Go­ing big at the McNi­chols Build­ing

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Ray Mark Ri­naldi

The McNi­chols Build­ing is one of Den­ver’s most prom­i­nent show­places for vis­ual art, but it’s no­to­ri­ously hard to stage an ex­hibit there. The place is vast— more than 30,000 square feet, mostly spread over a few cav­ernous con­fer­ence rooms— and it takes a few truck­loads of art to keep it from look­ing half- filled.

Plus, there are re­stric­tions. The Civic Cen­ter icon has emerged as one of the most pop­u­lar event spa­ces in town, and so the art has to stick closely to the­walls, stay­ing out of the­way of the busi­ness meet­ings and wed­ding re­cep­tions that pack it on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. A lot of cock­tails get served up at McNi­chols, and the art has to be ready for any­thing.

And yet, I’ve seen some ter­rific shows there as the city has painstak­ingly re­fur­bished and re­opened it to the pub­lic over the past few years. Cu­ra­tors have to push them­selves, and their artists, to think big, and that has

in­spired some grand feats.

“Tec­tonic Shift: Dy­nam­ics of Change” is just the kind of ef­fort thatMcNi­chols gives rise to. The third- floor ex­hibit is a show­case for the artists aligned with­Walker Fine Art, one of the city’s busiest com­mer­cial gal­leries. They are fa­mil­iar names in the cul­tural scene, but the vast space of­fers a new way to see their work.

Gallery owner Bob­biWalker asked her artists to cre­ate pieces with phys­i­cal depth, so they en­gage the gi­ant room and don’t merely hang on its walls. But the pieces could only be so deep— maybe a foot— so they don’t take up space that is filled with DJs and dancers when the place is used as a cater­ing hall.

So, artists who usu­ally work on flat sur­faces ( say, painters) were forced to add new di­men­sions to the work, while artists who usu­ally work in 3- D ( say, sculp­tors) had to think of com­pact ways to ex­press their ideas.

An­gela Beloian, known to Walker reg­u­lars for her draw­ings on paper and panel, goes all the way with this con­cept. Work­ing with the show’s theme of a so­ci­ety in flux, she cre­ated “Safety Net,” a sort of spi­der web, 9 feet in di­am­e­ter, that is wo­ven and cro­cheted from bed sheets do­nated by friends. Beloian wants us to think of refugees, forced from their homes with only a few pre­cious per­sonal be­long­ings, and how their ex­ist­ing net­works get in­te­grated into the so­ci­eties they mi­grate to.

Bar­bara Sorensen, fa­mil­iar for her wiry sculp­tures made to be viewed from 360 de­grees, sticks closer to the walls with “Pools,” at­tach­ing 32 bas­ket- like ob­jects to wooden pan­els. They are wo­ven from rope, and hard­ened by resin, re­flect­ing how fluid things change, and can grow stronger, as they move through new ex­pe­ri­ences.

In both cases, you can see the sig­na­ture moves of the artist— Beloian’s draw­ings of­ten fea­ture fine, in­ter­sect­ing lines, and Sorensen’s sculp­tures tend to em­ploy wiry ma­te­ri­als trans­formed into fixed ob­jects— but here we get to know them in a new light.

“Tec­tonic Shift” has a num­ber of stand­out works. Peter Il­lig in­cor­po­rates neon lights into his paint­ing “Ship­wreck/ Re­demp­tion,” an up­date of Théodore Géri­cault’s “The Raft of theMe­dusa.” The piece uses the ship­wreck as a clever ( and, I thought, wor­ry­ing) metaphor for the coun­try’s shift­ing eco­nomic classes.

Ch­eryl Rogers goes top­i­cal with “Pinned,” draw­ing what ap­pears to be a vagina ( yes, at McNi­chols) out of safety pins at­tached to an un­stretched can­vas. She hopes view­ers will con­sider re­cent at­tacks on women’s rights.

Lale­hMehran and Chris Cole­man, guest artists here and work­ing as a duo, fill a corner with “Tran­si­tional Do­mains,” a con­struc­tion of tiny, fab­ri­cated squares an­i­mated by elec­tronic lights with shift­ing pat­terns, un­der­scor­ing the mix of sta­bil­ity and un­pre­dictably of con­tem­po­rary ex­is­tence.

In some ways, “Tec­tonic Shift” is all over the map. The artists all went their own way with the theme, and that can be jar­ring. At the same time, they bring their own cre­ative modes to the table, and that fills it with per­son­al­ity.

It’s also an ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion

By Bonny Lhotka, pro­vided by Walker Fine Art

TimMain’s “uS” hangs fromthe ceil­ing. It’s made from re­cy­cled waste paper, ce­ment, sand and other ma­te­ri­als. Pho­tos

In the gi­antMcNi­chols Build­ing, the big­ger the art is, the bet­ter. Here are pieces by Sabine Aell ( left) and Bar­bara Sorensen.

Pho­tos by Bonny Lhotka, pro­vided by Walker Fine Art

Lale­hMehran and Chris Cole­man’s “Tran­si­tional Do­mains.”

An­gela Beloian’s “Safety Net” is wo­ven and cro­cheted from bed sheets do­nated by friends.

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