New Art in Denver
There is something cowgirlish in traversing Denver. Up this draw is Rhino, behind that canyon is LoDo, and over yonder is the Santa Fe Arts District. Occasionally, one has to travel to the Golden Triangle or Highlands or Cherry Creek, and those arent even the outlying suburbs of the metro area. Saddle up your pony and put on your walking boots.
First stop, Denver Art Museum. If were talking cowboys we have to begin the ultimate cowboy artist-C.M. Russell. Charlie may have had little use for white women, preferring instead to paint seductive portraits of Native American women, so Im sure he doesnt have much use for me. Thats fine. The feelings mutual. Allen True, a Colorado painter who is featured in an exhibition that spans three venues-the DAM, Colorado History Museum and Denver Public Library (the DAM portion is tucked in a 2nd floor gallery near the walkway to the Ponti building) is a far better painter than Russell, and his life story is far more compelling than that of the macho and swaggering Russell, who, of course, continues to have populist appeal. Still, the well executed show is a foil to the site-specific works of contemporary art featured in Embrace! Out with the old, in with the new.
I happened upon artists Jessica Stockholder and John McEnroe, both in Embrace! at the DAM, at Robischon Gallery and rustled up a bit of conversation with Stockholder, whose day job is as the director of graduate studies in sculpture at Yale. Of installing a work in the Hamilton wing of the DAM, Stockholder commented that the building has no “neutrality”. She said that was one of the reasons she was interested in participating. Her large kite-shaped construction highlights an angled wall in the main lobby. A yellow electric cord meanders through the space and lights a bulb at the other end. On display at Stockholders monoprints are multi-dimensional laser cut, pressed, glued and printed with random juxtapositions of painting and photography. Each unique relief print plays on what Stockholder refers to as the elements of “rational and irrational geometry.” I find the works simply playful. Whats not to like about fake fur on a monoprint? As for McEnroe, well, Im not a big fan of his hanging weighted ball sacks, “The Bathers,” though at DAM. I find there is tension in the longer hanging pieces (left) and I like the monochromatic charcoal gray – it interacts well with the white walls and dark floor. His colorful melted plastic outdoor toy sculptures at Robischon are fluid, yet solid, exploring color and shape. McEnroe is a dichotomy, as much as his own work; hes a hip contemporary artist who moonlights as a construction worker in the solar energy business.
Leaving the fun behind, and delving deep beneath the skin is the exhibition of Jenny Morgans paintings at Plus Gallery. “This Too Shall Pass” is an exhibition of 8 paintings by the young artist with a wise and mature eye. Her paintings are of real people, other artists and friends. But they are more than portraits. Morgan begins each work by photographing her subject. She then transforms the image into a hyper-realistic work that goes beyond exacting the reflection of a face. In her portraits faces are obscured with color, hair is frizzy and fly away, there is a focus on hands and eyes (Old Soul 3, left). These are intimate images on monochromatic backgrounds. They are emotionally and psychologically complex and the technical prowess with which they are rendered is as lush and multilayered as a human body. Within each painting are breath and life and even soul. This is an artist who shall not pass too quickly from my radar.
My new favorite gallery in Denver is David B. Smith Gallery. It isnt new, the gallery has been around for three years, two on Santa Fe in the Arts District and the past nine months or so on Wazee Street near 15th, but it is new to me. The space is simple, functional and dare I say, comfortable. It has good chi. The art? Well, the art is phenomenal. My hunch is that what I like about this gallery must be similar to what people in Taos thought when Mabel Dodge moved in and married Tony Luhan and invited all her New York artists and writer friends to visit. Here we are in this quaint town, but sitting around discussing art and philosophy and writing. David B. Smith is like a New York gallery plopped in Denver with all these emerging and exciting artists who are having their first museum shows and then lo and behold are showing up in this gallery on Wazee Street.
A solo exhibition by artist Gregory Euclide (above) just ended and gallery owner Smith told me he was heading to Scope Art Fair in Miami, taking a large Euclide piece that had recently been on display at Mass MoCA. Euclide creates multi-dimensional sculptural works that explore the way we experience nature, challenging the viewer by presenting what appears to be an idealized landscape experience, but upon further investigation one realizes that the tiny hay bales are actually discarded cigarette butts. I was also enthralled with the small installation in the gallery featuring a large “capture” piece. Euclide uses thick, blue liquid poured on the earth to “capture” pieces of dirt and rock. For the installation, a large metal drum was used to capture a significant chunk of land from Clear Creek Canyon. The rusted metal drum, the color of mining minerals that seep into the streams. The addition of a guardrail, to represent a scenic overlook adds to the impact of the work. Why are we forced to stop and look at this spot? What does it mean?
One is not forced to stop, but should check out the cowboys and cowgirls present in two different exhibits: Duke Beardsley at Visions West, whose paintings of cowboys echo a bit Richard Princes satiric Marlboro Man works as well as shades of Susan Rothenberg. Appropriating imagery from C.M. Russell and old New West magazine clippings, Beardsley creates colorful, energetic and in the end, individual works. At Michele Mosko, “Staged” features photos by David Levinthal and Jenny Gummersall both of whom use toys to “stage” iconic imagery from the West in a way that is playful and challenges the viewer to reconsider the myths.