Variety Packs

Though still in its inaugural year, Ron Judish Fine Arts has already established itself as one of the city's most interesting galleries. Although director Ron Judish has earned this reputation with excellent exhibits featuring nationally famous artists, he doesn't ignore local talent. And his current show, 3, is a real charm.

Grouping three artists is a natural, given the three-part design of the gallery's layout: a large showroom up front, a narrow center space and another large exhibition room in back. As arranged by Judish, one of the best show designers around, each artist has his or her own defined space but is also presented in relation to the others. As a result, despite the fact that Judish has assembled three very different kinds of art by three very different artists, his sensitive and intelligent installation creates connections for a surprisingly seamless exhibit.

As viewers enter, they encounter the high-tech color work of Denver photographer Bob Coller, an in-depth display smartly arrayed around the grand front gallery. These large, closely related Type C photographs from 1998 share the same unusual framing: They're mounted behind borderless sheets of clear acrylic panels attached to the wall with thick, clear plastic tabs at the top. Coller's use of plastic heightens the sheen of the already shiny photos, adding to the incredible luminosity he's able to achieve. The photos are so radiant, they look like they're back-lit--but they're not. "Euclidean Boxes," for example, is so toned up it suggests nothing less than stained glass.

Coller's photographs, which he calls "photo collages," are the result of a complicated, multi-step process. He takes a close-up still-life photograph using either a 4-x-5 or a 35mm camera, then takes the negative (or, in some cases, a transparency) and scans it into a computer. On a monitor, Coller takes the original image and repeats it in a spiral, like a kaleidoscope, multiplying the new image into an all-over composition. The dense, repetitive pattern is then printed digitally onto traditional photographic paper, so that the pieces, while revealing their metamorphosis through newfangled software, still retain the character of good, old-fashioned color photographs.

The tension between old and new is also reflected in Coller's subjects. He photographs blossoms or leaves, the kinds of things most often associated with nature photography. By arranging floral and other organic forms into mathematical patterns with a computer, Coller links his photos to one of the main currents of contemporary art in the 1990s: the reconciliation of nature to culture. But the resulting patterns are also reminiscent of early modernism--both the motifs of nineteenth-century English designer William Morris and the ornament by turn-of-the-century Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. (As an ad hoc supplement to the 3 exhibit, viewers may want to look through the gallery's large front windows up the block to the very Sullivanian 1906 Sugar Building by early Denver modernists Gove and Walsh. Like Coller, they used organic forms to geometric ends.)

The lighthearted and decorative character of Coller's photos provides a dramatic counterpoint to the sometimes disturbing conceptual sculptures of Ira Sherman, which are next up in 3. Sherman's signature is the interactive kinetic sculpture, exquisitely crafted and often meant to be worn in performance pieces. And many of them are not only dangerous-looking, they're downright dangerous to the wearer--and, occasionally, even to bystanders. Sherman's 1988 "Explosion Injection Former" is a baroque tangle of steel, brass and plastic that fastens over the shoulders like a harness; when worn, it simulates the creation process and actually produces, via gunpowder, a symbolic work of art. While producing the symbolic piece--a small, circular metal shape--"Explosion Injection Former" tightens around the wearer to suggest artistic suffering. But even at rest, without those controlled explosions and inflicted pain, "Explosion Injection Former" looks menacing.

Even more ominous in appearance and intention is "The Arbitrator," a three-part sculpture from 1995-1997 made of steel, brass, stainless steel and plastic. Like "Explosion Injection Former," it's designed to be worn as a harness--in this case, by two people, who negotiate a disagreement. When activated, "The Arbitrator" applies pressure to the wearers in timed increments; taken to its logical end, "The Arbitrator" is capable of actually killing its fearless, if hapless, wearers.

Some of Sherman's sculptures displayed in 3 overtly refer to human sexuality. "The Seed," a 1993 piece made of stainless steel, plastic, brass and aluminum with both electrical and pneumatic features, is a fortress for the storage of frozen semen: a vacuum jar chilled by liquid nitrogen. When an intruder approaches, motion detectors are tripped and the piece's position is shifted, hiding the jar. Though "The Seed" is not meant to be worn and is instead a more or less conventional sculpture (in structure, if not in content), it does have a wearable element. The semen-containing jar may be removed and worn as a necklace for short periods of time.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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

Latest Stories