Daniel Libeskind, Andrea Modica and Joellyn Duesberry

I'm sure you've all heard more than enough about the Denver Art Museum's Frederic C. Hamilton Building. That's too bad, because there's even more to say about it in light of the show that just opened at Sandy Carson Gallery. Daniel Libeskind: Inspiration, Process and Place is filled with drawings, prints and watercolors by the great architect, a good many of which depict the Hamilton at its earliest stages of development. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The exhibit starts with pieces dating back a couple of decades, to when Libeskind was just starting as a practicing architect. Among the oldest items are some that don't relate to any building but are simply ideas about forms and their relationships. This is best exemplified by two related lithographs, "The Master Magliano Laments the Prophesy of Euclid" and "The History of Vegetables and So Forth." These highly detailed and complex black-on-white abstract compositions are made up of architectonic shapes as complicated and dense as their titles.

In the '80s, Libeskind was a respected but obscure academician. By the '90s, he was world-famous. What brought this about was a single building: the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The show at Sandy Carson includes a series of charcoal renditions of the building from 1989, ten years before its completion. In them, Libeskind deals with different aspects of the project conceptually as opposed to literally, so that they are informal and expressionistic sketches rather than finished presentation drawings.

Surely the most interesting pieces for the local audience are those related to the Hamilton. Libeskind put his first thoughts down on ubiquitous things such as napkins and hotel stationery, and these drawings are really cool -- especially when you realize that the completed building's forms are not so different from the doodles. There are also actual pages from Libeskind's sketchbook, with square-cut binder holes visible along one side.

Hands down, though, the most impressive of the Hamilton-related materials are the expressionist watercolors of the building as Libeskind imagined it in situ. Some show the Hamilton with the mountains in the background; in others it's with the adjacent buildings. It looks as though Libeskind put in large areas of color in stains, then rapidly slashed in bold, hard-edged outlines on top. More than anything else in this exhibit, these watercolors function both as architectural renderings and as stand-alone works of art.

Paired with the Libeskind feature and sharing the same subtitle is Andrea Modica: Inspiration, Process and Place. Modica is a nationally known photographer who used to live in Colorado but now lives in the East. She's best known for photographs that have a sociological narrative component, and her classic topic is the culture of rural poverty. For the photos at Sandy Carson, the setting is typically rural, but Modica's subject is an apple orchard, not the expected family. Gallery owner Sandy Carson points out that Modica has taken landscape photos before, so they are not as unexpected as they may seem at first.

Taken in Vermont, the photos are done in oversized black-and-white prints that have a romantic, almost antique look. Modica focuses on a twig, branch or entire tree placed at the front of the photo, with a blurry landscape filling the background. In "Apple Orchard #2," a leafless branch covered with apples is used as a screen that viewers need to look through to see the field and forest receding in the distance.

The two shows at Sandy Carson are kept completely separate from one another, a necessity given how different the works of each artist are -- Libeskind's interest in the city and Modica's in the country being just the start of them. Yet gallery director William Biety did link them up conceptually, using the collective idea of Inspiration, Process and Place in totally different ways.

In a sense, that could also describe what's going on in Joellyn Duesberry: A Passion for Western Land, a major solo for a major Colorado landscape painter currently playing at the William Havu Gallery. Though Duesberry has captured a wide range of subjects in her paintings, the theme of this show is the Western landscape, in particular the countryside around here. That makes sense, since Duesberry lives just south of Denver and there are many picturesque views for her to capture.

Duesberry's art career began more than thirty years ago, and from the very beginning, she exhibited her paintings at a variety of prestigious galleries in Denver and on the East and West coasts. Her style is a hybrid of many influences, some of them seemingly contradictory. On the one hand, Duesberry's work is traditional in that it's representational and features landscapes, an approach in painting that's as old as the hills, so to speak. On the other, the way Duesberry loosely handles the drafting and expressively applies paint are characteristics of the abstract. That's because her approach to representational painting comes out of modernism and refers to post-impressionism, regionalism and neo-expressionism. Another thing that makes Duesberry a contemporary artist despite her use of traditional representational imagery is her bold color choices. Her palette is obviously derived from tones that would be found in a natural setting, but they've been exaggerated to have a slightly unnatural quality.

There are a lot of wonderful Duesberry paintings at Havu -- a number of which have already been sold -- but a few are downright breathtaking. One of the greatest is "Chatfield Winter Triptych," an oil on linen that's 100 inches long. It's a mural that could be in a public building such as a courthouse or a post office. On the three panels, Duesberry depicts a continuous wetlands scene with lots of active brushwork and little regard for realistic detail; instead, elements of the landscape are merely suggested by daubs of paint. Nonetheless, a kind of realism is translated to the viewer, and anyone familiar with the scenery in the immediate area will easily understand what they're seeing.

The composition of the painting is interesting, with the image of blue water that runs across the middle guiding your eyes from one panel to the next. The colors throughout are icy, with lots of blues, silvers and whites, but even the warm shades of yellow and orange contribute to the sense of coldness, as does all the black. It's the perfect formula for a piece like "Chatfield," a winter scene where the trees are bare, the bushes are dead, and snow, though partially melted, still covers the ground.

One thing that strikes me about Duesberry's show is how well it worked in relation to the nearby Libeskind and Modica exhibits at Sandy Carson. Duesberry's style, with its juxtaposition of slashing marks and fields of color, is very similar to the approach Libeskind used for his watercolors of the Hamilton. And like Modica, Duesberry is interested in putting out bucolic pictures that are poetically composed and conceived. Gosh, it's almost like a theme show at a museum or art center, except there's a five-minute drive between the parts.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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