For its first exhibit of 2019, Pirate Contemporary Art, one of the area’s oldest artist cooperatives (what hipsters who’ve never been to one call “DIY spaces”), has launched The 39th Pirate Group Show, which highlights the accomplishments of its members.
Pirate was founded in early 1980, just a month or so after Spark was established...although those involved with setting up Pirate didn’t know about the artists opening Spark, and vice versa. For decades, Pirate was a landmark in the art scene centered on the 3600 block of Navajo Street. But that neighborhood was hit by a tsunami of gentrification a few years ago, and rent increases forced the Pirates out of their longtime home. Arty neighbors Edge and Next left, too; Pirate, Edge and Next all wound up in a commercial district that is still relatively cheap, in the 40 West Arts District of Lakewood. Although Zip 37, the last remaining gallery on Navajo, was recently disbanded, word is that it may be reformulated and joining the crowd in and around West Colfax Avenue.
The “new” Pirate space is impressive, with large, high-ceilinged rooms that provide the perfect setting for art shows. There are typically two at a time, with the handsome room up front given over to an associate member, while shows dedicated to the members are on view in the large gallery in the back, a reversal of the layout at the old north Denver space. The 39th Pirate Group Show fills the entire place, while still observing the associates/members division.
A defining characteristic of a show organized around a co-op's membership is that it can't make sense like a thematically organized group exhibit, because the individual artists are each following their own course. That definitely detracts from this particular show, but it's been so ably installed by the volunteer crew that it somehow comes together as a worthwhile experience, if not a coherent one. Then again, all of the pieces are contemporary, so that creates a loose bond.
Right inside the front door, in the area dedicated to associate members, the show gets off to a good start with an intriguing collection of eccentric and evocative little objects on a stand and hung on the wall. To make these, Megan Bray used found materials including candy necklaces, a phone charger and faux fur, paired with injected poly-rubber in electric colors. For eccentricity, they're topped by a nearby pair of figures in bronze and inflated balloons by Erik Pendergraft. Other standouts are the totemic mop handles by Judith Grey; the abstract watercolor by Vinnie Alfonso; the neo-pop collage by Tim McKay, with every element taken from the same comic book; and the vaguely surrealist drawing by Leah Swenson.
In the main space, where the members have their works, are two installations and quite a bit of sculpture, which may be why this area doesn't work as well visually: As big as the back gallery is, it’s just too crowded. But I like a lot of what's in this section anyway. Julie Jablonski’s charred front door is suspended from the ceiling, dividing the room into mini galleries. Weird representational pieces, essentially examples of conceptual realism, create something of a show within a show: There's the pseudo-death chamber with headless child and an electric chair by BUG; Walter Barton’s papier-mâché figure of a woman with a ship substituting for her head; the white plaster woman’s head coming out of a cardboard box by Justine Beard; and Brian Cavanaugh’s strange planter pierced by a shovel.
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The biggest surprise comes from Charles Livingston, who has mostly done installations and even performances. Here he's represented by a pair of sublime geometric paintings, which are reworked from earlier pieces he'd done. These are my favorite pieces in the exhibit.
No review of a Pirate group show would be complete without mentions of longtime member Louis Recchia, a neo-expressionist, and the group’s founder, Phil Bender. Recchia shows a painting in his classic magic-realist style, a fallen angel done with pointillist dots in pastel shades. Bender, whose signature is assembling found objects of the same type, is represented by a stack of Monopoly game-box tops hung on the wall.
I love Pirate’s gallery space in Lakewood, but 40 West is quite a hike from central Denver, and that’s impacted attendance, though openings and First Fridays still attract crowds. See this current show before it closes on Sunday, January 13. Pirate is located at 7130 West 16th Avenue in Lakewood; call 720-601-0966 or go to Pirateartonline.org.