Space Gallery in Denver

Space Gallery in Denver

Review: Contemporary Art & Architecture in Denver

Walking up a stretch of Santa Fe Drive Arts District past Mexican and Ethiopian restaurants and tattoo shops on a Wednesday, one could wonder: is this the same stretch that sees throngs on first Fridays? Ostensibly and  practically, yes. The first-Friday art walks are boons to visibility and local attendance but imply other limitations: That “staffs” of art galleries, particularly co-ops, are mainly volunteer – after the first Friday is done, they staff the spaces mostly on weekends.

Santa Fe Theatre in Denver

Santa Fe Theatre in Denver

Much of the work shown appears to be local, and it would be fair to say, as a rule, naive is the stylistic bent. Denver, which has Gonzo wowzo modernist architecture and the great magazine Modern in Denver, as well as Dana Cains news-making Modernism show – appears to have a bit of art confusion going on. Call it effects of the Recession or perhaps a larger issue – that how to embrace the “contemporary” in contemporary art can be problematic, when what is meant critically is often quite a bit different from the adjective meaning plainly, “new.”

Chieko Katumata

Chieko Katsumata

The edgy Space Gallery at 765 Santa Fe Drive has been around, so a Santa Fe friend once told me, since the 70s. But on its website I could find no trace of the photographs I had glimpsed through the window. Instead I found (top image) Spaces offer of galvanized sheds for artist studios. Way cute. I really dig the urbanism of Denver; as a city girl living in the themed Santa Fe, it cheers me up no end. Take on Santa Fe Drive not just the theater but the signs for the “best red chile” breakfast spot and a bit of street art – enough to demonstrate the streets use by the young. You cant fake real.

But. If there is, as I suspect, some confusion between art and design, take this as a cardinal rule: The decorator is not the person to “source” the art. Art doesnt “source”; art by the yard is de facto bad. And art that matches, well, if your taste in culture reflects on your character, do you want yours bland as a vacation rental?

Back to Santa Fe Drive. Santa Fe Drive is also hugely promising in that it is home to two of Denvers compact contemporary institutions with big programs, that are anchor spots right now institutionally.  As a highlight to Japanese womens ceramics at CVA, 965 SFeDrive, the collapsing vessels by Chieko Katsumata who has described a trajectory in her pottery work stopped me cold. Katsumata says she moved her work from an appreciation that “crockery” is the production of identical forms – to the mingling of such forms for art ends . The outcome are shapes with attendant fleshiness and imagination, clay as phenomenon. Entrance free.

Down the street a couple blocks, I pounded (not literally) entry to the show of Native American work, From the Earth at Museo de las Americas.  Curated by Director Maruca Salazar with Rogelio Briones, I recognized many of the styles and some specific artists of textiles, pots, carvings and baskets – such as weaver Eppie Archuleta (Medanales), Santera Gloria Lopez Cordova (Cordova), Acoma potter Sharlyn Sanchez Chino (Pueblo of Acoma) and Zuni fetish carver Vern Nieto, among several others. I had an instant of recognition about the “Americas,” which is not often how it is put in Santa Fe, when looking at “indigenous” work or “Native American” work. The whats in a name problem.

weavings by Black Mesa weavers

weavings by Black Mesa weavers

But, similarly to other experiences I have had in art-viewing in Denver that art gallery architecture makes for limitation, I found myself asking: what if this show had not tried to be designed around the notion of a kiva? Especially given that the room in which the ladder points at sky is confined to its existence as a plain unremarkable square. How to deal with those walls, that institutional feeling? This show needed:  More photographs. Bigger arrays. Admittedly it was not all hung yet. But Salazar who was a longtime arts administrator in Denver Public Schools is taking an educational approach to building new shows. It appears this may well become edgy over time, especially matched with a speakers and performers program that enlivens the art with discussions of its implications.

On leaving SFD I headed down Broadway to Rule Gallery where I had to exhale a big breath of relief at encountering the great new work by Gregory Hayes, detail of Primary Array (below). The paintings by this M.F.A. student in Brooklyn are plastic in the art-historical sense of the word, paintings based in number intervals that have a tactile quality and a physical intelligence, even as the back room of the gallery is devoted to (strong) Denver student work now.

"Primary Array" by Gregory Hayes

"Primary Array" by Gregory Hayes

But most of all it was my first time to hit Plus Gallery in Ri No on my short trip through art. We have reported frequently on Ivar Zeiles program in his new urban industrial space that redoubles the sense of a strong dealer aesthetic: emphasis on a slick surface, a photo-realist, Pop-ish take on things.  Kate Petleys just closed show of resin paintings (exhibition shot at right) accompany a sculptural piece (foreground, left) that offered up a sense of her whimsy and use of space seen in earlier installations such as at the Nicholaysen in Caspar, Wyoming. I am half-inclined to say I wish the space had gone wild with Petley installation. Yet recognize, simultaneously, that economics are what they are, and one makes paintings – to have a price point as well as size to sell.

Plus Gallery

Plus Gallery

Still, with recent news that Petleys working on an installation for Fort Lewis College in Durango, and that shell have a piece included at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver fundraising auction this week, shes consistently expanding her approach to her work, her sensibility of the surface and edge, as shown below, in Only For a Moment, which uses film in the resin to create planes of color that are actually in essence very thin shelves for abstract gestures.

Kate Petleys "Only For a Moment"

Kate Petley's "Only For a Moment"

At Plus Gallery, I also admired a primary resin sculpture by Susan Meyer. Bill Amundson who has a wall in Plus Gallerys upstairs space of graphite on paper drawings is a Denver art persona who has moved out of the city – back to Milwaukee – perhaps with the reverse plug that he wont have Christoph Heinrich to poke fun at anymore. The DAM director is said to dislike the portrait Amundson did of him which shows the buttresses and jags of the Hamilton Wing protruding from his bow tie. But I found it only gently satirical, hardly a disrobing into wicked caricature. But now that politics are about to offer us a true rogues gallery, I hope Bill even in Wisconsin will keep on penning. Even if Christine ODonnell does merit not even a (witchy) footnote.

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  1. A pleasure reading this. Writing was very immediate, schematic. I’m compelled to read it again. Got that sense of someone encountering a fresh, not totally expected, other-than-usual realm. Now I want to read the author’s take on the
    Santa Fe presentation/scene..I still don’t rightly know it. Maybe, I wrongly know it, since my own ‘approach’ has always been scattershot.

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