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The virgin gallery is beautifully finished with dazzling white walls and spiffy polished wood floors. Its expensive lighting system is worth every penny, lending the place a marvelous inner glow. This storefront, formerly a copy shop, went from gutted retail to completed gallery space in just six weeks. Judish must be a fanatic.

But even though this is Judish's first gallery, he's no beginner in the gallery world. In the 1970s, fresh out of the University of Maryland with an art degree, Judish was a director at a series of Washington, D.C., galleries that included the Studio Gallery and Protech-McIntosh, the forerunner of New York's famous Max Protech Gallery. At the time, Washington was an important contemporary art center where post-painterly abstractionists like Morris Louis and Gene Davis held sway. And Judish's resume must have looked good: Later, in the 1980s, he was hired as a curator for Aron and Phyllis Katz's private collection in New York City. New York was throbbing during the go-go '80s, and Judish was right in the center of it.

His involvement with the Katz collection forged many important New York bonds that Judish, who took a trip back to Gotham just before opening his Denver gallery, still maintains. Those connections have allowed him to become the Denver representative for a variety of prominent contemporary artists. "I'd been gone for years, so I wasn't sure I'd be remembered," says Judish, "but I was greeted as an old friend by many. I was especially touched by Holly Solomon, who was very encouraging and who offered me anything I wanted in her gallery."

Back in Denver in recent years, Judish has worked as a freelance art consultant. But though he remains widely known in those circles, Judish says he's always dreamed of owning his own gallery--a vision he says has been "in the planning stages for more than twenty years."

And what ambitious plans those are. Judish envisions his new gallery as a place where Denverites will be able to get their first looks at the work of internationally famous artists and, he hopes, help launch international careers for select locals. "We're representing the estate of Robert Mapplethorpe," notes Judish as he gestures toward a suite of five of the photographer's untitled studies of calla lilies, which are displayed in the back conference room and are not a part of the Figure 5 show. For the fall, Judish is planning a survey of the work of photographer Andres Serrano, of "Piss Christ" infamy; for next spring, a show devoted to painter Robert Longo is in the works. But for this first show, he's forgone big names from back East to showcase a group of artists who, with one exception, hail from Denver.

The Figure 5 exhibit takes its name from a famous Charles Demuth proto-pop painting from the 1920s, but here it stands for the five unrelated artists who've been brought together for the exhibit. And unrelated may be too tame a term; in fact, the show begins with a juxtaposition of William Stockman and Rob Douglas, two artists who couldn't be more different.

Leaning against the wall opposite the entry door are three mammoth drawings by Stockman, one of the finest contemporary artists in the city. For these drawings, rendered in charcoal on paper, Stockman has combined classically drawn passages with scribbled elements, a combination that lends an enigmatic quality to the work. For example, what does "Self Portrait as a Fountain" mean? The charcoal drawing is anchored by a large image of a nubile young woman whose face has been obscured as it's hit by the splashing water of the fountain.

By contrast, Douglas shows three handsome and obviously interrelated acrylic-on-panel abstracts. He uses drawings to construct his paintings and in this case divides them into clusters of rectangles stained with thin layers of paint and topped off with gestural marks. While Stockman presents literal images and invites us to find meaning in them, Douglas is happy to let his abstractions speak for themselves.

Beyond, in what Judish informally refers to as the "side gallery," are the next pair of artists: Denver's Mary Mackey, who directs her own namesake gallery on the west side, and Ellen Gelman, from Washington, D.C., the only non-local in the show. Mackey's work is unexpected. Instead of the abstracted still-life scenes she was painting last year, she's now working in vaguely traditional landscapes. Using oil paint on opaque Mylar sheets, Mackey depicts in "Black and White Landscape" an eerie and desolate scene of bare trees on the prairie. The old-fashioned gilt wood frames she uses provide just the right touch for these conservative paintings.

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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