Metro on the Move

Sally Perisho, the highly regarded director of Metropolitan State College's Center for the Visual Arts, has been at the eye of a whirlwind the past few weeks. Last month her gallery moved from the corner of Wazee and 17th Streets in LoDo to a pair of storefronts next to the Robischon Gallery down the block, arriving just in time to open Picasso: His Print Work, a display devoted to the printmaking of the greatest artist of the century. "All in one week, we moved, then we unpacked, hung and opened the show," says Perisho. In keeping with the tradition of both Picasso and Perisho, the show is visually stunning and intelligent--and a most appropriate way to inaugurate the center's dazzling new location.

The change in address for the nonprofit art center was spurred by a big rent hike at the old spot. But that was only one of the reasons Perisho made the decision to move. "People loved the old space, and it was beautiful," she explains. "But for a curator, it was a nightmare. Most of the walls were only ten feet long, which don't hold major pieces; it was dark; there was a lack of security; and the windows on 17th Street created a glare that made the art hard to see."

All of these problems have been corrected by the move to the airy new space, which formerly was occupied by a pair of galleries--the now defunct Art of Craft and the Sandy Carson Gallery, which has moved to the Golden Triangle neighborhood. As a result, many art-friendly features were already in place, including nearly imperceptible tinting on the windows, state-of-the-art climate controls and sophisticated fire and burglar-alarm systems. "We now have elaborate security measures, just like the Denver Art Museum," says Perisho. "The windows are even unbreakable."

The remodeling of the two separate galleries into a single, expansive space was directed by Perisho. There are now six discrete galleries, a handsome, well-lit workshop, offices and storage space. According to Perisho, "It now looks like an art center instead of a gallery." That should make fundraising easier, she adds, by allowing the center to mount major shows that may in turn attract major donors.

Perisho's labors have helped give the new gallery twice the exhibition space of the center's former home. But that in itself has created a problem: She's had to scramble to supplement shows that were originally booked for Metro's older, smaller space. The Picasso exhibit, for instance, was to feature only posters. Realizing that she needed to greatly expand the show's size to fill the much larger new space, Perisho contacted the DAM and asked to borrow an assortment of Picasso prints. The resulting exhibit joins Picasso's prints to his posters, and though the original inclusions are wonderful, many of the most memorable items are found among the last-minute selections from the DAM.

The DAM owns many Picasso prints, but not enough to fully survey the master's accomplishments in the medium. That's perhaps why Perisho unfortunately chose not to hang this section in chronological order. This is a minor complaint, however, since most of the prints from the DAM (as well as a pair loaned by private collectors) have never before been publicly exhibited in Denver.

Several of the prints take up the theme of artist and model, a subject that Picasso frequently chose for his pieces. "L'Atelier (The Studio)" is a sublime etching from 1927; the delicate and masterful lines set against the ecru-colored paper show his prowess at conveying complicated scenes with an economy of line. "L'Atelier" also shows modernist Picasso's interest in traditional style, as does "Le Repos du Sculpteur (The Sculptor at Rest)" from the famous "Vollard Suite." In this lithograph from 1933, Picasso depicts himself lying on a bed, holding his lover, Marie-Therese Walter, in his arms. In the foreground is an image of Picasso's famous sculpture of Walter's head done a year or two before.

Near "L'Atelier" and "Le Repos" is a specially designed display case holding three unframed leaves of paper. These are the three 1962 lithographs collectively titled "Le Peintre et Son Modele (The Painter and His Model)." Picasso's style is markedly different in these prints; instead of showing off his meticulous draftsmanship, they have a scribbled, slapdash quality.

Perisho has included several other prints from late in Picasso's career, among them the somber 1962 lithograph "Tete de Faune (Head of a Faun)." Using a resist to create heavy white lines, Picasso places a simple sketch of the faun's head against a rich and varied brown field. The artist produced the striations and swirls in this sea of brown in some unknown way, though the accompanying label copy suggests he may have used steel wool on the litho stone. Placed next to the "Tete de Faune" is the lyrical print "Football," a colored lithograph that takes up the topic of soccer. A yellow ball in the center is surrounded by amoebic figures, each marked by red or blue stripes that evoke the bold colors of soccer uniforms.

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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