Moving On Up

Last week, Jeanie Nuanes King unveiled her long-awaited Fresh Art with the inaugural exhibit Momentum, a contemporary group show of painters and sculptors. It's hard to believe that just over two years ago, King opened her first gallery in a tiny storefront on South Broadway -- especially considering how far she's come since then. That original gallery, now known as Fresh Art 208, remains open; given over to artist-made furniture and accessories, it complements the new place at Ninth Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, which specializes in fine art.

A few days before the January 17 grand opening, I was coming up the too-fast, too-narrow Santa Fe Drive, trying to find the Fresh Art gallery. As I passed a large and very plain-looking stucco-covered building, I spotted a flash of blue in a window out of the corner of my eye. 'That blue blur looks like art to me,' I said to myself, zipping into a parking space just up the block. Sure enough, it was the place.

As I expected, the blue streak turned out to be a work of art, specifically a blue-painted sculpture by Bryan Andrews. Because it's easily viewed from the sidewalk -- and even from the vantage point of speeding cars -- the piece, "Have You Ever Seen the Heart of a Giant's Leg?" is, intentionally or not, the opening shot of the show.

The sculpture is a signature Andrews, in which primitive references are given a minimalist twist. The piece was previously exhibited, but it's been slightly reworked by adding a rough-cut timber-fragment base for its Fresh appearance. The timber, which definitely improves the piece, is attached to a larger vertical timber fragment that he's covered with coat after coat of eye-catching cobalt-blue paint. Surmounting the blue-painted timber is a basswood finial left unfinished to preserve its natural white color and clear -- thus invisible -- graining.

"Giant's Leg" is suggestive of a stripped totem pole, even though the sculpture is not all that tall -- maybe six feet or so. It appears much larger and has a definite strength of presence. This monumentality is wholly based on Andrews's gift for aesthetic understatement. He explores simple concepts in form with a limited vocabulary of shapes and colors, favoring mostly natural wood tones and that incredible blue.

As marvelous as it was to see the Andrews in Fresh's window, it was also quite a surprise, since he's represented by the Cordell Taylor gallery. When I asked King why he was showing in Momentum (after I'd finally found my way into the main entrance around the corner on Ninth Avenue), she explained that she'd invited several other galleries to participate in the show -- a highly unusual move for a commercial gallery. "I wanted to present the best young artists around, and I didn't think I could do it all by myself, so I asked other galleries to make suggestions of whom to include," she says. King invited the directors of Andenken, Space, Carson-Masuoka and Cordell Taylor to be part of Momentum. "I love doing community-oriented projects. I think if I do things like this, everyone will benefit, and it will definitely come back around to benefit me."

The resulting show is mammoth, which is perfect for the gigantic gallery. The building, a former 7UP bottling plant, includes not only the generously scaled exhibition space, but also a big conference room and six good-sized artists' studios. The roof of the building is a barrel vault open to the rafters, which means high walls and even higher ceilings. King and her husband, Bill, spent more than half a million on the purchase and rehab of the building. They have sensibly and lightly remodeled it, adding new windows and doors on the exterior along with an elegant custom-made steel sign and a broken-arch canopy, both created by sculptor Joe Riché.

As I looked around, I was definitely impressed but wondered, considering the faltering economy, if it was the right time for a major gallery expansion in Denver. "I hear these discouraging words," King says, "but they don't seem to affect me. Maybe I'm naïve. I've only been in the business two years, so it might be that I don't know what the good times were like."

The couple got help swinging the deal with a low-interest loan from the city's Office of Economic Development because the Santa Fe corridor has been identified as an underdeveloped area in which property owners can qualify for loans, grants and tax set-asides. "The economic development office has been great," King says. "They've helped us with so much. In the spring, the city is providing urban streetscape beautification money to create a sculpture garden in the right-of-way along Ninth in front of the gallery." The plan is to pull up the existing blacktop and replace it with paving and concrete sculpture stands. "We know we'll have to deal with vandalism," she adds, "but we're ready for it, and we'll be putting out only the most durable pieces."

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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