Art Review

Review: Imaginary Takes on Life Forms at Pirate

Performance still from Simulacra Vision: Nicole Banowetz with Chris Bagley.
Performance still from Simulacra Vision: Nicole Banowetz with Chris Bagley. Chris Bagley
After being priced out of its longtime spot at 3655 Navajo Street earlier this year, Pirate Contemporary Art, the city’s flagship artists’ cooperative, found a new home outside of Denver, in Lakewood. These are the wages of gentrification: The city’s alternative art infrastructure is being off-shored to the inner suburbs.

The area where Pirate washed up, known as 40 West, has also welcomed two other co-ops from the 3600 block of Navajo: Edge Gallery, which is now at 7001 West Colfax Avenue, and Next Gallery, at 6851 West Colfax Avenue, both within a few blocks of the new Pirate. A major selling point for this down-at-the-heels neighborhood (other than cheap rent) is that the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design’s gorgeous jewel-box campus is nearby. But the best-known landmark in these parts is the infamous Casa Bonita, leading some to give a new nickname to the neighborhood: "the Casa Bonita Art District”!

click to enlarge Installation shot of Indeterminate: Lisa Kerns. - LISA KERNS
Installation shot of Indeterminate: Lisa Kerns.
Lisa Kerns
The new Pirate is laid out differently than the old one, so viewers enter into the associates’ space and proceed to the main gallery instead of the other way around. Lisa Kerns: Indeterminate is now in the associates' space, but Kerns told me this will be her last show as an associate; she is ascending to full membership and will soon be able to present her work in the main area reserved for Pirate members.

Indeterminate includes abstract musings on outer space and the nature of the elements. The larger watercolors are automatist abstracts built from organic shapes: Kerns poured pigments onto the papers and allowed them to puddle and dry, then repeated the process again and again. The resulting shapes are dominated by the curves formed by the margins of the successive puddles. The other works are small pencil drawings from her “Searching the Sky” series, in which she builds arrangements of dots against dark grounds, depicting fragments of the cosmos.

In the members' section, Simulacra Vision: Nicole Banowetz with Chris Bagley is remarkably ambitious in scale. Banowetz is well known for her inflatable sculptures made of vinyl; the stitched shapes are held in place by forced air being blown out by compressors. Though the pieces are conceptually identical to those giant Santa and Frosty figures on people’s lawns this time of year, Banowetz sources the shapes not from holiday clichés, but by looking to the complex forms of microscopic life. She then adds lighting and other digital visual effects, including a projected video.

click to enlarge Inflated elements of Simulacra Vision: Nicole Banowetz with Chris Bagley. - ROBERT DELANEY
Inflated elements of Simulacra Vision: Nicole Banowetz with Chris Bagley.
Robert Delaney
The show starts off with what can only be described as a mashup of a womb and a crash pad, complete with a birth-canal entry and throw pillows scattered on the floor. I skipped entering and instead just looked in; the show itself was claustrophobic enough for me. For a moment it felt like I was in a room with half the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Though there are open places where the electronic equipment is installed, to get to the finale you need to push through a slit in a wall. Banowetz has jammed a lot of strange, formal elements into the space, and Bagley’s lighting highlights the weird conglomerations, making them almost creepy...or at least ominous.

Kicking up that edgy quotient, Banowetz will be wearing an inflated costume that matches the installation for a performance slated for a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday, December 8; Bagley's projected lighting will make Banowetz merge with, perhaps even disappear into, the sculptures.

The Kern show and the Banowetz/Bagley collaboration run through December 10 at Pirate Contemporary Art, 7130 West 16th Avenue in Lakewood (follow the sandwich-board signs). Call 303-909-5748 or go to for more 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