I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It doesn’t make sense to tie a members' show to a specific theme when the participants have little in common — ideally, such an exhibit should be a free-for-all, with each artist presenting what they do best, whatever that may be. Luckily, that’s pretty much how this year’s members' show, Near in the Distance, turned out. As RedLine director Louise Martorano observes with a laugh, “The artists never follow the theme, and just do what they want.”
The unwieldy task of organizing the show fell to Rhode Island-based curator Nicole J. Caruth. Some months ago, Caruth came to RedLine to speak with the residents about what they intended to create for the exhibition, and she found that some of the artists were uncomfortable with the theme, feeling that their work would be inauthentic. As a result, she did an admirable job of adjusting the Afrofuturism theme to the mostly non-African American artists at RedLine, or at least was flexible enough to allow the artists to adjust the theme themselves. As she says in her curator’s statement, “You won’t find the typical aesthetics associated with Afrofuturism here.”
When I talked with Caruth just hours before Near in the Distance was set to open, she told me that gentrification was on the minds of many of the RedLine artists. And that makes sense, since artists — even those artists with temporarily subsidized spaces at RedLine — are on the front lines of the process: Artists typically have their studios and often their homes in affordable areas, and here in Denver, those formerly cheap neighborhoods are becoming high-rent districts virtually overnight. Caruth takes note of this, too, in her curator’s statement: “The artists in this exhibition focus on the world as they know it now, tackling topics such as displacement, surveillance, climate change, hybridity, gender equality and rest.”
As viewers enter the main gallery, they encounter Regan Rosburg’s “Everything Is Fine,” wrapping around a freestanding wall; the side facing the entry looks something like a big, abstract drip painting. The piece addresses pollution and climate change, and focuses on Rosburg's residency in the Arctic, to which she sailed from Svalbard, Norway, aboard a tall ship with other artists, along with scientists and writers. On one side of the wall, Rosburg has draped ghost nets and other bits of plastic flotsam, and on the opposite side are scores of pieces of correspondence from artists, children, scientists and others. The plastic-covered side reflects the negatives related to the issue, while the side with the letters reveals hope for the future.
Artist and community activist Anthony Garcia Sr. has also taken over both sides of a freestanding wall for his two-sided mural, “White Wash.” On the prominent side is a set of horizontal stripes evocative of Latino weaving, marred by a swath of whitewash and on the other side broader stripes in a dirty white all but completely cover the marks and images that lie beneath. As Garcia explains in his artist's statement, the goal is a society that values its communities and their histories. Gentrification and the erasure of existing cultures is clearly on the mind of the artist, one of the city's premier muralists.
Finally, established Denver artists Charles Parson and Carley Warren both deserve a tip of the hat. Parson presents an ambitious wall installation about the landscape that incorporates drawings of mountains with clear acrylic contraptions filled with sand. Warren contributes another classic work, a pair of wooden sculptures whose forms are based on the shapes of conventionalized spiders.
Over the past decade, RedLine has shown itself to be a place where you can see some of the area's best contemporary artists, as well as some of its most exciting emerging ones. That’s more than enough of a theme.
Near in the Distance, through March 8 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street, 303-296-4448, redlineart.org