Winds of Summer

The art scene in Denver does not shut down during the summer as it does in the big cities on the east and west coasts. Even here, though, there is a point when everyone seems to be taking a break--and that hiatus is currently on. The last of the summer group shows, including a pair at the venerable Robischon, are entering their final days, with most of the autumn shows coming on line in the next few weeks.

This gives us a moment to reflect on changes that have radically altered the topography of the local scene. And nothing has had a greater impact, negative though it has been, than last fall's closing of the Inkfish Gallery. For more than twenty years, Inkfish was one of the city's flagship exhibition spaces, presenting only the finest work. We are now denied the supremely intelligent and beautiful shows regularly conjured up by gallery director Paul Hughes, and many of the gallery's artists have been left without a place to show.

Another unhappy event for an important commercial gallery was last winter's cancellation of the exhibition schedule at Mackey, which remains open as a frame shop and rental space. During the five years it was fully operational, director Mary Mackey presented some of the city's most adventurous and compelling art shows.

But not all the news was bad. Renovations were finally finished at the Denver Art Museum, and despite that hideous canopy, this was good news because the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art now has a permanent home in the spacious Stanton Wing. Also encouraging was the birth of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver. Though its highly publicized plans to buy a building have fallen through, MoCAD has hired a director and has been scouting rental space downtown; currently under consideration are ground-floor rooms in Barclay Towers on Larimer Street.

The message from Wazee Street, LoDo's prestigious gallery row, was mixed. Both 1/1 (now called the Wm Havu Gallery) and the Sandy Carson Gallery left the neighborhood for greener pastures in the Golden Triangle. The Metropolitan State College's Center for the Visual Arts moved from the corner of 17th and Wazee streets into spiffy new digs a few doors away in the space formerly occupied by Carson and the defunct Art of Craft. A block south, the glittering new Ron Judish Gallery appeared in the area that already includes the William Matthews and CSK galleries.

Change has even hit the usually immutable Robischon Gallery, but as could be expected, it's been subtle. The gallery now holds title to the space it occupies, along with the adjacent space that serves as the Metro Center's new home. A viewing room in the back has recently been transformed into a small but handsome exhibition space, and the gallery is able to use this new area for additional shows, as is currently the case.

Up front, the warren of five rooms (including the niche which is often called the Art Forms space), is completely given over to an unwieldy--and in places goofy--group show focusing on representational imagery.

The Untitled Summer Exhibition #22B: Objective includes in its generic title some specific information about the gallery, even if it doesn't say much about the current display. The "#22" refers to Robischon's 22 years in the art-show business; the suffix "B," to the fact that this exhibit is the second in a two-part series (the first, an abstraction show earlier this summer, was indicated by the letter "A"). Though this historical notation would seem to indicate a two-decade tradition, only in the past five years has gallery director Jim Robischon divided the summer in half, with an abstract show during the first part and a representational one during the last.

The current show begins with Linda Girvin, who employs a technique rarely seen in the fine arts and more typically used by the makers of religious kitsch: the lenticular photograph, in which several images are laid one over another on a grooved plastic surface. As a result, individual images come into view sequentially, which apes animation. In the first of the Girvins, "Week Daze," a man is tying his tie, and as we walk past the piece, the man's hands appear to fly across the surface. Around the corner is the more complicated "Bracketed Agenda," in which a man and a woman seated at a table are deeply involved in a conversation crowded with gestures.

Girvin's successful use of a discredited method to create credible contemporary art is a genuine accomplishment. Gary Sweeney, whose work is displayed nearby, does the same thing. In his case, the degraded method is routing, the hobbyist's technique. For a stylistic source, Sweeney looks to mid-century advertising art. In "Death of a Salesman," he uses painted and aniline-dyed wood, routing and picking out with paint a half-tone profile of a man wearing a hat opposite a three-dimensional globe. Both the man and the globe appear on a fancy wood-veneer surface. A triangle of painted dots originates from the man's eye; beneath is a line from Arthur Miller's famous play of the same name. The quote, as disconnected by Sweeney, seems to praise and romanticize the role of the salesman, giving the line an ironic spin not intended by Miller.

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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