Since its founding in 2008, RedLine — a combination studio complex, exhibition venue and art-outreach facility — has changed the face of contemporary art in Denver. This was shown beyond any shadow of a doubt by last year’s 10X: RedLine, which surveyed the efforts of 75 artists associated with the place during its first decade. And the beat goes on with the next annual group show, Now That I Have Your (un) divided Attention…, which showcases pieces by nearly thirty artists, some of them the brightest lights on the local scene right now.
The artists eligible for inclusion were “resource” artists — established practitioners who serve as RedLine mentors; “resident” artists, who occupy the studios rent-free; and recent alumni. By definition, they’re all doing their own thing, and the job of organizing the disparate creations into something coherent was assigned to Nicole M. Crawford, assistant director and chief curator at the University of Wyoming Art Museum. To come up with some kind of connective tissue, Crawford asked each artist to “demonstrate division”; she writes in her curator’s statement that they could explore the topic “through identity, culture, space, and time,” and were encouraged to do so with their own “distinctive and personal vision.” In truth, the idea of “division” can be seen in only some of the pieces, while others refer to it nominally. But though division, even with Crawford’s wide-open definition, is a weak thread on which to hang a big show, this one works. The secret to its success is the spare exhibition design, which allows even radical shifts in aesthetics to go by smoothly.
“False Cedars,” by Mackenzie Browning, is one of the first pieces, covering the monumental pivoting door between the lobby and enormous main space with thousands of laser-cut paper leaves. Though clearly fake — a fact underscored by the unnatural greens of the papers — it still looks like a hedge. The planar character of the door gives order to the faux foliage, and also provides a contrast to it.
Becky Wareing Steele took the division idea literally, creating a dollhouse that’s been cut in two. One half is brightly painted and furnished traditionally, the other is a neutral shade and empty. For Steele, the finished half represents a home and the bare one a fix-and-flip. Colby Deal is also concerned with gentrification, but according to his artist’s statement, he’s looking at it from the other side: decline and neglect. He also subtly raises racial issues. Deal’s wall construction with an arte povera quality has been flanked by two traditional black-and-white photos of African-American women, making the construction look like a secular altarpiece. Adding to the ethereal mood of this passage in the show are a pair of creepily realistic cast-concrete legs that have been split at the torso. The compelling piece, about a failed romance, is by Sarah Bowling.
Although several works are overtly political, Tony Ortega’s is the most emphatic, taking on the topic of children separated from their parents at the border. Using materials associated with Mexico, including papier-mâché, straw and a serape, he creates a scene in which an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe inserted into Edvard Munch’s “Scream” hangs above a Christ child lying on a bed of straw, held within a metal cage. It’s very powerful. Though not as overt, Clay Hawkley’s two spray paint on prints and an accompanying suspension piece seem to take on the idea of toxic masculinity, though his statement talks only about competition and domination in a value-neutral way. The prints, one predominantly black, the other white, are mandalas that comprise photos of football jerseys, complete with their numbers; off to one side is a steel pole on which Hawkley has attached little picture magnets. The images on the magnets comment on the jersey prints, showing fans who have painted their naked torsos in team colors.
Mario Zoots also takes a step beyond traditional representation, as seen in a pairing of wall pieces that takes his signature approach of altering magazines and kicks it up a notch conceptually. To the left is a décollage of a magazine from 1970, which Zoots has cut to alter the cover image; on the right is a newly commissioned painting of that décollage, done by someone else and slightly larger. Another artist reflecting on his own traditions in a conceptual way, though doing it with abstraction instead, is Anthony Garcia Sr., a star of this city’s street-mural scene. For the oddly titled “Mark Buffalo,” Garcia has covered a wall with scribbled lines done in spray paint and then hung a layered pattern painting on top. The work bridges lowbrow and highbrow attributes brilliantly; it’s so smart and so beautiful, it’s definitely one of the exhibit’s showstoppers. Andrew Huffman contributes another striking pattern painting, though this one is purely formalist: The pattern is meticulously done in six colors arranged around five-sided tessellations, making each cluster of colors different from the others.
In its own small gallery in the back is a classic Charles Parson installation in his signature minimalist constructivist style. It’s a symmetrical cruciform structure in white-painted steel with an acrylic dome in the center, giving it a ceremonial character. Although Parson has been creating work of this type for decades, his sensibility still looks current.
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Across the room is a piece that could be an heir to Parson’s, at least aesthetically, because it’s sort of industrial, too: Trey Duvall’s collection of aquariums on legs, each with a lighted work lamp submerged inside. The danger of electricity in water immediately comes to mind, but at the same time, the piece is an elegant post-minimal installation. Oddly enough, other works in the exhibit also address the idea of submersion. Akin to the lamps-in-fish-tanks, though the components more closely resemble fish bowls, are the clear cast domes encasing daisies by Megan Gafford. Like Duvall, Gafford is looking at physics, with the flowers she’s encapsulated purposefully exposed to radiation. I don’t have any idea what Juntae TeeJay Hwang is getting at in his installation incorporating a big aquarium with constantly moving water, which is surmounted by a shelf with a lineup of weird little clay figures that look like cartoon renditions of outer-space aliens, but comprehensible or not, it’s stunning.
If the past is prologue, this first resident artist show of RedLine’s second decade gives us an early peek at up-and-comers who will be much better known in the future.
Now That I Have Your (un) divided Attention…, through February 23 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street, 303-296-4448, redlineart.org.