Marvelous contemporary shows fill RedLine and Edge

Denver's contemporary-art scene is remarkable both in its size and in the diversity of work being done. The city's venues, particularly the co-ops and commercial galleries, are seemingly always filled to the brim with thought-provoking and accomplished art, and the sheer volume of worthwhile material never ceases to amaze me.

Last year, artist and community benefactor Laura Merage tapped into this rich vein of talent by opening RedLine, an art center aimed directly at the needs of the scene. RedLine combines artist studios with exhibition spaces and presents a raft of educational and community-oriented programs. Now, to celebrate its first anniversary, RedLine is presenting a major exhibition, You of All People! Here of All Places!, that highlights the accomplishments of the artists associated with the place.

The RedLine artists fall into two distinct categories: resident artists who have studios in the building that they rent for a nominal fee, and visiting artists who get free studio space and are meant to play the role of mentors. But anyone who knows anything about contemporary art knows that the resident artists are way beyond being mentored by anyone else. You of All People demonstrates this fact, since work ranges over a wide aesthetic and conceptual area, and few connections can be made between the participants.

For this reason, and because there are a whopping nineteen artists included, the only way to intelligently discuss this show is to organize it by medium or type. The volume and variety must have made it a bear to install coherently, but it was nevertheless extremely well done by a group led by RedLine member Jonathan Saiz.

Many RedLine members are painters. Some are interested in representational imagery, including Margaret Neumann, a notable neo-expressionist who is sometimes referred to as the godmother of the new wave owing to her early embrace of the figural revival. Here she shows one of her odd and awkwardly composed paintings of a woman. Similar in sensibility, though much more controlled in its execution, is the painting of a mermaid by Terry Campbell. Another of the representational painters, Ian Fisher, has done a drawing instead, one depicting a standing man.

Other painters are interested in abstraction — in particular, Bruce Price, whose "Manifold #2" incorporates found patterns in gingham fabric. I've seen other works in this series, and though some fall short, this one is a knockout. Clark Richert's "Black Mountain College" is abstract, at least broadly speaking, but it also includes recognizable things. He crams in a lot of visual information, including the expected geometric shapes, and some unexpected passages, such as the conventionalized view of a college that runs across the top third of the piece. There are also some abstract-expressionist scribbles down in the bottom right side of the panel. The incongruous elements reminded me — at least conceptually — of Herbert Bayer's "Anthologies," in which the artist, late in his life, assembled different parts of his past work and had them collide together in the same pieces.

Though "Day for Night: Second Phase" and "Day for Night: Fifth Phase," both by Bob Koons, look like abstractions, that's just part of the story. The artist digitizes actual scenes and then renders them in paint; these two are striking black-on-black compositions. Another artist, the aforementioned Saiz, also stands between different types of work with his hybrids of sculpture and painting. "The Same Strain for Years" comprises accomplished monotone renderings of muscular men pulling on ropes that are done not on flat panels, but on three-dimensional cubes.

The other predominating art form in the RedLine show is installation, with many examples of different types. "Procrastinations #1," by Viviane Le Courtois, is, as expected, weird, since the artist is a champion of that kind of thing. Le Courtois has created blobs of urethane foam into which she's inserted the bare roots of weeds. If the Le Courtois is no surprise, the group of giant rag doll figures by Merage is, since she's mostly known as a photographer. The dolls are roughly made and expressively finished. They're intriguing and very au courant.

Like Merage, Rori Knudtson uses fabric for "Morphology III." But the piece is very different in form and content. Knudtson has created something of a room divider made of monofilament and aluminum mesh that hangs like drapery. It's barely there but impossible to miss, because viewers are forced to actually enter it in order to continue on with the exhibit. Also among the textile-related pieces is the tapestry "Green Piece," by Tom Guiton. Although it's very attractive, it's impossible to see how it relates to environmental issues as implied by the title — and it's not green in color, either.

A more doctrinaire installation was done by Jeff Page, who built a room with actual walls. Inside is a cartoonish version of an interior, while outside is a pile of junk leaning against it. It makes for a marvelous contrast in textures. Nearby, and likewise more mainstream for an installation, is Alicia Ordal's "If Only Your Mother Knew," made up of a wall element and a floor piece.

Then there's Gretchen Marie Schaefer's "Ontogenesis," made of white gloppy forms in organically derived shapes that have been suspended from the ceiling with wire. This piece is more sculptural than most of the other installations. Well, except for Virginia Folkestad's "Collective Memory," which is made of a stack of beehive boxes that have been encased in wax.

At the opposite end of the installation pole is the concept of insubstantiality, as in the light projection by Sterling Crispin and a series of framed letters to Wall Street crooks by Linda Campbell aptly called "Millennium Men." There are also visiting artist Clemens Weiss's sculptures of glass and white glue.

The odd artist out — given that she's the only one doing photographs — is Denver newcomer Jennifer Miller, who has created intriguing abstract images.

RedLine has the potential to one day be among the biggest players in the Denver art world and could easily eclipse most of the other venues in town. In some sense, it is the apotheosis of the local artist co-operatives, the only difference being the millions of dollars that have been spent setting it up.

Of course, the co-ops are still great places to catch up with some of the best artists in Denver. And that's certainly the case with the much more modest Edge Gallery right now, where the impressive Mark Brasuell: Vista is on view.

Brasuell has long been associated with Edge and has lived in Denver for the last twenty years. A graduate of the now defunct MFA program at the University of Denver, he's from Roscoe, Texas, which was originally called Vista, and that's partly why he's named the show as he has. The paintings don't depict the town or refer to it in any way, however, since they are completely abstract. In fact, these paintings mark a continuation of an aesthetic path that Brasuell has been following for years: complex compositions made up of dense jumbles of forms done with layer upon layer of color.

These paintings sport several interesting features. By using iridescent shades and metallic paints, Brasuell's colors appear to change depending on the viewer's perspective. Even more unusual for Brasuell is the incorporation of fanciful glyphs that have been created by his partner, Aidan Grey, who is a conlanger, or one who constructs made-up languages. These glyphs look something like a cross between Hebrew and Arabic and relate wonderfully to the lyrical forms that dominate the paintings.

I've long admired Brasuell's work, but this show might be his best effort ever. Taken together with the RedLine exhibit, it goes a long way toward proving that the Denver art scene is a vast reservoir of first-rate talent.

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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

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