Art Review

Constructed Histories Brings out Dark Truths at David B. Smith

David B. Smith Gallery
in LoDo is presenting Constructed Histories, an ambitious multimedia show that was put together by guest curator William Morrow. That Morrow has come up with a museum-quality exhibit should come as no surprise, as he was formerly a curator of contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum. He now works as an independent curator, organizing shows for galleries across the country.

One theme in Constructed Histories is political, with many pieces making reference to dark passages from the past. For instance, the artist team of McCallum Tarry has done a trio of images in oil on linen and in toner on silk from their “Evidence of Things Not Seen” series; they are portraits of activists arrested during the 1956 Montgomery bus boycotts. In each of the three, a sheet of nearly transparent silk printed with a ghostly image of one of the arrestees’ mug shots is stretched in front of an oil portrait of the same individual so that the images align with one another. The effect is marvelous.

Also recalling difficult times are two found photos that have been turned into laser-cut jigsaw puzzles by Christoph Draeger; one depicts Nagasaki, and the other the wrecked World Trade Center.

Dinh Q. Le’s magisterial cut-up and rewoven photos concern the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge (Le grew up in Cambodia).\

Teresa Diehl, who was born in Lebanon, uses nine videos to look at various regions of the world impacted by war and terrorism. Employing black-and-white images, she makes them disappear in stages independently of one another.

Several pieces are less political or not political at all, including the fabulous mixed-media paintings on antique quilt fragments by Sanford Biggers, which read like abstracts. Or Glenn Kaino’s “Escala," in which thrift-shop scales and various objects used as weights have been assembled into a lively wall relief. The scales, which are operational, are put into a precarious balance. Kaino’s equally intriguing “A Plank for Every Pirate” also plays with gravity. In it, hammers are suspended under yardsticks, with the whole conglomeration hanging from the ceiling.

The exhibit’s showstopper is “Everything That Rises,” a circle of folding chairs by Jeremy Dean, who is interested in re-conceptualizing mundane things. In this case, the humble and beat-up chairs are used as elements to build an elegant and monumental sculpture. Another kind of reinterpretation is seen in Dean’s pair of works from his “Convergence” series, wherein the artist unweaves American flags and then reassembles them as threads stretched between straight pins.

Though there is a free-associational character to Morrow’s picks, like a shuffled deck of cards, the pieces he chose to elucidate the idea of constructed histories somehow work together visually. Then again, pulling off a successful aesthetic experience is what curating is really all about.

Constructed Histories runs through March 21 at David B. Smith Gallery, 1543A Wazee Street. For information, call 303-893-4234 or go to

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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