There's something telegraphically "group show" about a title like Manifestations of the Sacred. While such titles are undoubtedly useful to curators, these names often portend something generic -- an excuse.
Adding to my skepticism about the latest show at the Gallery of Contemporary Art at UCCS, which opens on Friday, was the list of usual suspects: Dawn Wilde, Floyd Tunson, Carol Dass, Sean O'Meallie, Pat Dagnon, Margaret Kasahara. We've seen a lot of these folks in just about every gallery in town recently, and they're all incredibly great, and they're all local. And, well, sometimes you just want to see something different.
And yet; sometimes a little bit of loose context can be just the right place to find something unexpectable (a neologism that the poet Federico Garcia Lorca coined).
Conceived by guest curator Liz Szabo and George Ericson (a graduate of the UCCS art department, now a graduate student at Rutgers), the show's strength is, unexpectably, carried by its youngest artists.
Fittingly, Ericson's video piece is one of those works.
Titled "Awakening/Sleep," Ericson's video uses split-screen technology to juxtapose in utero images of a fetus with a horde of frenzied eels feeding on something big and dead. The grotesque, tentacle-like swarming of the eels and the sentimental, almost clich images of the fetus manage to powerfully tell the regenerative story of the life cycle in all its brutal and terrifying wonder.
Also surprisingly brilliant were the diminutive art books by student Liz McCombs. "My Y Book" is a preciously crafted book of convoluted folds and incessant "WHY"s that ends with the charmingly obvious "BECAUSE."
In another wee book constructed from torn scrap pages of another book, McCombs repeatedly overlaid the question "Why Even Bother." The question becomes a feedback loop while the book becomes its answer within the tension between the simplicity of content and the complexity of structure.
Far and away the most exciting mind in the show is that of young artist Tony Tirado. Not only is he a natural talent as a draftsman, but also has an equally unforced command over the subtlety of seeing.
In an untitled piece, Tirado simply covered a yellow and black directional road sign with blue vinyl. The effect is almost boring, and doesn't intend to shock. But it does force you to look at it long enough to realize that it is merely a road sign covered in blue vinyl, which you would never have spent more than an instant scrutinizing had he not done this. And it's subtle, and it's lovely. He's made you look at something, and you feel lucky.
In "Mixed Media," a completely different piece, Tirado has simply sketched a few things on the back of a piece of paper, which, if you look at it closely, reads "Pray2K: America's Hope for the New Millennium." An eyeball, a scrap of dirty something-or-other. Its composition is reminiscent of the collages and sketches of Joe Brainard, a New York pop-minimalist who took trash and design to its apex in the late 1970s.
His confounding "Double Portrait" is equally divergent in style and adds to the sense that his ideas come one at a time and on their own mysterious terms. A touching, finely rendered self-portrait in colored pencil sits next to a portrait that's given way to a fanciful insanity -- not quite breaking apart, but losing the edges. Just enough loss of control to give you the sense that there's a great deal more you're not being told.
Don't get me wrong, the old timers and others have also put together some great works for this show, but let's give the baby boomers a rest for a while. They've had the wheel for decades now.
-- Noel Black