Art Review

Michael Brohman Goes Classical at Pirate, While Walter Barton Stays Funky

It’s hard to keep up with Pirate. Shows run for only a short period of time, the place is only open on the weekends, and the exhibits come and go with almost no notice from the venerable old co-op. Because of that, my shout-out to an impressive pair of solos there comes at the very last minute: Both are set to close smack in the middle of the Labor Day weekend.

Up front, in the main member’s space, is a dramatic, if spare presentation of a trio of sculptures that are meant to function together as a triptych. These works make up Michael Brohman: Tipping Point. Brohman is known for his outrageous imagery, like his freakish mutant figures that are part chicken and part baby doll, or his male nudes, which are anatomically correct — with one having been castrated.

But he’s been drifting away from that kind of content and toward a more contemplative aesthetic over the last couple of years, never more so than in this current show. Still, as the artist himself points out, he's still tackling difficult social issues in his work, including power structures, social hierarchies, racism, sexism, class-struggle and, last but not least, white privilege. Lucky for us, he brings all of this up in lyrical ways in this show — using columns and putti to do it, no less.

Straight ahead as you enter is the most ambitious of the Brohman sculptures, “Power,” in cast and painted bronze. A pinkish white male baby is perched atop a Doric column around the base of which, and climbing up it, are dark brown babies of both sexes. The message is clear the white baby is on top but is being challenged by the brown ones. But this meaning is changed when viewers look to the right where the title piece, “Tipping Point," is displayed. In this piece, two Doric columns are depicted so that one is falling over onto the other suggesting that the relationship between the races captured in “Power” is changing.

The last piece, “Hanging Black Column”, suspended from the ceiling by a chain in the back corner, is a charred and painted wooden column. It is doubtless the column that was cast in order to make both “Power” and “Tipping Point” though its meaning in relation to those pieces is ambiguous. For Brohman, the column symbolizes civilization as handed down from the Greeks; the color brings in race, while the fact that it’s suspended refers to lynching. Never one to shy-away from the edgy, Brohman also acknowledges the unmistakable phallic character of “Hanging Black Column”.

In the Associates’ space in the back, there’s a complimentary show made up of found-object sculptures entitled Walter Barton: Threshold. Barton gathers up discarded wooden objects both natural bits and those that were once pieces of furniture or parts of windows and then uses them as his materials.

The show starts with the title piece “Threshold”, an impressive and monumental construction that mimics a fancy garden gate but using those aforementioned cast offs to create it. Beyond is its opposite, “Gate” a solid panel hung on the wall so that it leads to nowhere.
Barton has written that he’s interested in the psychological aspects of passages, of passing from one place to another, which he uses as metaphors about life choices and relationships. This is the second time I’ve seen Barton’s work, and both times I’ve come away impressed at the endless possibilities he discovers using the found-material method.

The Brohman and Barton shows run through September 6 at Pirate Contemporary Art at 3655 Navajo Street. Call 303-458-6058 or check out for additional information.
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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