Art Review

Bring your own interpretations to Ironton for Soft Descriptions

The current show at Ironton Studios and Gallery (3636 Chestnut Place, is Soft Descriptions, which is filled with installations, most of which are text-based. Emerging Denver artist Marc Willhite doesn't explicitly explain what he means when he uses specific words in specific pieces, but he does want the viewer to examine them and to somehow visualize them. The exhibit's title thus becomes a sort of explanation, with Willhite employing words with ambiguous or multiple meanings, or at least having some kind of enigmatic content.

The image on the show's invitation is a photo of a rabbit with the sun shining through its ears. And while that photo isn't actually included in Soft Descriptions, its relationship to the show is apparent: Across the back wall of the gallery, which has been painted a blackboard black, Willhite has used thousands of clear plastic push pins to spell out the phrase "Sunlight Passing Through a Rabbit's Ear." Interestingly, the push pins catch the light in the same way the rabbit's ear does.

As with "Sunlight...," some of the words are easy to read. You can't miss "Genre" (pictured) since it's been cut into the wall, but in many of them, viewers have to work a little to make out what they are. In "Mantle," Willhite has spray-painted the word in a color that's close to that of the white paper on which it appears. In "Conversation Conservation," the words are etched onto glass, appearing as ghostly shadows on the wall behind them.

The most unusual piece in the show is a black-and-white portrait of the late Susan Sontag. It was not painted by Willhite, but rather commissioned by him. It is based on a photo that's on the back cover of Sontag's Against Interpretation, the title of which resonates with Willhite's ideas. The beautifully painted piece was done by Denver artist Monique Crine.

Willhite is unwilling to indicate what the collected works in Soft Descriptions are all about, saying that he hopes viewers will bring in their own interpretations. Whatever it means, this compelling show is worth checking out before it closes on February 19.

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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