Art Review

Review: Charles Livington Displays His Work Ethic at Pirate's Altared States

I’ve long been amazed that artists in Denver’s alternative scene will go to such lengths to pull off shows that run for only a few weeks. But few have gone to as much trouble as Charles Livingston has with Altared States at Pirate, which is anchored by an over-the-top installation that clearly required a tremendous amount of physical effort. I got exhausted just thinking about it.

Two enormous square solids suspended from the ceiling pretty much fill Pirate’s entire front space; the two read as cubes, but the tops and bottoms are open. These huge forms have been made out of more than 5,000 postcards mounted on transparent sheets of Dura-Lar. It would take hours just to complete that job, but it was only the finishing touch for Livingston.

The postcards are identical, depicting a Flemish altarpiece, and Livingston was inspired to mark each card with one word related to the passion of Christ. Using a Bible and a thesaurus, he found words that expanded on the idea of “passion,” and then entered the words into a spreadsheet program to eliminate duplicates, randomize their order and produce templates that spelled out the words in a simple large typeface. With a stylus, Livingston then pierced the cards, following the templates to spell out the selected words. In a handwritten journal, he recorded the number of pricks it took to spell each word; there were over 600,000 tiny holes by the time he was finished. The holes allow viewers to read the words, since the two shapes made of the postcards and Dura-Lar are lighted from the inside.

When I walked through the show with Livingston and considered what he had done, I told him I wasn’t sure if I should review it or organize an intervention for him. Choosing the former, I’d say that Livingston is interested in conveying the layered meaning of language and used the altarpiece as the taking-off point for that quest.
His efforts are so overwhelming that they almost dwarf the second show at Pirate. But under ordinary circumstances, we might also marvel at the effort — and skill — required to create the complex pencil drawings, some with watercolor, that make up Wayfinding, an intimate Lisa Kerns solo in the associates’ space. The intriguing compositions on paper are totally abstract, conveying nebulous and atmospheric imagery.

Both shows close this Sunday, June 26, at Pirate: Contemporary Art, 3655 Navajo Street. For more information, call 303-458-6058 or go to
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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