The Lab on Santa Fe in Denver Makes Must-See Exhibit | Westword

This Exhibit Is a Must-See in the Art District on Santa Fe

"The best art is made when we’re unsettled.”
"I'M F.I.N.E. EVERYTHINGS F.I.N.E," by David Dixon, 16" x 30", photographic print.
"I'M F.I.N.E. EVERYTHINGS F.I.N.E," by David Dixon, 16" x 30", photographic print. David Dixon
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“How do we live when there’s too much water? Too little water?” asks artist Vonder Gray, diving straight to the heart of the paradoxical theme of Floods as Drought, this month’s art exhibition at the Laboratory on Santa Fe, aka the Lab.

Co-curated by Gray and Lab founder and creative director Josh Berkowitz, Floods as Drought will showcase eighteen local artists working in a variety of mediums, all exploring the theme of “cataclysmic insufficiency” in both the personal and the abstract. It will open on Saturday, November 11, with an artists' reception from 1 to 4 p.m. and run through Saturday, December 2.

Tackling difficult questions in today’s environmental and political climate may seem daunting, but for Gray, “it's about starting conversations. What do you want to talk about? It’s not what Josh wants, and it’s not what I want. ... It's about allowing the community to change your perception,” she explains. “It’s fascinating.”
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Hip-hop artist Dime Dee talking with gallery regulars Julie and Ryan Smith.
A burgeoning art space in the heart of the Santa Fe Arts District, the Lab has been steadily growing its community since opening in August 2022. It is quickly becoming known not only for its monthly visual art exhibitions, but also for establishing itself as one of the only performance-art galleries in the district. The Anything Goes Show is a monthly performance-art show curated by Berkowitz, in which he invites anywhere from four to seven local performance artists to present their original acts against the backdrop of that month’s visual-art exhibition.

Each exhibition at the Lab carries a pointed theme that aims to elicit meaningful conversation balanced with a sense of humor. “We’re always trying to pull on opposites,” says Berkowitz. “When things are serious, how do we make it more irreverent? And when things get too light, how do we deepen it?”

And while the visual art and the performances are not intentionally curated together, they often end up informing each other in some way. “Anything we do here is performance art,” says Berkowitz, “There's a performance inside each visual piece, inside each prompt, inside each call for artists, each theme, each exhibition. There always feels like some sort of movement and theatricality to it.”
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Creative director Josh Berkowitz performing to Frank Zappa using golf and proud Jewish father affirmations.
For Berkowitz, his intent as an artist and as a curator is to tell stories that people need to hear, and his diverse background in both the visual- and performance-art worlds significantly informs his approach to curation. After cutting his teeth in New York’s underground performance-art scene, he moved to Southern California, where he diversified his artistic career while studying in Ventura under his mentor, legendary artist John M. White. He soon became the co-artistic director of a multi-disciplinary arts venue in Venice Beach called the Electric Lodge, where he fostered a cross-pollination of communities — a strong intention he has also brought with him to the Lab on Santa Fe.

Serendipitously, Berkowitz and Gray met during a First Friday Art Crawl in January this year and quickly realized their stunningly parallel journeys in the art world, from galleries in New York to performance in California and their mutual connection with White. Gray has grown to be one of Berkowitz’s most trusted collaborators, and after participating in the Lab’s first performance-art show in March this year, she has been involved in the gallery’s monthly happenings ever since.
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Guest curator Vonder Gray and her abstract masterpieces.
“We are creating a legacy of thought and experience that I am honored to be a part of,” says Gray. “I love to be challenged out of my complacency, and Josh Berkowitz has created a space, a lab, to do just that.” Reflecting on the range of artwork that they co-curated for Floods as Drought, she notes, “It’s about the humanity and the humor.”

A powerful piece in the exhibit is David Dixon’s “I’m F.I.N.E. Everything’s F.I.N.E."

“This photograph pulls you in through the brilliant colors and the roaring urgency of the water, and then there’s the hand, and the clever title,” Gray explains. “We are a culture of, ‘I’m fine, everything’s fine,’ instead of, ‘Help!’ But humor allows us to face the situation head on.”

“Carrie Shiffrin’s 'Snowbirds' also made me laugh,” Gray continues, referring to a vibrant, dreamlike watercolor depicting an elderly couple wearing matching pink suits and standing knee-deep in water in front of their McMansion. “Shiffrin's skill is unmistakable in the color, subject and expression on those faces. … Again, the humor of the piece allows us to look into its depths and wonder at the human spirit.”
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"Snowbirds," by Carrie Shiffrin, 16" x 20", watercolor and ink.
Carrie Shiffrin
“I just want to start conversations," says Gray. "We don’t have to fix the world — God knows I'm not gonna fix the world — but I do have a twelve-year-old granddaughter, and the world needs to get fixed for her. ... If you’re not talking about the problem, you become the problem.”

“I always feel like everything's getting better and worse in the same moment,” adds Berkowitz, “And that’s what's so interesting about this gallery. We're going to focus on cataclysmic insufficiency, but that is balanced with building a really deep connective community and just being unsettled at the same time. … The best art is made when we’re unsettled.”

Floods as Drought runs from Saturday, November 11, through December 2. An artists' reception will run from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, November 11; admission is free. The Anything Goes Show takes place at 8 p.m. Friday, November 17. The Lab on Santa Fe, 840 Santa Fe Drive. Tickets can be found here
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