Mind and Matter

Every year, the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture presents a thematically linked interdisciplinary program. This year the topic is twentieth-century scientific genius Albert Einstein, and the program, titled "Einstein: The Creative Cosmos," includes lectures, concerts, educational workshops, plays and the exhibit Infinite in All Directions, which is on display in the Mizel's Singer Gallery.

The Mizel Center chose Einstein as the subject because the Denver Museum of Nature & Science was going to host a traveling blockbuster about the scientist that would coincide with "Creative Cosmos." Alas, as we now know, there is no Einstein exhibit at the DMNS; the powers-that-be went instead with Body Worlds 2, a presentation that features flayed and plastic-coated corpses. (I'll pass.) By the time the DMNS made its decision, however, the die had been cast at the Mizel.

Singer Gallery director Simon Zalkind wasn't in on the Einstein-theme selection, and you can tell, because it's an odd topic on which to hang an art show, and he knows it. The obvious choice would have been to mount an exhibition of those iconic black-and-white photos of Einstein, but they're in far-flung collections, so getting them here and insuring them would have tapped the Singer's budget. Zalkind briefly considered selecting artists who were working with high-tech methods -- literally using science to do their work -- but he decided instead to highlight a group of local painters and sculptors who refer to science in metaphorical ways.

The wall to the right of the Singer's entrance and the one directly ahead are both devoted to the late Vance Kirkland, the first of five artists represented here. Kirkland is surely at the top of everyone's list when it comes to local artists referring to science, as he not only did scores of paintings depicting outer space (some of which look suspiciously like the Hubble images that came back after his death), but also employed physics in his methods.

There are many beautiful pieces on loan from the Kirkland Museum, including the spectacular trio on the back wall: "The Energy of Explosions of the Sun 60 Billion Years B.C.," from 1978, covered with swirling masses of raised dots of pigments in yellow, orange and red; the remarkably similar "Explosions on a Sun 70 Billion Light Years from Earth," done in 1979; and, in between the two, their outstanding predecessor, "Space #21," from 1966, a classic dot painting of blue spheres.

Opposite the Kirklands, hanging on both sides of the angled walls, are paintings by Sue Simon, a longtime Spark co-op member. Simon has been doing mixed-media paintings for years that include mathematical equations and other references to science. In "Mathematical Universe: Twelve Equations That Matter," Simon took twelve small panels and used each one to illustrate a different equation, some mathematically, others graphically. The panels are finished in different shades, but the backgrounds were done as neutral monochromes ranging from cream to black. The piece looks great. I also liked those Simons in which the backgrounds are done expressively, such as "The Spectrum of the Cosmos," where a crisply rendered equation in black floats above a field of mostly horizontal smears of color.

On the other side of the Simons are two walls' worth of Clark Richert paintings, including some very unexpected new works, "A/C Project #1: Triacon" and "A/C Project #2: Enneacon." Both are large canvases that have been covered with polka dots in Necco wafer colors. The Richert dots resonate marvelously with the Kirkland dots hanging nearby. These new Richerts are lighter and airier than his earlier work, such as "Magic Tet" and "LA-AC Periods," both from 2001. In those older pieces, Richert laid out three-dimensional space, while the new ones have utterly flat pictorial space. I've always thought of Richert as one of the most relentlessly consistent artists in the area, and as different as these new works are from his earlier ones, they still follow the same idiosyncratic path of painting patterns that he's been following for decades.

Throughout the Singer are sculptures by promising emerging artist Joseph Shaeffer, who's been experimenting for the past few years with the use of magnets in his steel-and-hardware constructions. These sleek modernist sculptures refer to early-twentieth-century vanguard art, particularly constructivism. The self-taught Shaeffer is well aware of the aesthetic debt, as he reveals in the title "Spheric Cubes - Black-Vertical Sustention (Homage to Gabo)," which refers to early-twentieth-century constructivist Naum Gabo. Some of Shaeffer's work has an industrial aesthetic, such as "A Dark Tower - Manifest as Tension From the Confines of the Mind," in which a vertical pile is suspended by cables between four angled iron arms. It's very impressive.

The exhibit concludes in the atrium gallery, a nice space with a high ceiling that was given over to the work of Robert Mangold, the dean of Denver's modernist sculptors. Mangold is best known for his "Anemotive Kinetic" sculptures, which are multi-colored whirligigs that move with the wind, but for this show, he's exhibiting his "PTTSAAES" constructions. The odd title is an abbreviation of the phrase "Point Traveling Through Space at an Erratic Speed," and the sculptures of this name don't actually move, but simply imply movement. The idea is that the zigzagging metal forms follow imaginary trajectories of fantasy particles in a hypothetical space. To put it a different way, they follow the path of a bouncing ball. This room looks spectacular, and the colors of the sculptures -- blue, red and orange -- are thoroughly delicious.

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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