New Year's Edge

Ten years ago, David Zimmer was one of the hottest young kids on Denver's alternative scene. He presented impressive shows at Artyard and Pirate that immediately established his name for photography and sculpture. His ready success was clearly indicated when the Denver Art Museum included one of his installations combining both of these mediums in a group exhibit of regional contemporary photographers.

Though not exactly forgotten, Zimmer is much less well known today. That's because he moved in late 1998 when his employer, Neiman Marcus, transferred him. As a result, he fell out of the local exhibition scene, and examples of his efforts only appeared in group shows from time to time. But Zimmer is back now, having left Neiman to return to Denver and start his own graphics firm.

It's been nine years since Zimmer showed in a solo around here, making Nowhere, the current offering at Artyard Contemporary Sculpture, a welcome reminder of just how good he is.

In conceiving the show, Zimmer took into account the fact that people would either have to be reminded of him or be introduced to him for the first time. Though all the works are new, several touch on concerns from his earlier pieces. Nearly everything looks like a Victorian curiosity and a post-modern vignette all at the same time. The scientific-looking cabinets -- some, such as "Law of Gravitation," with preserved insects in them -- hark back to Zimmer's Pirate days; "Winter #4," a wall-mounted installation of photos in back-lit transparent acrylic cylinders, obviously relates to the work shown at the DAM. The utter standouts, however, are not these self-referential retro pieces, but the newest efforts: miniature tabletop installations.

Admittedly, the scientifically bent box sculptures and the wall of photos in cylinders can be described as small installations, but not compared to Zimmer's newest works, which look like diminutive interior spaces. By making tiny installations, Zimmer is doing a witty take on the normally room-sized medium. The small size has the added benefit of making the pieces salable, a word rarely used in association with installations.

Three of the best pieces include small flat-screen LCD monitors on which memory-chip versions of videos are shown. In "Tornado Vitrine," Zimmer constructed a glass-and-wood showcase set on lion's-paw feet. Inside, twigs that evoke full-grown trees envelop a small monitor playing a loop of a tornado accompanied by a storm soundtrack. It's like a Bill Viola for the mantel.

"Tornado Vitrine" is a little like a mechanical music box, but not as much as the other two LCD-enhanced pieces, "Lonesome Bird" and "Cordon Bleu Finch Box." In these, the video loops depict close-ups of finches and are accompanied by chirping soundtracks. In "Lonesome Bird," Zimmer placed the LCD screen in an apothecary jar; in "Cordon Bleu Finch Box," he installed two screens into a camera-like device, with an oscilloscope in one aperture and the finch in the other. All three of these pieces are tremendously successful.

Another group of the mini-installations includes little versions of everyday things, particularly chairs. In the title piece "Nowhere," Zimmer puts one chair into each of several apothecary jars that are partly filled with powdered chalk. The jars are encased in a glass-and-wood vitrine labeled with a metal tag, like a specimen case in a natural-history museum.

Nowhere is a great little show made up of a bunch of great little pieces. With more than two weeks left in its run at Artyard, there's plenty of time to catch it.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy is someone that everyone's heard of because she relentlessly promotes her enterprises -- notably Capsule, her gallery on Santa Fe Drive. Like David Zimmer, Murphy first made an aesthetic reputation for herself in the city's alternative scene of the 1990s. Her work was exhibited at Edge and later at commercial galleries, including William Havu and the now-closed Fresh Art. She was also a founder of the now-defunct ILK, and her work made an appearance in the first biennial presented at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art.

However, it's been several years since her last solo, so a lot of people probably think of her as a gallery director and not an artist. Now, with CLUSTERF**K on display at + Gallery, Murphy hopes to right that wrong impression.

The show features a new direction for Murphy, who was previously known for creating rectangular pieces arranged in grids and, later, into freer clusters. She also created textile pieces, including her very Mike Kelly-ish coat made of discarded stuffed animals. In a way, the new pieces are a continuation of both sensibilities. They are multi-part compositions made up of repeated and various elements scattered across the walls, but instead of being rectangles, they're organic, like the stuffed animals. In these works, the shapes are reminiscent of recognizable things such as Easter eggs and bars of soap.

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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