Cool Summer Treats

Summer used to be the time when the art world all but shut down. The idea was that collectors were on vacation, so why bother with noteworthy exhibits? Directors, curators and dealers would simply throw together a group outing that showed off work by the hottest artists the organizers could easily round up. Solos, on the other hand, were rarely presented in the dog days, being seen as more appropriate to high season in the fall, winter and spring.

Last year at this time, there were wall-to-wall group shows, most notably scene Colorado/sin Colorado, at the Denver Art Museum, and Repeat Offenders, at the Singer Gallery of the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture. Together the two exhibits, filled with a who's who of local artists, provided a virtual topographical map of contemporary art in the state. This year things are definitely different: There have been fewer group shows and lots of artists feted with summer solos, among them Amy Metier, John McEnroe, Bethany Kriegsman, Udo Nger, Stephen Batura, Dale Chihuly and Frank Mechau.

This, of course, is both good and bad -- good because these solos jack up the aesthetic averages of the silly summer season, bad because there's nothing better than a bunch of group shows to give viewers a shorthand guide to art affairs in the Mile High City.

Despite the trend away from them, there are still some summer group efforts around, first and foremost the Museum of Contemporary Art's 2005 Biennial BLOW OUT. There are also a few in the commercial galleries, especially those currently at + Gallery and Rule. The two displays are very different from one another, but each is interesting in its own way.

The show at + Gallery features four artists new to the Denver scene. The idea for it was inspired by a citywide series of outings two summers ago sponsored by the Denver Art Dealers Association, in which member galleries presented work by artists who had never before shown in town. I thought it was a great idea, but for some reason the whole thing was dropped after the debut year.

Ivar Zeile, owner of + Gallery, wanted to revive the concept, and together with gallery director Gilbert Barrera, came up with INCOMING!, a heterogeneous exhibit that introduces the community to four new talents. For three of them -- Doug Mielnicki, Naomi Cohn and Lindsay Dudding -- it marks their first showing in a Denver commercial gallery. Though all three are emerging artists, Mielnicki and Cohn are not kids. Dudding, however, is just out of art school, as is the fourth artist, Kenneth James Beasley of Houston.

Mielnicki is up first, with a painting directly opposite the front door. Entitled "HUG," it's a square-shaped neo-pop composition done in bright colors like yellow and red. In this and other pieces in the main space, Mielnicki makes reference to a number of modern and contemporary artists. I'm not sure I figured out all of them, but I did pick up on Frank Stella, Charles Demuth, Damien Hirst and, most pointedly, Robert Indiana. (The Demuth influence might be coming to Mielnicki secondhand through Indiana -- it's hard to tell.)

A lot subtler in both palette and appeal are the organic abstractions by Cohn and Dudding. Both artists are interested in doing lyrical pictures that have a retro abstract-expressionist character. The Cohns and the Duddings have nothing in common with the Mielnickis, but then again, none of the works by these three artists relate to the oddball Beasleys, which are nonetheless pretty neat. I especially liked the way the blobby sculptures interact formally with the unframed drawings of similarly shaped blobs.

Supplementing INCOMING! is a small John McEnroe solo that includes some of the artist's signature plastic paintings and sculptures. In a back corner near the office, there's also a David Yust painting, which came as a surprise, since I didn't know the highly regarded Fort Collins-based modernist had recently joined +'s stable. Another surprise was that Zeile and Barrera didn't do small presentations of the work of Patti Hallock and Susan Meyer, the two + artists who are included in the MCA's biennial. It would have been a savvy move.

In truth, INCOMING! -- even with the help of McEnroe and Yust -- is pretty frothy. But come to think of it, that's not all bad, considering how hot it can get this time of year.

The show at Rule Gallery has an informal quality, as is revealed by its prosaic title, Summer Group Exhibition, and the fact that an opening reception has not yet been held. (One is planned, however, for Friday, August 5, from 6 to 9 p.m.) For heaven's sake, cards weren't even sent out. But don't let any of this bargain-basement treatment fool you: Rule's Summer Group Exhibition is excellent, every bit as good as the MCA's 2005 Biennial BLOW OUT. That's really amazing, especially since it's apparent that gallery director Robin Rule threw it together with one hand tied behind her back -- and probably holding a martini glass in the other.

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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