Colorado Biennial exhibition expands its scope
October 11, 2006
With its new Colorado Biennial exhibition, the Aspen Art Museum has expanded the pool of eligible artists beyond the customary Roaring Fork Valley to the entire state of Colorado. But in artistic concept, the show – which has gone by several names in the past, most recently the Aspen Valley Biennial – is intended to be even broader than that. It is meant to be boundless.”One of my goals in organizing the Biennial,” said Matthew Thompson, the museum’s assistant curator, “was to fight a certain idea, to avoid a certain idea of regionalism. We definitely have a commitment to show art that’s relevant to the community, but we’re also internationally focused. There was a real desire not to find an undercurrent that this has anything to do with Colorado. I didn’t want a regional scope.”This year’s Biennial is split into two parts, allowing the museum to include more artists. Part I, featuring six artists, opens with a reception from 6-8 tonight and runs through Oct. 29. Part II, which opens with a reception Nov. 9 and runs through Nov. 26, includes another half-dozen artists. Thompson will lead a tour at 6:45 p.m. at each opening, with available artists participating in a discussion of their work. Additional Art After Hours events, with tours of the shows, are set for 5-7 p.m. Oct. 19 and Nov. 16.The Biennial features three local artists: Snowmass Village multimedia artist Ben Koch is in Part I; Woody Creeker George Stranahan and Basaltine Karl Wolfgang, both photographers, are in Part II.
Thompson took several trips – including one with Aspen Art Museum director and chief curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, who consulted on the exhibition – to visit galleries, museums and artist studios around Colorado. The search resulted in a sufficient bounty of art that Thompson felt able to get creative in selecting a show that spans several bridges.”There was plenty of work to choose from,” said Thompson, 26, who joined the Aspen Art Museum staff a year ago. “That freed me up to make more interesting decisions of what to include. Just in terms of age, the range is huge – from Lisa Solberg, who is 23, to George Stranahan, who is 75. That’s three generations.”Two artists in Part I of the Biennial do, in fact, include Colorado imagery in their work, though neither uses those images in a parochial manner.Ron Pollard’s work is a series of black-and-white photos of houses, neighborhoods and streets in the Denver suburbs. Pollard, though, an architectural photographer by day, could be commenting on the drabness and isolating chill of any region’s suburbia; part of his point seems to be that these photos could have been made anywhere. The photos emphasize security shutters, satellite dishes and other modern contrivances that keep people holed up inside. Tellingly, his work is absent of humans themselves. The digital work is printed on cardboard.
“It’s this very cheap, almost brutal aesthetic, to mirror the idea of these homes as gloomy, moody. That’s really reinforced,” Thompson said. “There’s a militaristic feel, very aggressive and sealed off from the world.”The graffiti- and street art-inspired paintings of Lisa Solberg, a former Aspenite, are taken from sketches she made on a recent trip to Munich. But her exhibit also includes a series of the travel sketch books she draws from for her paintings; one of the books features images from her time in Aspen.Ben Koch, a 26-year-old studio manager for the Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s painting department, focuses on a sense of place on the broadest scale. There is also an air of the obsessive in his work. One piece is a collage that uses every image of the heavens from Koch’s childhood comic-book collection; a related work is a grid consisting of the dots that mark every city and town in an atlas.There are also two T-shirt designs by Koch. One features representations of the marks – every scar, vein and bump – on the artist’s body. The other, available for sale, features drawings of the flags of every nation on earth, all jumbled on top of one another.
Monica Petty Aiello’s paintings – so thick with varnish as to suggest sculpture – tread between the abstract and representational. Abstract to the uninformed eye, the paintings are actually images of the moons of Jupiter.Berthoud resident Jack Balas’ work plays with something only slightly less esoteric: advertisements for high-profile gallery shows that appear in art magazines. Balas uses the text and layout of the original ads but substitutes his own imagery, heavy on the homoerotic, for the actual art. “It’s more a dialogue with the art magazines,” said Thompson, “acknowledging that, because of where he lives, his relationship with the art world exists through the magazines.”The upstairs gallery features “Night of the Meek,” by University of Colorado film professor Phil Solomon. The 30-minute film is the third in Solomon’s seven-part “Twilight Psalms” series, a look back at the 20th century through manipulated found footage. All of the films are named after “Twilight Zone” episodes. “Night of the Meek” is a story about Anne Frank that Thompson describes as “brooding, solemn and immersive, with heavy ambient music” by Solomon.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org