Recently in Denver Art Exhibitions Category

Robert Adams Photographs at DAM

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RobertAdams.jpgRobert Adams photographs at the Denver Art Museum are the spitting image of ones we've taken as young people exploring rural Colorado and beyond in the '70s and '80s. They are Black and White and make the jarring primary colors of the commercialism of that day look tolerable. And the landscapes beautiful. Like the romanticism of Pete Seeger, 'I am the blue of my sky and the brown of my earth.' And they make the same folksy protest, as well.

We didn't and still don't want to see all the beautiful land in the West to be churned up and spit out as the same old shopping mall. Why not just leave it, and fix the old shopping mall?  Well, because that land looks so easy, just lying there. Adams' photographs prove it.

His photographs of a common farm house on the plains of eastern Colorado looks wonderfully textured in black and white, the wall paper less busy with color and the people richly gray. He didn't make them to be nostalgic. He was just depicting life as it was, and it wasn't that easy. But, with hindsight, we can see that a lot more people were trying to keep that life than managed to do so. There were still a lot of small farms in Colorado, but everything was changing. Farmers only grew what they could sell to big companies. There were no farmers' markets in the city where they could sell anything else. And they had to buy Roundup.

We were, and still are, environmentalists. We wanted then, and still do want, organic food and clean energy.  We environmentalists are the domestic terrorists that exPresident Bush warned everyone about.  We personally may not have advocated burning private property on the Vail Valley ridgeline in the National Forest, as the ELF did when Vail Resorts was building Two Elk Lodge (in memory of the elk that used to be there). I, personally, wouldn't have had the nerve to do it, but I have advocated for less development, especially outside of established ski resorts. There are some who argue that Vail and everything within 25 miles of it, is already ruined. But there are people who thought the new development was the place to draw the line. And they were completely ignored.

Logically, the ski business is flat, so they don't need more property. And Two Elks was the opulent symbol of expansion by a Vail that couldn't be stopped. The frustration of people who see that Two Elks wasn't at all necessary for most Earthlings, is what prompts terrorism. A little arson at midnight, to a half finished building far out in the wilderness where there was no threat to human life or anything but the building - the symbol of wastefulness.  

If you understand this frustration, the feeling of not being heard, you can imagine why an Arab might want to become a terrorist? Can you imagine how hard it would be to be heard in a kingdom where you are a subject and not a citizen?

Look at the people calmly viewing Robert Adams photographs and you  will see them smiling. They want that peaceful landscape. Then the scowls -- people are bugged by the lost of citrus orchards in California. Orchards or shopping malls. People do want orchards. There are too many shopping malls between people and their orchards. Because now most of us live in the city.

Change isn't necessarily bad. But are we doing very much to figure out which change is good and which is bad?

Robert Adams photographs might be a place to start.

Another Victory: Gato Encerrado

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Museum of Contemporary Art Denver: Another Victory Over the Sun
June 9, 2011 - August 21, 2011

black.pngVictory over the Sun is the title of a 1913 Russian opera. Another Victory over the Sun is the name of the summer exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver.

One work, the short video by Miguel Calderon, called Los Pasos del Enemigo, The Steps of the Enemy, I've seen several times. It was scary, wariness evoking every time, except one.

First, you have be aware there's no sunlight coming into the museum, so you can't really find the entrance to the video room. You can hear sounds of a wild cat before you find the entrance through the heavy black curtain into this gallery.

I fumbled around in the pretty-near-blackness and stand in pitch darkness. I don't know what's in this space with me.   There's a burst of guttural roars - a big cat of some kind - and then you're surprised by the flash of yellow eyes and menacing teeth, and a sporadic variety of more growls.

On the day before the show opened, I heard that sound of tape ripping off a roll. They were finishing the work of blocking out all the sunlight. You've seen movies of people being duck taped. It's a scary sound in a dark room with a panther growling at you. The steps of the enemy ... when it's dark you can see those steps.

The next visit I was by myself, and realized I have very poor depth perception in the hearing sense. I knew what was going to happen but still I felt not so confident. The piece is very effective at letting us know our place is nature is very complicated.

Another time, I read the curatorial card that explains the piece and it refers to a Spanish expression:  'gato encerrado,' which literally means 'locked up cat'. I learn it is also the Spanish equivalent of: 'something's fishy' or 'I smell a rat.'  And I start to think of how the video was made - probably at a zoo - with a locked up cat. I'm being scared, effectively, by a big cat in a cage. And my enemies, I'm not sure where they are. I am in the dark about them.

The only time I was not creeped out, scared, and off balance, I went into this gallery with a bunch of people, who all happened to be my family. We can bump into each other and its funny not scary. One laughs and someone makes a joke that we've probably heard before.

It made me realize why all those Ancestral Puebloans who used to live at Mesa Verde vanished - completely vanished from the Mesa - about the same time. They wanted to stick together.

If you'd like to read or hear more about this exhibition on, please click on Personal Victory.

Personal Victory

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Museum of Contemporary Art Denver: Another Victory Over the Sun
June 9, 2011 - August 21, 2011

VictoryBanner.pngLearning to step into the shade was my first victory over the sun. Is this show about how man's ingenuity can beat nature's unpleasantness? Or do we need to know the art history themes attributed to the first Victory Over the Sun to get this show?

Victory Over the Sun is the title of a 1913 opera produced by Russians called Youth Group. They included adults as old as 50 so this was no camp project but an assertion of their own importance from a new group of 'emerging' artists - poets who wrote the libretto in Zaum, a language developed from the emotional and instinctual quality of sounds - and artists, including Kazimir Malevich, who is often credited with making the first abstract painting.  A reproduction of this Victory, made by the California Institute of the Arts, plays in the elevator, if you wish to watch it. The opera, Internet research points out to me, claimed to vanquish the 'sun,' a symbol for the previous generation of artists, called the Symbolists, rational, intellectual, nature lovers. The new school victors' were right to gloat because their thinking did predominate art for the next twenty years, evolving into, generally, surrealism. These artists made paintings and poetry with whatever came out of their heads. Natural man triumphs over the sun and rationality.

The show directs us to this opera as a source, and then does some of its own battling with the sun. For Another Victory Over the Sun museum staffers blocked out all natural light. This building is no windowless schoolhouse, but a green building that uses natural light for most of its daytime illumination and the effect is noticeable. The entry is lit by a Dan Flavin piece called Monument to V. Tatlin. Tatlin was another Russian artist from the early 20th century. Anyone standing near the piece glows fluorescent.

The other works in the show produce their own light, too, and it helps to illustrate the exhibition notes that claim art can create a reality more intense than its architecture. Art is like a campfire, we're told, it is more than its logs and twigs.

Man over Nature, New over Old, Emotion/Instinct/Feeling over Rational Intellect, Art over Tangibles.: that's our list of given possible themes.

MoonSea.jpgMany of the pieces in this show offer experiences that are more than the sum of its parts, and yes, they are emotive, and about nature, and all done in this millennium. We can feel the snarls of a panther in the dark, glow with the moon over water, play with mirrors in an overgrown castle, speed up the transit of the sun, imagine infinity, contemplate the twitter of birds, and graph the sway of trees.

Yes, I learned about emotional vs. rational art appreciation. Yesterday, I visited the museum with a friend who believes the sensory/instinctual human has power over the rational. She believes that a guru gazing on her will heal her body. (She's also using everything Western Medicine has to offer for her cancer.)

We walked into the gallery with the piece called Between the Moon and Sea. It is a wooden boardwalk built over a room-encompassing, black plastic pool of water illuminated by a beach-ball-size, cloth-covered lamp. "This must be a come-down for someone who has lived in the mountains for so long," I said to my friend, thinking of my experience of back-county moonlight ski trips as a much bigger, heart-thumbing, cold--and-hot-at-the-same-time kind of experience.  She completely disagreed. She loves the piece. It makes her think of everything she loves about nature -- and more, and more.  I slow down and stop trying to rationalize if this piece works, and take a photo of the EXIT sign reflected in the water. You may listen to us talk about the entire Another Victory over the Sun exhibition, if you'd like.

She and I are predisposed to give art the benefit of the doubt. Many of my environmentalist friends are not. They see art as just another commercialism of man's intention to triumph over nature. And they want nature to win. They are certain than nature will not go down easily, and if it does, it will take us humans with it.

Contemporary art's urban emphasis is somewhat the cause of my enviro friends' distaste. Land art was only big when it was about machines tearing up nature and making things like the Spiral Jetty. Present-day land artists like Andy Goldsworthy, seem somewhat parochial, while graffiti gets attention. Publicized contemporary art is often messy and about shit and self-inflicted violence or rooms that remind me of bad roommates. Rarely does it talk about the concerns of the environmentalist.  But this Victory does. Although I'm not sure the environmentalist or the curators know it.

The experiences in this MCA exhibition are as powerful as my friend said, unless I analyze them to death. When I experience Los Pasos del Enemigo, The Steps of the Enemy,  panthers are, I am reminded, amazing. They make sounds and behave in ways that people living in a city forget. I don't want them to disappear even if they are scary. Everyone wants the opportunity to contemplate the moon in a quiet, under-developed place. We like the quiet and peace of undisturbed land, even if the birds are so loud. We like the sun, actually.

VictoryShirreff.jpgIn the upstairs galleries are three different artist installations that show at least four more instances of the wonder of everyday nature. Outside the gallery showing trees in a breeze and bird's on a branch, the curatorial notes tell us David Zimmer's work shows the 'enigmatic in the everyday.' That's a nice phrase for the puzzles that nature provides all the time. And art can make vivid.

Another makes me think about how the sun's daily journey changes how I see object on the planet and on my desk. The third gives me a mirror view tour of a Mexican villa over grown by nature.

Most of the work in this show does create new realities. For me, the reality I came away with is that contemporary art doesn't need to be messy, necessarily urban, self-expressive, but should be clear. Sometime the clarity can only but felt. Sometimes the enigmas are not understandable. Not at the moment; but art gives me the hope that they can be.

No Victory over Materials

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Museum of Contemporary Art Denver: Another Victory Over the Sun
June 9, 2011 - August 21, 2011
Victory over the Sun is the title of a 1913 Russian opera. Another Victory over the Sun is the name of the summer exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver.

What this metaphor means is debatable. Is it the classic man vs. nature?

Maybe the works in this new Victory will shed light on the debate.

A video plays a big vertical projection of a building in New York City, the RCA building, a nice piece of early 20th C. architecture. It's fascinating to watch light hits the building in changing ways that really help define the 3-dimensional space of this cityscape. 

When I read more of the exhibition notes, I figure out that the artist, Erin Shirreff, has photographed sunlight moving throughout the day over an Ansel Adams' photograph of the building. I have some forward-thinking nostalgia about the experience of seeing printed matter in natural light at all times of day. This memory/recent experience is so unlike the constant light of a computer screen.

VictoryMonoliths.jpgIn the same room, are minimalist blocks of plaster by the same artist, who is currently artist in resident at the minimalist refuge in Marfa, Texas. Her thin planks stand braced against the wall, bent like something plastic, but now hard. The unnatural light from the cans on the ceiling make pretty shadows on the wall. These pieces are delicate, and mottled. Could be made of stone but they seem to fragile. And I'm warned by a museum guard not to get too close. I learn the material is plaster with an addition of Texas ash.

Here's the rub with battling nature: you may very easily lose. Shirreff added ash to the plaster, which weakened it, and didn't really make the fine waves I love to see in marble. Her technique left the planks susceptible to warping. And breakage. In fact, one of the pieces arrived broken. It is obvious she wanted clean, firm and natural forms.  It's a little too obvious this artist isn't used to physically making things.

To read or hear more UnsafeArt about this show, please visit Personal Victory.
Museum of Contemporary Art Denver: Another Victory Over the Sun
June 9, 2011 - August 21, 2011

MoonSea.jpgVictory over the Sun is the title of a 1913 Russian opera. Another Victory over the Sun is the name of the summer exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver.

What this metaphor means is debatable. It may be that the Futurists, soon to be Russian Constructivists, who produced the opera in St. Petersburg were defying the established order of high fine art and asserting that emotional intelligence is more powerful than rationality, which their predecessors valued. A victory of instinctual man over shiny, old rational man.

Maybe the works in this new Victory will shed light on the debate.

Take Between the Moon and the Sea by Spencer Finch.  A simple wooden dock is built in a large gallery.  A wide, but shallow black structure holds water on the floor and a lit, stitched ball plays the moon, hanging from the not-too-disguised ceiling.  In this space, one is invited to contemplate the moon and sea, as we are told is a Japanese custom.

MoonSeaDetail.jpgThere's a similar Colorado tradition: to stare at the moon and the stars far away from city lights. Going on a moonlight ski is a way to do this and snow provides the other surface like the sea. Shutting out the sun, like a non-electric camper's nighttime, does draw attention to the remaining light and this created dock-in-a-dark-gallery is a pleasant reminder of the revelations that come with a simple act of contemplating the moon.  

Contemporary art, after Pop Art, sometimes seems so much about pop and so little about what really flows deep. If that's what the Futurists where thinking was emotional intelligence as opposed to the rational world of worrying about paying the bills and making our e-mail work, then I think they were on to something.

To read more about this show, see Personal Victory.

A pool of water : Video Art

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Blink at DAM and it's gone

April 29, 2011

Six weeks is not long enough. Blink is a show at the Denver Art Museum that will close in three days. No street banners advertised Blink just a little sandwich board outside the museum and I've been wanting to get to the museum since the show opened March 13. Finally, I get to the museum today, and I need more time.

To visit this video - or as the Denver Art Museum wants to call it Time-Based Media - exhibition with your mother, your brother-in-law, an aunt and some kids is also the wrong way to go.

We all enter the second floor museum space and it feels like a dark arcade of at least 40 video games. The room feels good sized when it a painting show is inside, but with the asymmetrical and weirdly-angled walls dictated by the new-age architecture of the building, it is too small and too occupied by too many things speaking at once.

We are not able to multi-task no matter what our age. Brain scientists is fairly certain of this. A good multi-tasker is someone who is better at turning off and on focus quicker than others. They still concentrate on just one thing at a time.

If this show is about time, then we need to have a little of it to look at each work of art in this exhibition, particularly because we have to overcome the arcade effect. At first, one can't decide which game to play, so we dash around the room and see what 'catches our eye.'

In my dash, there were several works from the DAM's permanent collection that I recognized. I could skip those. And one piece was up in a closet-like space and was a one-liner: look that video is pretending to be something coming through the ceiling.

On my second pass through the gallery, I saw a B&W film of a cupped hand holding a pool of water. The last time I'd passed by I was sure it was just an abstraction of someone's hand. And then I watched as the water drained from the cupped hand. And I kept watching and I saw the abstraction I'd seen before. 'What is this I?' asked one of the kids.

'A blurry picture of somebody's hand.'

'What are they doing?' I asked.  'Don't know,' was the answer.

Then, the video faded to black and looped to the beginning with the hand full of water. The reflection on the water was a man's face - the artist holding the water - and as the pool became smaller and smaller, the face became more and more abstract, blurring the details on the palm of his hand. The face was so unrecognizable that it wasn't until I saw the whole piece that I could recognize it in the middle.

This is how I spent my trip to the 40-plus video exhibition Blink discovering the work of Oscar Muñoz, the artist watching water leave the palm of his hand.

Oscar Muñoz is a Colombian artist, and a still photo of this piece can be found by following the link. Nto be confused with the Texan, comic magician who works with school kids.

If you like thinking about his work, see my Art Tourists entry about Dissolve, the 2010 SITE Santa Fe biennial.

Bloodlines - Herman Nitsch - MCA

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Required reading - exhibition notes -- Feb 4, 2011

Photoshopd-Nitsch.pngGlasses pile up lonely on small tables - half drunk, some empty, rings of wine at the bottom, inches left in some of red, some of urine yellow - abandoned outside the big gallery rooms.

It's a three-show opening and there are plenty of people at the Museum of Contemporary Art tonight. As I head off to the quieter side, I feel I'm sneaking into the bedroom to get some space from the party. In one big gallery is the work of Hermann Nitsch. The show is called Bloodlines.

Paintings on the wall are big, covered with red from edge to edge with drips - streams of red - and red footprints. Vestments - priests' garb - are displayed like saddles over saw horses, like Indian blankets at a flea market. This isn't craft elevated to the wall like a famous tapestry; the robes are folded to look like the priest is still in them, kneeling before the altar. There are several, maybe a dozen bold, multi-colored robes lying there in a much more intimate and ordinary way than I've ever seen vestments. They are not protected by a sanctuary or even a docent. No one advises me not to touch. And coming so close, I can see that each one took someone a long time to make and has suffered some wear over time.
Flowers are in the room - bright ones - like the robes - but I'm not sure it feels festive. More like an after-the-fest feeling. Religious images are pasted on some of the paintings, but no pang of sacrilege hits me. I'm reminded instead of the bad aesthetics of many an American church.

I grab the exhibition notes and proceed into a little hallway, jag around alone like I've found a secret passage. The nearby gallery is dim, and quiet like the one I just left. In the passage between them, a view opens to the main level: people drinking, laughing. Someone is running overhead and I can see the feet through the ceiling windows. 

Bloodlines - I read in the exhibition brochure - are paintings Nitsch made with blood (and mostly paint) in his studio and at a certain kind of happening the artist has directed since the early '60s, happenings called Orgy Mystery Theater.

When I arrive in the dim, next gallery, I'm oddly alone, like I've just missed something again. I can always feel regret when I think of having missed all the important art happenings, sit-ins and Woodstock. There are flowers and music and lots of red dominating the gallery space. Another priest's robe, painted with thick green paint, is stuck on the largest painting.

Not taking sacrilegious offense, I feel some Catholic guilt, the same guilt I feel being a tourist in a famous church and not doing the holy water routine. It's the guilt of not being a member. I don't dwell on this, I read the exhibition notes.

Nitsch, the brochure says, creates events where he makes these paintings. People get drunk, start smearing blood around and do who knows what else. Like the society in Lord of the Flies, the Orgy Mystery Theater drags in the participants, gets their hands dirty, makes them part of the pack.  I imagine that Nitsch creates a ritual that would be like one I could have had at Woodstock.

The notes tell me Nitsch means the event to be a cleansing ritual, a renewal, with blood that doesn't just cleanse, but also stains - hands and canvas. I get it. You get to be part of the mob, but the next morning, there is the guilt. The remo's.

I don't know if you need to have once been Catholic to know this guilt; it was certainly part of my catechism. It's a guilt that comes from having enjoyed something you know was wrong, or at least, you were told it was wrong: Rock&Roll, not wearing the burqa, drinking alcohol before your 21st birthday. And of course kids are busy doing the later because there is pleasure in guilt. And there are so few things a modern person needs to feel guilt about. So few that we, often, go out looking for them. 

I own the guilt of enjoying being Catholic and participating in the meaningless rituals to the point that I can still sing songs like the Gloria or that my arm knows how to make the sign of the cross although it quit doing that when I was 16. I can understand the satisfaction of guilt from being part of the pack, my pack that feeds on fears and offers illogical solutions. A pack that is one of the major causes of overpopulation.

Since the memory of being one with the mob, a conformist, a reciter of Latin gibberish can still give me a thrill: the big space, the meditation, the inspiration for rebirth, the passion, the mystery, I can easily imagine an orgy mystery theater, and how it might be rich with emotional food. 

When I look back up at the paintings, the blood-red is nothing like the red blood of Christ whipped up in my memory. The paintings are not vivid red as I had imagined, but more akin to faded abstract expressionism. 

An ordinary viewer can add too much. Or this show works to give a small glimpse to all the emotion and a big load of the remos.

Bloodlines, an exhibition of the work of Hermann Nitsch opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Feb 4, 2011. The artist will speak at the MCA on February 24. 

An Instinct Toward Life - MCA Denver

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by Terry Talty
February 6, 2011

I'm a freelancer and - as my friend delicately put it - there's a gap in my schedule. Nobody loves you when you're down and out, so I hate to mention how down my financial future seemed to me last night. It could just have been the weather.  Snowing for a week, no sun and frigid. So unDenver like. Snow, sure, but never without sun in between.

Instinct001.jpgAnyway last night, I'm worrying about worldly things and I'm at an opening at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art. Tons of people mill around me to see the three new shows. In retrospect, I can name the three by the method of getting in your face: Bones, Blood and War.

On the entry level is the work of Dario Robleto in an exhibition called "An Instinct toward Life." I'm standing in the white, big gallery surrounded by small things, spaced far apart. Bone and other human parts went into the art objects - that's the buzz in the room. Such a provocative theme should provoke me to gush with ideas, but the few thought bubbles arising are my same old ideas.
The boxing gloves (pictured) are titled The Melancholic Refuses to Surrender and reminds me why I hate boxing movies - the unnecessary pain of some sports. Broken male hand bones are just one of the listed ingredients in this piece and The Hustler. 

A wine jug, called The Skeleton Wine has a materials list that includes 'cast and carved bone, bone dust from every bone in the body, ground wisdom teeth.' And 'homemade wine'.

Next to the wine jug are a collection of little pitchers the white card says were used to feed invalids - apparently a while ago before the invention of the IV - with the title, "A Ghost Nurse Still Needs to Care." 

'Made out of bone,' my friend, a sociologist says.  Like bone china, I say.

I nearly trip over a pile of dinosaur and human bone dust on the floor as I dash off to a quiet corner to look out the window and take a phone call from my son. He's in traffic and I'm in a crowd and we can hardly hear each other. This happens more often than I want to remember and I promise to call him back. He promises to do the same and who knows what audio quality chance will give us next time.

Instinct002.jpgI step back over the dinosaur and human dust. I do think, at that moment, about how my body might decompose and rejoin the earth after I'm dead. I've never been a fan of a niche in a cemetery. I want my dust to be spread on the garden just like my grandfather-in-law was added to his bean trench. I mentally follow my future remains through the ground, into Denver sewer system, down the Platte into the Gulf of Mexico, possibly reincorporated into fly, then fowl, into New Orleans chef. I feel disappointed, however, because these ideas were not new ones to me. I'd already used them for a short story.

When you get old, my uncle once said, you never have a new thought. You just recycle the old ones. Uhg.

Instinct003.jpgIn another corner, a pair of boots is standing in a pile of dust. Human bone dust, I guess. Inside each boot is a wooden leg. Carved by soldiers - amputees - my friend says - from the Civil War. I couldn't get close enough to the wall to read the card. 

The curator, Nora Burnett Abrams, associate curator of the MCA, says the cards on the wall are poetry and invites everyone to read them. My sociologist friend says the artist told her he writes the cards first, then conceptualizes the physical work. He's into metal detectors, she says, he finds lead bullets and wedding rings on battlefields. Human ring finger bones are in the next room covered with some of this lead.

Are you cringing yet? Or are you feeling as ho, hum as I'm feeling?

Whether it's fair criticism or not, this show has failed to seize my brain, and get me out of my funk.

Look at the world I'm living in. A place that needs Payday Loan shops. Not that I have a payday in my future. If I go to work at McDonalds I'd have to work more than 62.5 hours per week to make $2000 which, cut by an immediate minimum 15% for taxes, would barely cover my half of the mortgage, my ever-rising health insurance, food and bills. And I couldn't work at McDonald's alone, I'd have to get another minimum wage job at Wal-mart because they won't let you work full-time. They'd have to pay your health insurance.

Imagine a mom and dad having to work this much. No way they could take care of their own kids or ever cook a meal. Or go to an art museum.

Sure, tonight was an opening, so it was free, but I still had to rifle through the change drawer to get the train fare. And have the time.  And a couple of brain cells that aren't overloaded by responsibility and money trouble. When you're worried about your next job, or if you can ever settle your Pay-Day loan, you can't think about art or anything like it. You'd be lucky if you could hear a full sentence on one of the TVs that are constantly blaring at your workplaces.

Robleto-Defiant-Gardens.jpgI'm not criticizing the craft of the work. The artist has contrived each piece into a form that is a pleasing design. The ceramic jug doesn't look as strong as Wedgewood, but it doesn't need to be. It isn't intended to be functional.  Nor am I sure I want to criticize the shock value he's going after by using human bone, hair samples and love letters. That artwork reaches to get someone's attention is not a crime. We're all required to do some marketing.

I'm just saying that a concept can't generate feelings that the artwork doesn't corroborate.

Because each of Robleto's handmade objects is small, each has a natural intimacy. I should start to have a connection to the humans that might have used such a thing, but he add the same distance a history museum can't quite eliminate. He lines up the invalid feeders on rows of shelves, has a kaleidoscope pointing to the man/dinosaur dust, hides braided human hair flowers in a giant nest of craft-project paper flowers.

And then, there's the poetry. On the jug in The Skeleton Wine is an inscription "Scrubbing Your Soul Won't Make it Clean,"  and the following materials list:

Materials: cast and carved bone, bone dust from every bone in the body, ground wisdom teeth, homemade wine (water, sugar, fermented grapes, black cherries, plums, red raspberries, yeast, gelatin, tartaric acid, pectinase, sulfur dioxide, oak flavoring) fortified with calcium, potassium, creatine, zinc, iron, nickel, tin, copper, boron, vitamin K, crushed amino acids, glutamine, chromium, sodium, magnesium, colostrum, phosphorus, iodine, microcrystalline cellulose, quartz, rust, water extendable resin, typeset, driftwood shelf.)

What difference does it make if there is wine in this jug or not? We can't see it. We have to trust the artist that he has actually used any of the listed materials. It's a leap of faith and I'm not sure why I'm being asked to take this leap so that I can look at these materials in the new forms that this artist has made. Am I to scrub my soul with homemade wine and the blood of Christ, and still have to grab for the Comet?

If the artist is trying to inform me - explain what it takes to make wine - it's a self-serving attempt to gain my trust.

If the objects are made to deliver poetry in cleaver titles, then does that work? 

The piece, A Defeated Soldier Wants to Walk his Daughter up the Aisle - the boot - is made with wooden legs that Civil War amputee soldiers carved for themselves, the card verifies when I finally have a chance to read it. And the boots are World War I standard issue. I'm not trying to be a stickler for accuracy but when things don't fit logically they lend themselves to comedy. According to philosopher, Noël Carroll, incongruity is at the heart of all jokes. The titles makes the campy object a joke. Like a fraternity trophy used as a beer stein.
What gives me the most outrage is that Robleto has somehow sucked the ink off soldiers letters home and made them into dye for one of the pieces shown here. Maybe the soldier was a bad writer, but if I was his/her kid, I'd want the letter.

The arrogance of the artist, thinking that someone would wish their bone or their ink anonymously included in his ceramics or paper-making projects, is glaring.

I'm usually as willing to laugh at campy stuff as the next Post Modernist. Tonight, however, I feel like such an ordinary Joe, weighed down by real or imagined financial worries, that I'm not sure I'm the most open observer. Like an ordinary observer, I feel outside. And from here, it looks like too much of contemporary art is an inside joke.   

Terry Talty, who writes this blog, pleas for forgiveness for being a downer: Please do read the next installment, which is sure to be more optimistic. Sign up for the RSS feed, if you can spare the time.

How Jesus would want to show his paintings

chisman-offering-2006.jpgDale Chisman was a Colorado artist. He graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder, went to New York for a while, and over his 40-year career became known to a lot of people who care about art in Denver, Boulder and the rest of the state. He died recently and there have been a few opportunities to see his work. But the current retrospective at RedLine is how I'd want to see my work if I was a painter like Dale Chisman.

The show is curated by Jennifer Doran Robischon, and more of the retrospective is at Robischon Gallery. Both parts are up from January 13 until February 27, 2011.

You can see (from the small photos I've copied here) that his paintings are colorful and are not Realism. You can't tell how very large and powerful they are. One of the people speaking about his work, Michael Paglia, an art critic for Westword, said he thought 'Butch' as in Macho, was a way to describe how direct and strong these images are. My companion dismissed that expression; he said they had a Presence - nothing so mean as butch - something like stage presence, dramatic and larger than life. Set to demand attention. If you owned one, I can imagine it would take over a living room, and force you to enjoy looking at it, and to find something new and interesting in it, often.

chisman-pink.jpgBut seeing the assemblage - about 50 big, bold paintings - in the space at Redline where the ceiling seems a mile away, I thought, if I was God I'd be happy that this is how they did my church.

The main gallery at Redline is white and new feeling, like the Denver Art Museum's new addition, but with more regular, perdendicular walls. The arrangement of the collection in this space is ultra-pleasantly professional - like a big museum show - only there's no educational crap, nor any audio headsets interfering with the viewing.

The paintings are strong on the white walls, and 'authentic,' as Paglia also said, as we listened to a panel discussion about the work. A debate began between panelists about how materialistic, ethereal or meditative the work was -- something I associate with Abstract Expressionism -- which another speaker, Simon Zalkind mentioned, but was put down because every painting seems to have some kind of a grounded object. You'd never think of a Rothko as having an object in it. So, no, these aren't ether-like like Rothko. But the work, nonetheless could be described as abstract and expressive. And you can look at it for a while - like a flickering candle - and be content.

The grounded objects do say something about how we see things, even though they aren't specific objects. Some elements seem to be in focus, and sometimes they're not. There are no laws followed about focus like 'depth of field' so we don't interpret these paintings like a photograph. To blur or focus is all human decision. Focused can be right next to unfocused, maybe on top of it. The paintings seem to me like a revolving memory with one piece getting the thinker's attention while others are fading. Adam Lerner, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the panel moderator, said it another way. He said things seem to be appearing and disappearing. Animation, memory, focus - unsettled contemporary issues about seeing. 

And back to their strength -- either masculine, dramatic or just bigness -- they assert rebellion. Works were divided directly in half. A real design no-no. A mauve pink that never gets much play elsewhere is all over the newer works.  Colors combine in ways you've never seen in Better Homes and Gardens.

Everyone said Chisman was a sweet guy, maybe prone to write late night criticisms to the art editor, and although he was painting in the '80s until his death in 2008 in an abstract tradition that had it's heyday in the 50s, rebellion crept in, and questions of seeing are present.

Someone on the panel said his family was Christian Scientist. It was unlikely that he was practicing that religion - he was a smoker and a drinker I learned in this short discussion. I'd never met him, but a friend of mine verified this, and had also been raised Christian Scientist. Optimism. That what the work has, he said, a distinct sign of a Christian Scientist.
Optimistic, not mean. They do demand attention, but enjoyment is what they demand.

Damn nice drawings at the DAM

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Marc Brandenburg
Dec 2010 to Feb. 20, 2011

Thumbnail image for MB_man.jpg

MB_vomit.jpg Drawings of a photographic negative done with a great amount of skill and sensitivity to the beauty of graphite laid down on paper. This describes the drawings done by Berlin artist Marc Brandenburg, which are currently on show on the 3rd floor of the Hamilton building of the Denver Art Museum. and will remain on view until February 20, 2011.

We can recognize the imagery although it is a negative - everything that would be white is black and vise-versa - of people or landscapes.

Mostly people. Realistically drawn people I found interesting to look at because of the skill of the drawing, but I didn't feel like a voyeur because they were the negative. Oddly, I felt like I had permission to stare, and not feel I was staring at a human.

Another twist, and probably a benefit, of the negative is that the image of pop singer, Michael Jackson, was very black because he was so light. Some figures were blacker, and must have been whiter in real life.

The drawing of a naked man (photo at right) was cut out of the page and floating in a shadowbox with a black background. Likewise, the drawing of vomit was cut out and lying on a pedestal. A couple of kids came into the space and really liked the drawing. Then their parents read the title -- Vomit -- and everyone said, oooohh, yuck.

Even when the drawings retained the rectangular shape of their paper, they were floating in the frames. Sometimes the paper curled a little and felt like snapshots.

Especially the first one, above. It was long and made up of a series of pieces of paper, not just one page.

The subject of this long drawing was a protest march. The words on the banners were in German and backwards, so it's meaning was insignificant. I could concentrate on the images. The series made a complete 360 degree view of the scene, laid out like a panorama. The series started with people beside the viewer, then people in front , on the other side and back around to the people behind.

The negative rather than positive images made me feel weirdly distance from the scene, but warmly attracted to it because of the soft beauty of the pencil on paper forming shadows and modeling the forms to make them feel round and alive. Drawing is an intimate medium. Really feels like something made by hand.

And being made by hand, the shadows and textures are often done in different ways. And then there are the whites - the untouched paper. I had to remember that they would be black - the blackest black. And my imagination is probably better at making this kind of black than a pencil is at making true, true black. My companion complained that it was boring to have to keep translating these from negative to positive, but as you've read, I kept thinking of reasons why it worked.

Sculpture adds sense to the Natural World:

rockymtwinter.jpgAll God's Children Got Rhythm
Yoshitomo Saito
New Work
June 4- July 31, 2010

They are less than two inches high; just pieces of branch buds, assembled on the wall and poking out at you from your knees to over your head. And they cast beautifully intricate shadows. You can get lost in looking at them. They are "Rocky Mountain Winter" by Yoshitomo Saito, and are installed this month and next at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, Denver.

I stood at the opening with the titles list, reading to see if I could match each sculpture with its title. I had to look hard and think in order to make the matches but soon became obvious. I asked the guy next to me to do the same. He make the same matches. I guess Saito knows what he's talking about. His subject most often is nature.

Not in the sappy way that landscape paintings can be, these sculptures are pleasant to look at and inform us about how it is to see things in nature. Things we don't often think to see.

Primordial Humaness

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Looking for the Face I had before the world was made
by Terry Talty
January 30, 2010

Paintings by Belgian artist Michael Borremans at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

DENVER, COLORADO - Representing the human face in art is a little like telling everyone who you're sleeping with. You're admitting what you find attractive (akin to buying unusual art - you must like this weird thing  - it says to anyone who might see it in your house).

When you paint heads, you're showing what you think is human. If you paint with accuracy and copy every detail of a face, you're placed in a sub-genre: photorealism, or worse portraiture. Like the artist/photographer in the neighborhood portrait studio, you're an artist with the narrow vision of seeing just one face. And this is a valuable mission when you're hired by a high-school senior to make something for the yearbook. It's a different mission to paint what you want to represent humanity. Many contemporary artists use a cartoon, a symbol, or some other kind of messy mark or gesture to depict the every-face. Michaël Borremans blur some, and focuses well on the nondescript parts as he works to find another way to that universal face.

The show called Looking for the face I had before the world was made is six-different exhibitions by six artists that opened Jan. 29 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. Borremans' paintings, about 10, are in the main floor gallery.

The faces in the paintings are not engaging the viewer. We are looking from the back of heads, at someone looking away, at the profile of an artist intent on something oblique to us. The colors are somber and in one, the subject is a thorny stick leaning against the wall. In one, the figure is wearing a tight cap that seems to have mouse ears sewn onto it.

'No one would be caught dead in such a hat unless it was a costume, says my friend, nudging me. My friend has the rare profession today of being a housewife.

MCA)@.jpgThe universal face is on the other side of that hat, looking into the picture frame with us. But as my friend said, that hat is drawing our attention to her - the feminine subject.  Inside another frame is a brown-haired feminine subject looking down at her hands. No facial features stand out. Two figures are standing in the dim gallery light looking at this canvas. One brown-haired female looks like the painting. I take her picture on my crummy phone camera. The other human is a guy with too much apparent individuality to be the universal. One side of his head is shaved and the other - I can only see a dark line of hair at the crown from my vantage point - seems to be the barbershop classic, the taper.

Try to mentally draw this threesome as the universal. The guy can pose showing his left or right side and play the part of twice as many characters.

I let Photoshop help me try to find the 'common human.' I eliminate until I get there, worry I've taken away to much, or kept too much. When I'm done, I'll mentally put this face, these faces, in a scene that we all do: look at our hands, scratch an itch or turn away from someone looking at us. Give it a try, and then come back and look at these paintings.


The primordial human face -- one to whom we can all relate -- is cold and sad like the feeling in this gallery. We are not inside this human. We are looking at it from a separate skull. The feeling is completely different feeling than the Renaissance window to the world where we look into a picture and buy the illusion, as if it's a window onto a painted scene.

There is one painting in this show that has this traditional perspective just to remind us that looking at the face that is not engaging us, is different from looking through the window with the artist. Its subject is simply an open magazine. We are in the mind, behind the face, of the universal person looking at the open pages.

I'm pretty sure Photoshop and I have a long way to go before we finally create the meta-face, but when I look back at the Borremans painting where that I was trying to understand in that exercise, I notice they are not like the open magazine painting. They don't prompt me to feel 'hey, we're all looking at the same stuff. I can really feel I'm seeing with that figure's eyes.'

Instead, I question, 'hey, is that what I look like to the world?'

The name of this exhibition, of which these paintings are just one part, is "Looking for the Face I Had Before the World Was Made," taken from a line in a poem was W.B. Yeats. And if Borresmans has found the face that we had before the world was made ... have I always looked that alone?

MCA Denver: William Stockman

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In Human Scale

Looking for the Face I had before the world was made
by Terry Talty
January 29, 2010

William Stockman drawings at Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
Drawings by William Stockman in the paperworks gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.  Photos:Terry Talty
DENVER, COLORADO - Like pages from a journal as big as my arm's span drawings hung from pushpins in the paper works gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. Each page was a sparse scene of people in action: a man in a small boat reaching into water for fish, a woman with her hands stretched out on a string of twinkling lights. The activity was depicted simply, with more interest in creating atmosphere than comic-book reality. The date was stamped into the thick drawing paper so that its colorless existence took a little discovering, but made me start thinking of journals, newspapers and other ways we make marks on paper to describe the day. And tomorrow, describe the next day.

It never seems like much at the time - what happens in a day - but when these days are put together it could be amazingly rich. Particularly if they are drawing, and enormous.

The images William Stockman pulled out from 2009 to put on the walls of the Contemporary are enormous. Stockman's drawings are one part of the 6-part exhibition called Looking for the Face I had before the World was Made that opened January 29, 2010.

Museum of Contemporary Art Denver O'Grady, Lorraine
Small, intimate gallery painted black sucks up light and makes for long exposures with the photographs of Lorraine O'Grady.

Coming from being intensely focused on photographs hanging on the black-painted walls of another part of this exhibition, I walked into the Paper Works gallery expecting the past show, which was full of medium values of blue and gray and mixed materials. The new whiteness of the space surprised me. I was struck by the beauty of the giant pieces of creamy white drawing paper hanging by black binder clips from push pins.

I could see paper envy in the eyes of my two friends. These are big sheets of expensive, thick, pudding-smooth paper. And the drawings are just black marks and some grays made by erasing. It is easy to imagine that more could be done with that much rag real estate. 'Yeah, I might have kept going,' said one of my companions about one very ethereal drawing. 'I like the sparseness,' said someone else in the gallery, and much later another person in our group said that this particularly minimal drawing, which he called 'the shadow people with the halos on their heads,' was his favorite one of the drawings.

Exhibition at MCA Denver William Stockman
Natural light streams into the upstairs galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. These drawings are hung from black binder clips (office supply materials). Then on of the arms is slung over a push pin in the wall. Brilliantly simply and pretty safe for the paper.

It took a long time of looking for me to get over the idea of such nice paper being paired with just so few expressive lines. I left the gallery with my friends and their paper envy, but knew I wanted to go back. We all did. On the second trip I'd accepted the austerity of the works. When we discovered the dates on each one, the idea of keeping a vivid, enormous, graphic journal struck me as such a beautiful life documentary. Awe-struck me, like the cave paintings at Lascaux.


Never Dead Poets

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Looking for the Face I had before the world was made
by Terry Talty
January 29, 2010

Samuel Beckett at Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
DENVER, COLORADO - Disembodied lips enunciated clearly the plight of the speaker feeling disconnected from the world and her physical body. The brain ... and the brain ... the lips say, and emphasize with the few poignant pauses. This 14-minutes monologue is so fast you originally believe it's in a foreign language.

The language is that of Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright who gave us Waiting for Godot and many other surrealistic plays and stories. The lips are a 2 foot by 1 foot video projection made before the playwright died in 1989, and it is installed in a completely black room at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. The background of the face or anything else that would be on the screen is black. The projected lips are a deep value of black, the mouth less deep and the teeth white, and moving as fast as the lips.

Of course this image is intriguing. Is it the face I had before the world was made? as the title of this six-part exhibition at the MCA is called? 

Before The World Was Made

If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity's displayed:
I'm looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.

What if I look upon a man
As though on my beloved,
And my blood be cold the while
And my heart unmoved?
Why should he think me cruel
Or that he is betrayed?
I'd have him love the thing that was
Before the world was made.

Beckett's film piece is called Not I. The speaker continually talks about the the person who is physically moving about: looking at something in a museum, grocery shopping, typing as the Not I, not the person that the speaker feels she is. She doesn't recognize her physical self. She sighs, she screams a little, she emotes and is rational. This may sound like too much to take for 14 minutes, but the speech is as open as an astrology column. The lips for words, words make thoughts, spoken thoughts lead to created thoughts, thoughts trigger emotions, emotions fire sensations, create more thoughts and on and on.

Out of the blue, a friend of mine said to me a while ago, "I don't want to die. I really like thinking."

Is this experience in a dark room with disembodied lips what I was before the world was made? And is that different from the one that will be mine after my world is gone?

What would you look like as a building

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Looking for the Face I had before the world was made
by Terry Talty
January 30, 2010

DENVER, COLORADO - Portraits of people by A.G. Rizzoli at the Museum of Contemporary Art are a cross between a building dedication plaque and Dadaist drawings of machines or geometry that were titled with someone's name. Each of Rizzoli's elaborate mechanical drawings of the classic sky scraper is named for someone - his mother, a Mr. Alfredo Capobianco (full title of the piece: Alfredo Capobianco and Family Symbolically Sketched/Palazzo del Capobianco).

These aren't tiny images - about 3 or 4 feet tall - but every viewer steps within inches of the frame to get more intimate with the details of Mr. Capobiano's immortalization as a drawing of a building. There are slogans in banners and bigger-than-marginal comments that give us some tiny hint at who these people were, but it's not obvious why one building is Mr. Capobiano and another is the artist's mother. The buildings are similar just as grave markers are similar. Every one of the displayed drawings is the same style, fine lines and architectural text.

I go back again and again to look up close at one of the drawings and pick out something interesting like the window ledges. The next time, I take in the scrolls. These drawing are like those Edible Bouquets, lots of different things of the same family.

'What kind of building would you be?' I ask a woman looking with me at one of these fantasy buildings. She describes a house she'd imagined when she was a kid: nine stories below ground and nine stories above, made out of malleable foam.

Me? I had a dream when I was a kid that I lived in a house made of a tight circle of pine trees with a floor about ten feet up. A treehouse with no walls but pine trees, no windows except the those created by curves of the tree trunks, and a view to the stars framed by the far away tops of the trees.

And you?

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Denver Art Exhibitions category.

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