Art Review

Solo and Group Shows Take Different Directions on Santa Fe

Installation view of Mary Mackey: Thirty Year Retrospective.
Installation view of Mary Mackey: Thirty Year Retrospective. Robert Delaney

click to enlarge Installation view of Mary Mackey: Thirty Year Retrospective. - ROBERT DELANEY
Installation view of Mary Mackey: Thirty Year Retrospective.
Robert Delaney
Do you know the way to Santa Fe? A retrospective at Urban Mud and a group show at Rule Gallery are both worth a trip to that strip.

Artist, teacher and gallery director Mary Mackey is presenting a solo of her own work, Mary Mackey: Thirty Year Retrospective, at Urban Mud, her exhibition venue at 530 Santa Fe Drive. Mackey grew up in Colorado, graduating from the now-defunct Colorado Institute of Art in 1981 after studying photography there. In the mid-1980s, she met Mark Lunning and began to do prints at Open Press, his fine-art printmaking facility, which started in Denver but is now in Sterling. Through the work she did at Open Press, Mackey became interested not only in printmaking, but also in painting, and those entwined mediums eventually overtook photography as her principal medium.

Traveling around Europe in the late 1980s, Mackey became part of the East Side Gallery, which had popped up around political events as the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and she painted a mural, “Tolerance,” on a section of the wall. In 1991, Mackey returned to Denver and opened the Mary Mackey Gallery, an important contemporary art venue that closed in 1999. She spent the next twenty years working as an artist, adding  ceramics to her repertoire a few years ago. Last year, Mackey opened Urban Mud as a place not just to showcase ceramics, but to provide studio space for ceramics artists.

click to enlarge Abstract paintings by Mary Mackey. - ROBERT DELANEY
Abstract paintings by Mary Mackey.
Robert Delaney
Although the pieces in this show range over the thirty years indicated in the title, it’s not really a retrospective. First, considering Mackey's enormous output over that time, the display is far too small. And second, the pieces here are not arranged chronologically — many aren’t even dated — or grouped stylistically, making it impossible to follow any kind of time-based aesthetic development. Still, there's plenty to see, with abstract paintings, prints and ceramics all somehow interrelated, and all interesting.

Mackey’s chief influence is 1950s abstract expressionism and its progenies, and her oeuvre resonates with a retro-classic modernist quality. This is true not only of her paintings and works on paper, but also her ceramics, though they have a wide variety of expressions. Her 2-D work includes scribbled marks, some with a very Cy Twombly vibe, as well as pieces constructed from flat color fields and hybrids of the two approaches. What unifies them is Mackey’s instinctual sense for composition. The same goes for her ceramic vessel-based sculptures: Some are wild piles of twisted clay, some are joined-clay slabs, and some are combinations.

click to enlarge Matthew Larson's "White and Red" (left) and "Red and White" in Red @ Rule. - COURTESY OF RULE GALLERY
Matthew Larson's "White and Red" (left) and "Red and White" in Red @ Rule.
Courtesy of Rule Gallery
A few blocks north on Santa Fe, Rule Gallery's featured attraction is Red @ Rule. The idea of a red show dates back nearly twenty years, to the days when the gallery was on Broadway and the late Robin Rule was the director. At the time, paintings or prints with red in them were considered unsellable, and founder Rule was intent on proving that notion wrong. But times have changed: Valerie Santerli and Rachel Bietz are now at the helm of the gallery, and there's no longer a stigma attached to the color red, with accepted hues ranging from pink to burgundy. If anything, it’s red-hot.

The show starts with a great pair of works by Matthew Larson that are not just red, but Valentine-heart red. The two are flowing op patterns, à la Bridget Riley, one in red on white, the other in white on red. To make them, Larson has laid Velcro on linen and used yarn to create the patterns.

click to enlarge Installation view of Red @ Rule. - COURTESY OF RULE GALLERY
Installation view of Red @ Rule.
Courtesy of Rule Gallery
Goran Vejvoda communicates the theme by using the word “red” in the triptych “Red, Der, Erd,” with letters written across found and altered images of women. Jim Johnson's work also features words, but that’s no surprise, as he’s one of the best-known text-based artists in the region. For “I Love You More,” Johnson has run charcoal and pastel across words written in cursive that resist the chalks, revealing the paper behind. Bill Nelson uses not words, but punctuation — question marks lit by a row of lightbulbs laid in a found case mounted on the wall. Works based on found objects is Phil Bender’s signature, and here he has a red tartan boot bag crowning a pair of art books, one titled “Nude,” the other “Model.”

There are also some figurative pieces, including one by the late John Fudge depicting a young couple returning home late from a prom date. The sensibility is akin to magazine illustration from the ’40s, but the Norman Rockwell-esque mood is broken by the fact that the parents are wearing S&M gear. Other edgy representational works include the creepy Margaret Neumann painting of a horned animal, and Sarah Bowling's lyrical rendition of a girl’s legs entwined in snakes.

There's a lot of good art to see around town, but these two shows on Santa Fe are definitely worth a stop.

Mary Mackey: Thirty Year Retrospective, through March 15, Urban Mud, 530 Santa Fe Drive, 720-271-9601,

Red @ Rule, through March 28, Rule Gallery, 808 Santa Fe Drive, 303-800-6776,
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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