Objects of desire featured in Red Light, the new show at at Manifest Gallery

Every building has a history, and the sordid past of Niwot's Manifest Gallery influenced the theme of its new show that opens tonight: Red Light: Tragic beauties and other objects of desire.

Turns out that in the 1970s, the building that now holds the gallery was a brothel -- and not the respectable kind of brothel, either.

"It was incredibly disgusting," says co-owner Dia Kline. "Like a guy with his wife and her daughter, or something like that. We've had some neighbors tell us first-hand accounts of seeing police raid the place, and people run out the back."

Instead of hiding the history of the location, Kline and fellow owner Karen Adler decided to embrace it. Kline says that while she and Adler maintain a sense of humor about the theme of the show, and while the theme itself is an homage to the building, the content of the show deserves a category all its own.

"The art doesn't focus on the seedy underbelly of society," she explains. "That's the springboard, but we reined it in under the 'objects of desire' category. It's the idea of looking at an object and objectifying it and dehumanizing it. Or looking at an object and in-spiriting it, like with Barbara Abel's mannequins."

Abel's work, which involves photographing mannequins, graces the posters promoting the show. The haunting, delicate quality of the photos anthropomorphizes the plasticine women and seems to embody a slight sexuality that lends itself to the theme.

"I've been a fan of Barbara's work for eight years," says Kline. "When we hit upon the idea for the show, even though the mannequins were not prostitutes, the reading of the theme onto them made them completely appropriate because they are soulful inanimate objects that in a sense prostituted themselves as a way to try and entice people and bring them in to stores."

Adler thinks Abel's work fits well with the theme, and says an equal amount of thought was put into choosing the other fifteen to twenty artists involved in the show -- since the exhibition contains lost objects and literature as well as visual art.

"I like what's happening with the show," Adler explains. "We got really lucky getting some of Scott Fraser's art, because he's a really established artist. We also got some old, vintage buttons, some cigar labels and some press photos -- all featuring women and the sort of objectification of women. We have a beautiful painting by Quang Ho, and we also found Jay Moynahan, who's a historian, and he wrote Tales of Colorado Sporting Women, so we're writing their names on pieces of silk and putting them in the window."

The theme of Red Light focuses primarily on female objects of desire. Adler explains that the feminine focus is not out of line with art as a whole.

"Men are obviously objectified," she says. "But paintings don't seem to sell as well with the men. If you look at art history, women have always been the object -- certainly there have always been men, like Michelangelo's David, for example, but European history tells us it's the male gaze that gives us the object. So it's not too hard to figure out that it's the men doing the gazing and doing all the creating about the gazing, and historically art has reflected that."

Adler and Kline aren't expecting visitors to take away a certain message from the show, even if the theme is apparent. "We're letting people decide what to think," Adler explains. "We want to evoke different emotions -- there are some humorous parts and some sort of sadness, but it's pretty well-rounded and we're not getting too heavy."

Red Light opens tonight with the reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at Manifest Gallery, 108 Second Avenue in Niwot. For more information about the show, go to Manifest's website.

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