An unusual fine-art venue opened last weekend in the spot vacated earlier this year by the Mike Wright Gallery on Wazee Street. Occupying all three levels of the building are three separate galleries with intertwined ownership arrangements. In Denver, we're familiar with co-op galleries, but that’s not what this is — instead, it’s a co-op of galleries.
Two existing Denver galleries, Abend and Gallery 1261, both moved from their former locations to this space, bringing in a brand-new operation, K Contemporary; the fledgling enterprise is the brainchild of abstract painter Doug Kacena. One of the most innovative aspects of the arrangement is that the galleries are not assigned specific locations within the capacious building, but will switch spaces as required by the exhibition needs of each.
For the grand opening, K Contemporary has taken the lead position, filling the lobby and the main-floor rooms with a spectacular solo, Scott Young: Gas Light Love Bomb, which comprises conceptual art done with electronics, photos and lighted glass tubes that are filled with luminescent gases, including neon. The show cogently tells the story of a romance, or romance in general, by setting up discrete sections modeled on an oratorio. The prelude to the love story is in the lobby, and then the show breaks into the three phases of the oratorio in the gallery proper.
For the prelude, Young has created a number of works that refer to a couple connecting, including “Hey There – We Are All the Same on the Outside,” a video panel with mirrored acrylic and neon. Young has appropriated what seems like hundreds of photographic portraits that would-be daters posted on Tinder, the dating site with the slogan “Match. Chat. Meet.” The portraits fly by in a super-fast slide show, periodically stopping on one before starting up again. It’s sort of like a computerized slot machine, and the piece even has a soundtrack with the noises that one of those machines makes, but Young turned it off because the sound was too intrusive.
The first act in the main space is called “Possibility,” and it's in this section that the two principal players in Gas Light Love Bomb are introduced. “Coextensive” consists of two vertical color-field panels, paired as a diptych; in the void between them is a glowing glass rod filled with argon gas. This piece represents the female in the relationship.
Around the corner, “Pull Me In” stands for the male. It also features a glowing vertical drop in an argon-filled glass tube, but instead of filling an empty space, it's mounted on top of the painted panel. The glass rod has been bent to spell the word “come,” which partly obscures the already nearly invisible title printed down the center. Both the imagery and the word can be interpreted as double entendres explicitly referencing sexual acts. In fact, wordplay is a motif of the show, even in the exhibit’s title: “Gas Light” refers to both the sociopathic practice and the actual gas lights that Young uses.
The second act, “Reason,” deals with doubt and self-examination. In “I Love You/I Hate You,” Young has conflated the words “Love” and “Hate,” which are written out in glowing argon, then cut in half and joined together; as a result, the piece reads as both words simultaneously. In “Light of My Life,” argon is used to write out the title in cursive, floating over the printed message “Maybe go fuck yourself.”
The third and final act, “Disillusion,” depicts the breakup with a group of light-colored panels from the “You Are My...” series. Young has printed words on each panel; the title and a single word below are lit up by neon. In the most down-hearted of the group, the printed words include “misery” and “doom,” while the lighted word is “deception.” On panels from another series, neon is used to cross out parts of yet more printed words. In “I Can’t Unlove You,” for instance, the “Un” is scribbled over with lighted tubes.
The way the show is installed, viewers arrive back at the prelude, which suggests that falling in and out of love is a constant closed loop, like those faces in “Hey There – We Are All the Same on the Outside.”
K Contemporary has made a splash by opening with Young, whose Denver profile has been on the rise in recent months. His gigantic “Wish You Were Here” sign (the final “e” periodically flashing off so that it reads “Wish You Were Her”), which debuted at Rule, is now mounted on the roof of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. The works in Gas Light Love Bomb have the same conceptual underpinnings as that rooftop sign: the exploration of intimate relationships.
The show runs through December 2 at K Contemporary, 1412 Wazee Street. While you check out Gas Light Love Bomb, you can also see the space that includes Abend and Gallery 1261. Call 303-590-9800 or go to kcontemporaryart.com for more information and gallery hours.