Art

GENDER FLEX

The fad of pigeonholing art into politically correct categories has created a multitude of interesting genres. Some are lively and welcome inventions, such as Outsider Art, Latino Art or the recent Reclamation Art, where environmentally contaminated areas are resurrected with the aid of public art projects. But few of the new categories are as controversial as Women's Art and Men's Art.

The idea that the genders produce art that can be lumped together under a single distinguishing label is difficult to justify logically. And attempts to analyze art according to supposedly sexual traits seem doomed from the outset: Both males and females can and do make phallic art or bring up issues of domestic violence, two examples that PC critics would call "gender-specific."

Two current shows, one all women and one "all man," offer viewers the chance to make up their own minds about the role gender plays in art.

In Sacred and Profane, at Artyard, artist Mark Diamond mounts a show of exquisitely crafted sculptural objects made of precious metals, gemstones and exotic woods. Although not overtly political in tone, Diamond's weaponlike scepters, chalices and vessels have an obvious macho heft. Obsessive decoration and luxurious materials give these objects a lusty sensuality and rich, seductive sheen: Small but deadly-looking, the rod- and rocket-shaped forms bristle with spikes, studs and secrets, all lovingly embellished with carvings, jewels, delicate cloisonne-enameled medallions and miraculous metal- chasing. They project power, achievement and physical intimidation, characteristics often associated with males. Standing in the midst of all of the darkened steel, burnished gold and glistening, pointy, hard shapes is like beaming into some sword-and-sorcery fantasy illustrated by Frank Frazetta.

But there is more to these heavy-metal boy toys than muscle. Their titles are derived from ancient Welsh and Norse mythology, conjuring up an atmosphere of ancient knowledge and magical skills. And to thicken the plot, half of the shapes, though phallic, are really cups and vessels, the symbolic form associated with the female. Complex sculptures like "Scatbach's Cup" and "Govannon's Vessel" cleverly combine the two gender shapes, placing the ball-shaped tip of the phallus form inside the golden cup of a chalice. Brooding but sexy, Diamond's studly sculptures still manage to embrace the female.

Real-life females take over CORE New Art Space, where Out of the Dollhouse, a selection of small works from members of the Colorado chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art, occupies the basement exhibition space (upstairs, two more women artists, Marti Lawrence and Sue Simon, show original sculpture, drawings and paintings).

Dollhouse begins with an untitled installation reminiscent of playtime fantasies in a little girl's backyard, all lacy rags, dolls' heads and toy furniture. "The Purse Project," a collaborative effort, consists of member-made versions of purses, all constructed from cheap or recycled materials (one's made out of a coffee filter). Deborah Horner's found-object sculpture "The Irony of Oppression" is a smart visual pun involving a heavy antique clothes iron and the "pressing" problems of domesticity. And Virginia Folkstad's "Stamp Collection," a twirling rack of rubber stamps emblazoned with "women's" job titles (teacher, nurse, secretary) pokes fun at the way women are stereotyped in society. Though humorous rather than serious, ephemeral rather than substantial, these rebellious works have a lot to say.

Sacred and Profane, through December 7 at Artyard, 1251 South Pearl Street, 777-3219. Out of the Dollhouse, through December 4 at CORE New Art Space, 1412 Wazee Street, 571-4831.

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Hart Hill