Two local galleries explore three dimensions of contemporary art

Two-dimensional works dominate contemporary art — and not just paintings, prints and watercolors, but videos and films, too. But three-dimensional pieces in the form of sculptures and installations are undeniably on the up-swing, and the evidence is all around us this summer.

There's the spectacular Catalyst, at the Denver Botanic Gardens, with a dozen of the state's most significant sculptors represented; the over-the-top Nick Cave extravaganza at the Denver Art Museum; the Donald Fodness solo opening at Plus this week; and, opening next week, a major multi-gallery exhibit featuring the work of John McEnroe at MCA Denver.

And that's just to name a handful of them. I'm also recommending two other sculpture solos, both of which close soon, and each of which showcases a thirty-something artist who has built a reputation for himself in just the past decade.

First, at Z Art Department, is Balancing Act: David Mazza, with the title referring to the fact that many (though not all) of the artist's works look as though they are precariously balanced. Mazza has included items from a number of different series, and though some of these were launched way back at the beginning of the 21st century, they are still open-ended, with Mazza continuing to create new work for them. But there are also pieces from some of his more recent series. The apparent difference is that the earlier efforts, like the works in the "Stargazer" series, are more complex, while the newest ones have moved toward simplicity. Because the show also includes new "Stargazer" pieces, such as "Pollux," however, it's impossible to brand this transition from dense to spare as representing a stylistic development.

In "Pollux," and in the small related works such as "Adhara" and "Spica," which are painted Ferrari red, Mazza artfully assembles a vocabulary of metal tubes and bars that cantilever off a central axis. In another type of work, represented by the somewhat monumental "Naunet" and the closely associated wall relief "Osiris," which is positively airy, Mazza has taken a compositional stance similar to the one in the "Stargazer" series; however, he's opened it up here, and while the pieces aren't symmetrical, they are not as extreme in their asymmetry. The newest series comprises simple vertical shafts on rectangular bases, the most striking of which is "Tlalocan," an articulated, highly polished stainless-steel triangle. Mazza has set the form on one of its points by burying it in a block of white marble; it's like a piece of jewelry, and it shows off, as does the more clearly Brancusi-oid "Arco," just how great a craftsman Mazza is.

Mazza, who has a BFA from the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, worked as a student with some of the state's most prominent sculptors, including Chuck Parson and Erick Johnson. Given this, it's interesting to note that he credits his style to another RMCAD professor, Ania Gola-Kumor, a painter who encouraged him to do three-dimensional "drawings" when he was first starting out.

If I have one complaint about the show, it's that there are too many pieces in it; the Mazzas don't have room to breathe. However, since everything is so well done, it would have been hard for gallery director Randy Roberts to decide on what he should have left out.

Just a few blocks away, at Goodwin Fine Art, is Patrick Marold: Strata. The installation is stark, with the Denver artist having created some of the pieces specifically for this show. Strata, which refers to horizontal layers, doesn't apply to everything in the show, but it does set the theme.

Though there are some small works, such as the metal loop "Annulus" and the little angled joint "Key," monumental pieces dominate the exhibit. The first one the viewer comes across is the mountain of stacked, rusted steel rods that make up "Serrated Crest." The curved, three-sided pyramidal shape is off-kilter and unexpectedly narrow as you walk around it. Beyond is the show's tour de force, aptly titled "Prominence," a gathered set of mirror-polished stainless-steel tubes in a tent-like shape that's round at the bottom and straight at the top. It will stop you in your tracks. Marold told me that when he brought it to the gallery in his open truck, it seemed to disappear outside as it reflected everything around it. In the gallery, though, it makes a big appearance, even if the same optical illusions are in effect.

Marold is a conceptual artist whose chief concerns are the repetition of simple forms such as rods — or, as in one case here, ropes — and the shadows cast by their curvilinear shapes. And when these essentially geometric forms are lined or piled up next to others of their type, the resulting pieces exemplify conceptual abstraction. This point is underscored by Marold's eschewing of narrative content and saying that any story imparted by the pieces originates in the minds of the viewers.

Marold's own story got more interesting this summer when he was awarded a $1.5 million-dollar commission to create an installation that will occupy the entire "valley" where light rail meets the hotel in the under-construction expansion of Denver International Airport. Marold, who is just now finalizing plans for the work, explained that although the commission sounds like a lot of money, the site is so large — the size of six football fields — that just sodding it would cost $1 million. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with. It's also nice to see a big public commission go to someone on the home team...for a change.

Speaking of over-the-top outdoor installations, one of the true pioneers of the field, Christo, is continuing his years-long effort to erect "Over the River." Conceptually finalized in 1996 by Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude, the earth work is proposed as a series of massive translucent fabric panels stretched intermittently across a portion of the Arkansas River in southern Colorado. On June 28, the first of three remaining lawsuits that stand in the way of the work's realization was dismissed when the Interior Board of Land Appeals upheld the Bureau of Land Management's decision to approve the temporary use of federal lands for the project.

Two suits remain: The first, in federal court, is aimed at revoking the BLM permit; the other, in state court, has challenged a permit granted by Colorado State Parks. Both were brought by the anti-Christo group Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR). Although the canyon has both a highway and a freight line running through it, ROAR believes that "Over the River" will have dire environmental consequences during the eighteen months it will take to build it, the two weeks it will be on view, and the few months it will take to remove it.

Hey, if ROAR is concerned with protecting the environment, they should focus on fracking and leave the subject of art to those of us who can spell it.