In Passing

Over the years, I've often seen the truth in the old saying "One person can make a difference." Often it's for the good — for instance, the way Hugh Grant at the Kirkland Museum has almost single-handedly raised public awareness about the history of Colorado art, or the way Clark Richert has launched dozens of art careers from the ranks of his students.

But it works the other way, too, as was the case with Jerry Gilmore, who ran the art program at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Happily, that sad chapter is over now, as Gilmore resigned quietly on March 17. Amazingly, I didn't even hear the welcome news until a week later, despite the fact that it was probably marked with the ringing of church bells. At least I know that's what I would have done had I owned a belfry.

When Gilmore was hired, the job was second only to a position at the Denver Art Museum. But during his five years at the helm, Gilmore brought the place to its knees with his questionable choices (one exhibit featured only art about dogs and ponies), overly long shows (a recent watermedia production lasted five months), poor scheduling, and mixing of amateurs (including Gilmore's friends) with professionals. He also ran off good staff members, and in doing so made the Arvada Center nearly irrelevant in the art world around here.

In fact, Gilmore lowered the standards of the once-top-tier art venue so much that Arvada's newish executive director, Gene Sobczak, is toying with the idea of not replacing him and doing the job himself in his spare time, supplemented by freelance guest curators. But I believe this would nail the coffin lid shut on the place.

Sobczak must understand that the job of presenting exhibits at the Arvada Center is not a hobby, but a vocation. There is nothing wrong with the job description of "gallery and museum director" in and of itself. The problem was Gilmore. If the position is eliminated, that will be Gilmore's greatest crime against the community.

I hope Sobczak makes the right choice, because if he doesn't, there will be enough shame to pass some on to himself, as well. And unlike Gil-more, Sobczak will still be available to be kicked around by people like me. Or worse yet, the Arvada Center under Sobczak's leadership will simply fall below the radar and never be heard from again.

But for now, let's leave behind the sordid events of the suburbs and come back to the more wholesome environment of the city, where there are also changes afoot at the venerable Sandy Carson Gallery. A couple of weeks ago, when Sandy Carson herself called to tell me that she had sold her namesake gallery, lock, stock and building, I was shocked, to say the least. But she explained that after 33 years in the art business, it was time to retire.


Slide Show

Carson's gallery wasn't for sale, but that didn't stop Jan and Bill van Straaten, owners of the van Straaten Gallery and Riverhouse Editions, a fine-art printmaker in Steamboat Springs, from walking in and offering to buy it. Within days, a price was agreed on and the sale moved forward. Word is, the van Straatens, who started their business in Chicago before moving to Steamboat twenty years ago, wanted to live in a city again. Carson will stay on at least until June; afterward, she'll most likely serve as a consultant. Gallery director William Biety also plans to stay. The exhibition schedule already in place will be carried out, but there's no word yet on any new direction the gallery may go in. Presumably, printmaking will be increasingly showcased.

"It happened so fast, I feel like I'm on another planet," Carson says with a laugh, adding that the sale is good for everyone: She gets to relax after a long career; the van Straatens get to move to town; and one of the city's great art venues will remain up and running for the foreseeable future.

All through March, the gallery had two photo shows on display as part of the Month of Photography. That event is over, but the exhibits will stay up through Saturday.

In the front is Wonders & Marvels, an impressive and intriguing solo showcasing the experimental techniques of Carol Golemboski. An associate professor of photography at the University of Colorado Denver, Golemboski has exhibited nationally. For this recent body of work, she puts a twist on the idea of "trick" photography by creating images about the kind of magic done by magicians on stage. There's the rabbit coming out of a hat, the woman who's sawed in half, and the card trick, as in "Queen of Hearts."

Golemboski has apparently thought a lot about the relationship between mechanical magic tricks and mechanical reproduction, and her odd photo hybrids are the products of that musing. To achieve her desired results, she heavily retouches her negatives, drawing on them, scratching them and tinting them up with vegetable-based natural dyes. The results, done in gelatin silver prints, look like photos of paintings.

In addition to the magic-themed photos, Golemboski has a show within a show featuring a group of anthotypes that were done using photosensitive fruit juices. This is an archaic technique from the early nineteenth century but was little used even then. The images are dusty two-tones contrasting an ecru ground with the soft purples of the imagery.

Gallery director Biety paired Wonders & Marvels with Exposed, a large group show with eleven artists. His intention was to include as broad a range of expressions as possible, and he did, from Gwen Laine's surrealistic still life shots and Andrea Modica's famous takes on the natural environment to Peter de Lory's shots of lighted neon signs and Rusty Scruby's three-dimensional weavings made of photos.

Another Month of Photography show running on overtime is In the Woods, at the William Havu Gallery, featuring lyrical landscape photos by Gunnar Plake. (A fabulous abstract painting show, Desire in a Gypsy Cloak, is there as well. See Artbeat.)

With a three-decade-long career, Plake, who lives on the East Coast, first exhibited at Havu almost ten years ago when the gallery featured a dozen artists it represented who were also in the collection of the Denver Art Museum. A year earlier, Plake had been a fellow at the prestigious Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, thus establishing his presence in the West.

Made up of eight large-format C-prints mounted on aluminum panels, the exhibit is handsomely installed. In these photos, set in the West, Plake captures various sights from misty primordial woodlands, throwing them out of focus, which adds to the atmospheric quality he invokes. In the title piece, "In the Woods," Plake has taken a close-up of the base of a stand of trees. Though most of the photos in the show are vertically oriented, this one is in a horizontal format, typical of landscapes. The foreground is taken over by a small hill that's somewhat darker than the rest of the picture. In the mid-ground are two large tree trunks, cut off by the top of the picture below their leafy canopies. The background is bathed in light as the sun streams through, illuminating the sylvan glade.

I thought all the Plakes were great, and though he is clearly doing landscapes, many have abstract characteristics as a result of the blurry effect and the way they're cropped, which puts the attention on the trunks and not the tree itself. The strong and gorgeously rich colors Plake captures also adds to the sense of abstraction.

The Month of Photography was a big success for gallery-goers, but it has mostly come and gone. Many of the participating shows have closed, and others are about to. But the joy of seeing Jerry Gilmore gone from the Arvada Center is something that will go on forever.

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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