauling this container around is apparently justified by the payoff: The shorthand of a black cube standing in for Black Cube is intellectually elegant. It also plants a flag for the institution regardless of where it stages events or exhibits.

Jon Geiger's "Hondo Condo" pieces, mixed media.
Jon Geiger's "Hondo Condo" pieces, mixed media.
Third Dune Productions

So far, though, Black Cube’s schedule has been dominated by Denver-based events and pop-up exhibits, such as this month’s Drive-In: House of Cars, part of series of one-night-only shows in which artists use actual cars to anchor conceptual installations. A number of individual artists, called Black Cube Fellows, have also been commissioned to create temporary installations in public places, or to mount exhibits in local venues. One of them is on view right now: Valley Boy: Jon Geiger, at — where else? — RedLine. The exhibit is an alumni project; the Detroit-based Geiger had previously created a moveable installation for Black Cube. According to Stell, the reason Black Cube repeatedly returns to the same fellows is because the original concept of curation was caring for objects, and she extends that to caring for artists. Having Black Cube serve as a hothouse for artists is not unlike RedLine’s mission of being an art incubator, even if it’s a wall-less one.

Geiger’s initial project for Black Cube was “ROAM,” done in 2016. A 26-foot-long neon sign comprising five abstracted tumbleweeds lighted in sequence to simulate their tumbling, “ROAM” moves from place to place, true to both its name and Black Cube’s operational mode. It started off at the Museum of Outdoor Arts’ Marjorie Park; I saw it at the new Ent Center for the Arts in Colorado Springs, its fifth stop, earlier this year. For Valley Boy, Geiger has turned the volume way down, and the aesthetic he embraces is as far from “ROAM” as possible — but it’s much more in line with his signature style than is the sign. The works in Valley Boy are made of plywood, felt, paper and ceramics; clay and wood are Geiger’s keystone mediums.

Installation view of Valley Boy: Jon Geiger, Black Cube at RedLine
Installation view of Valley Boy: Jon Geiger, Black Cube at RedLine
Third Dune Productions

One piece in Valley Boy obtusely refers back to “ROAM,” but only because it’s also 26 feet long. “The Approach” is a multi-panel wall sculpture made of poplar sheets covered in painted canvas that has been overlaid by gray industrial felt; the felt has been pierced with an all-over (though non-repeating,) pattern of organically shaped holes. It may be a stand-in for a cloud-dotted sky, since on the opposite wall are the three “Hondo Condo” pieces, in which prints depicting clouds are held to metal sheets with ceramic-covered magnets. “The Approach” and “Hondo Condo” bracket the main installation in the center of the gallery: “Boulders & Blossoms,” which is meant to convey — broadly speaking, anyway — the scenery of the San Luis Valley, which the artist regards as his adopted home. Spending time in the San Luis Valley as a child is only one of Geiger’s associations with Colorado; he did his undergraduate work in the renowned ceramics program at the University of Colorado Boulder, later earning an MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art, which is how he wound up in Michigan.

“Boulders & Blossoms,” by Jon Geiger, mixed materials.
“Boulders & Blossoms,” by Jon Geiger, mixed materials.
Third Dune Productions

Geiger cites minimalist master Donald Judd in “Boulders & Blossoms,” with very Judd-ian open plywood stands on which many small ceramic sculptures have been placed. The proportions of the simple stands are based on the dimensions of various tables and shelves in Geiger’s studio. The ceramic sculptures correspond to the boulders and blossoms of the installation’s title. The boulders are lumpy, rock-like shapes with gorgeous, foamy-glaze effects. The blossoms are as different as plants are from rocks, made of ceramic rods held together by Magic Sculp, which is kind of like putty. The rods and Magic Sculp are carried out in four shades of green, which is the only way they suggest plants, since their forms are structural and non-naturalistic.

Black Cube is hosting another artist-fellow exhibit simultaneously with the Geiger show: Devon Dikeou’s installation Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973, which looks stunning in the photos I’ve seen. Sadly, I won’t get a chance to take it in, as it’s on now display at the Center for Contemporary Art FUTURA in Prague, a reflection of Black Cube’s international focus.

The black cube at Black Cube's headquarters.
The black cube at Black Cube's headquarters.
Courtesy of Black Cube

It’s laudable that Black Cube wants to conquer the world, but I think its next step should be conquering Denver’s art scene, the way RedLine has. While that’s been challenging for a nebulous, nomadic museum with no home base, that’s changing. Last year, Merage bought a building for Black Cube, as she did for RedLine, although Black Cube headquarters, officially known as BCHQ, is in Englewood, not downtown Denver. Located at 2925 South Umatilla Street, the ugly box of a building is innocent of any hint of a particular architectural style; it’s made of prefabricated concrete beams clad in prefabricated concrete panels. To dampen the appeal even further, it’s surrounded by down-at-the-heels industrial buildings.

It has one very winning virtue, however, and that’s 10,000 square feet of raw space. The Black Cube board is now discussing what to do with that space. I think it would be an ideal place to stage major exhibits, and I know of scores of Colorado artists with enough material propped up in their studios or storage spaces that would show admirably alongside work from their counterparts around the world.

Valley Boy: Jon Geiger through September 9 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street. Find out more at 303-296-4448 or redlineart.org.

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