Season's Greetings

Already, the art season that began last fall and will end this spring has seen its

share of newsworthy events. Some of these developments, especially those in the publicly funded realm, seem all to the good. In November there was the completion, after five years of effort, of the multi-million-dollar remodeling and expansion of the Denver Art Museum. That effort has generated reams of positive national publicity, including an approving word from the venerable New York Times. And, as revealed by increased attendance figures, the museum's rehab has been a popular success--aside, that is, from the still-controversial entrance canopy by architect George Hoover that sadly competes for attention with Mark DiSuvero's marvelous "Lao Tzu" sculpture on nearby Acoma Plaza.

Also on the plus side is the $125,000 facelift of the Art and Art History Gallery at the University of Denver, which was unveiled to rave reviews a few weeks ago. Formerly a cramped and gloomy place, the DU gallery is now quite spiffy, with newly configured spaces, a taller ceiling and a state-of-the-art lighting system. This season has also seen the appearance of an entirely new public venue, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which mounted its first show in rental space at the high-rise at 1999 Broadway. It's unclear why the group hasn't yet purchased the old Vulcan Iron Works building as it said it would. But though it still lacks a permanent home, MoCA is expected to present other exhibits this year, most likely in its temporary quarters on Broadway.

While MoCA looks for a place to settle in, the 1/1 Gallery knows exactly where it's going. Faced with a huge rent increase that would have more than tripled his expenses, gallery owner and director Bill Havu has decided to leave Wazee Street, where he's been since 1991. His plan is to build a new gallery from the ground up (there's a Denver first for you) in the Golden Triangle neighborhood south of downtown. Once Havu closes his current show--a brief summary of the gallery's seven-year run in LoDo--he'll temporarily relocate to an old house at 1055 Cherokee Street, just across from the site of his yet-to-be-constructed gallery. That new building, designed by the Denver architectural firm of Humphries Poli, will be completed by mid-summer.

But not all of the news this season has been good news. Early last autumn, Inkfish Gallery, one of the city's most important exhibition spaces, closed after more than two decades of setting the standard for art display. And the Mackey Gallery, another significant cultural asset, has canceled its exhibition schedule. Though the gallery will remain open with art on its walls and its successful frame shop will keep operating, it will no longer present new exhibits.

Not surprisingly, the problems for both Inkfish and Mackey were financial in nature. Sluggish sales set against a background of rising exhibition costs were too much to bear. And as a result, many of the city's most-talked-about modern and contemporary artists have been unceremoniously set free and forced to find new representation in a suddenly more competitive field.

Many former Inkfish artists are already winding up in other galleries around town. Works by the late Denver modernist Edward Marecak (the subject of the last show presented by Inkfish director Paul Hughes) are now in the hands of Cherry Creek's Elizabeth Schlosser Gallery. Meanwhile, the prestigious Robischon Gallery has taken on another Inkfish expatriate, Boulder artist Amy Metier.

Robischon has also picked up old master Roland Bernier, one of the many artists--including sculptor Russell Beardsley and painters Jeff Wenzel and Homare Ikeda--who've fled the beleagured Mackey over the past year or so. But though Robischon, by all appearances, remains fiscally strong, it may soon join the crowd of galleries being forced to relocate. Once again, the culprit is the increased cost of doing business in LoDo, where real estate prices are inflating as rapidly as Super Bowl victory balloons.

"Of course we don't want to move," says gallery director Jim Robischon. But he has yet to hammer out a new lease with his building's owners, a fact that has caused him considerable consternation. Robischon says he's anxious "to get our location question settled so we can get back to focusing exclusively on our work: showing and selling art."

It's a noble goal--and as new shows at both Robischon and north Denver's Edge gallery make clear, good art is still being made and displayed amid the game of musical galleries.

As stressful as the lease negotiations at Robischon may be, they haven't prevented Jim Robischon from putting together a first-rate exhibit in the meantime. His current offering, Anne Connell, is a real triumph and by far the best of three shows now appearing at the gallery under the collective heading Singular Mysteries. (The other two feature works by photographer Janieta Eyre and installation artist Cameron Shaw.)

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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

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