Going big at the McNichols Building
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
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.
LalehMehran and Chris Coleman’s “Transitional Domains.”
Angela Beloian’s “Safety Net” is woven and crocheted from bed sheets donated by friends.