Review: DU's Faculty Triennial Shows How Vital Teachers Are to Colorado's Art Scene

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2015 Faculty Triennial Vicki Myhren Gallery 2121 East Asbury Avenue

Over the past decade, Dan Jacobs, the director of the University of Denver's Vicki Myhren Gallery, has built an impressive exhibition roster and presented one interesting show after another. In his related if distinct role as the curator of DU's art collection, Jacobs has also endeavored to document the various ways in which this private institution has been a key force in the art world around here.

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In a way, the 2015 Faculty Triennial brings both of these ambitions together. On one level, it's a knockout exhibit, perfectly in line with past efforts; on another, its subject -- the work of the studio art teachers in the School of Art and Art History -- shows how vital the department is, as so many of those included are among the most notable and talked-about artists in town. Come to think of it, that's something that's pretty much been true since the legendary Vance Kirkland founded DU's art department way back in 1929, when he was initially hired to teach painting.

This is only the second triennial exhibition dedicated to the faculty, although the school has presented faculty shows before. By their very nature, faculty shows have a subject -- the efforts of the studio professors and instructors -- but no theme, as each artist-educator has his or her own approach and medium. Jacobs points out that the 2015 Faculty Triennial wasn't curated, either, at least not in a typical way. By that he means that he didn't personally choose the pieces in the show, though he did make the pieces work together as a coherent exhibit -- no mean feat, considering the diversity of inclusions. Instead, he simply asked each of the artists who are teaching at DU to bring in works that they felt were representative of their current aesthetic practice.

Sometimes faculty shows are limited to full-timers, but Jacobs insisted that the adjunct faculty be included as well -- which makes a lot of sense, because it turns out that some in that group are just as prominent in the community.

Photo and photo-based works represent a strong current in this exhibit. The three interconnected pieces by Roddy MacInnes are really compelling. At first glance, they look like three grids made up of dozens of antique collodion prints done on heavy stock. They seem timeworn, with some of them creased, scratched or dog-eared. But looking closer, you realize that they are actually digital prints that MacInnes made by taking cell-phone pictures of faces, then antiquing them and joining them together using software.

Edie Winograde also mashes up the past and present in exaggeratedly horizontal color photos from her "Place and Time" series. These photos record historic reenactments, such as Indian battles and wagon trains. Using a long exposure, Winograde captures the movement through blurry swatches. It's great the way these pieces are both conceptual and part of the Western tradition.

Conor McGarrigle is an artist who uses photography as a means of documenting a performance. For "It takes 54,400 steps to walk Colfax Avenue," he video-recorded the actual walk, then used programs that measure time and perform frame-content analysis to automatically select the images that would be turned into static prints. Interestingly, this produced a sameness to the hundreds of images.

Though Chinn Wang used screen-printing and painting for her wall installation, "Album," the images in it are photo-derived. On either end of a wall, Wang arranged rectangular plywood elements covered with altered prints of floral pictures. The subjects of each of these images were cut out, and the cut-out parts were arranged in an oval that holds the center of the piece. It's very intriguing.

Another artist who has created wall sculptures is Mia Mulvey, who is working in felt, ceramics and sometimes 3-D digital printed nylon. The felt is precision-cut into the form of roots or branches, while the ceramic and nylon objects resemble flowers or fruit. Mulvey has a tremendous sense for color, which you will notice in the gorgeous deep blues and chilly whites that she used here.

Derrick Velasquez takes a different approach to three-dimensional wall pieces. In the center of his section is one of his well-known untitled bas-reliefs, made from a board with strips of vinyl laid over it so that it takes a found shape determined by gravity. To the right is "Symbols of Progress," a multi-panel formalist painting presented informally (it is simply propped against the wall). To the left is "Sexy on the Wall," made up of found materials visually held together by the piece's vertical orientation. A lot of artists are doing this kind of messy room installation, but Velasquez is different from most in that he makes it beautiful.

More classically formalist is well-known Denver painter Jeffrey Keith, who is represented by one of his signature post-minimalist paintings that juxtapose loose brushwork with the illusion of patterning. In "Blue September," an oil on linen, painterly and expressionist lines in blues and grays form blocks that are artfully crammed into the picture plane.

Lawrence Argent is one of the city's biggest art stars: in addition to teaching at DU, he is the creator of "I See What You Mean," known more commonly as the Big Blue Bear, one of the city's most beloved public works. His piece in the Triennial is a maquette for a part of his "C'era Una Volta" cycle of pieces currently being installed in San Francisco. Using computers, Argent abstracts classical sculptures and fragments. The model in this show is a lightweight 3-D print depicting a standing woman whose proportions have been flattened and stretched out. The full-sized piece will ultimately be executed in stainless steel and rise to a height of 92 feet.

Given the tenor of this show, with all of the digital works and the many conceptual and abstract pieces, the inclusion of traditional drawing is somewhat unexpected, but it's here nonetheless, in the form of meticulous realist silverpoints on paper by Tom Mazzullo that depict such unlikely subjects as a knot of cloth or a spiral of paper.

Also employing representational imagery rendered in a straightforward manner is Deborah Howard's "Echoes #2," a four-panel bas-relief covered with casts of old-fashioned shoes. Although each of the panels is unique, they are designed in such a way that they could be lined up to form a continuous set of repeated images covering a whole wall.

With nearly two dozen faculty artists represented here, some of them by multiple pieces, it's impossible to make note of everything, so I've just pointed out a few things that struck me as being standouts. But given the high standards expected from the studio faculty at DU, it's no surprise that everything in this show turns out to be worth a look.

See more photos from the Triennial on the next page.

2015 Faculty Triennial Through February 22 at the Vicki Myhren Gallery, 2121 East Asbury Avenue, 303-871-3716, du.edu/vmgallery.

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