Review: See Michael Theodore’s Superlative Supraliminal Before It Closes

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There are only a few days left to catch Supraliminal, Michael Theodore’s impressive, site-specific installation at LoDo’s David B. Smith Gallery, and if you haven’t seen it yet, make time to do so, because it’s unforgettable.

Theodore lives in Boulder, where he is on the faculty of the College of Music at the University of Colorado (you read that right: the music school). But it is not as a sound artist that Theodore has come to the attention of Colorado’s art world; instead, it’s for his talent in orchestrating visual effects in monumental installations, even if his day job is as a composer of music. In both creative spheres — sight and sound — Theodore has revealed his keen interest in manipulating digital effects. For his visual art, he combines computerized components with actual physical materials — as he’s done for Supraliminal.

As you enter the darkened David B. Smith, your attention will be drawn to an internally lighted wall that runs for over 24 feet along the left side of the main space. Theodore has built a gigantic box, painted black, which juts out from the wall, appearing to be an extension of it. The box is faced by six acrylic panels that have been pierced through digitally guided laser-cuts in a predetermined pattern that’s vaguely vegetal and evocative of the veins on leaves. Looking more closely, however, you realize that the linear compositions do not actually ape forms found in nature, but are completely non-objective doodles that have been routinized.

Thinking about this aspect of the patterns, it occurred to me that Theodore had taken a standard of abstract expressionism — automatism, in which compositions emerge though the unconsciously guided moves of the artist — and pushed that concept one step further, actually producing his automatism automatically.  Approaching the box sets off sensors that activate the hidden, multi-color lighting system; even walking by the piece will cause it to change colors in some kind of sequence. David B. Smith, director of his namesake gallery, says Theodore has periodically adjusted the lighting so that it will react differently to the same prompts on different days.

Running immediately behind the pierced acrylic panels is a swath of tulle, the gauzy fabric typically used for wedding veils; the tulle has been pulled tightly across the back of the panels, like a window screen. Set further back is even more tulle that hangs from the ceiling across the whole length of the box, but instead of being installed so that it’s flat, it has been gathered in the manner of draperies. The continuous bends and folds of the tulle catch the ever-changing colored lights projected onto it.

Surely there are only a few people in the community who could accommodate a 24-foot-long work of art in their homes — let alone afford to buy it — and it was obviously with this fact in mind that the gallery is supplementing Supraliminal with a nice selection of associated smaller works, some of them very small and quite inexpensive. Their compositions are similar to the patterns that pierce the panels on the installation, and they are also computer-guided laser cuts — but in the case of these related works, the patterns have been etched only slightly and do not fully pierce the small panels. The results are very elegant, with some having been painted black and then engraved, while others were engraved first,  then finished with interference paint that almost imperceptibly changes the color of the panels as viewers move by them.

The clock is ticking on Theodore's Supraliminal, which is set to close on Saturday, February 27, at David B. Smith Gallery, 1543 A Wazee Street. Call 303-893-4234 or go to davidbsmithgallery.com for more information.

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