Waste makes art at DAC

“Red,” mixed media, Karen Holmgren
“Hosiery,” mixed media,
Karen Holmgren
“College Collage,” detail,
Amy Vaclav-Felker

The Invitational Recycled Show will be at the Durango Arts Center through July 31, 802 East Second Ave., 259-2606.

By Leanne Goebel
Special to the Herald

The Invitational Recycled Show at Durango Arts Center is edgy, experimental, funky, and a fun way to spend an hour on a hot afternoon. This is the first time in four years that I’ve seen installation art at DAC. Not that it all works at a level that one might expect to find at SITE Santa Fe, but the exploration is a step in the right direction for the art center and the artists.

The best work in this show by far belongs to Karen Holmgren. Her work is well proportioned and combines color, value, line, shape, form, texture and shape in ways I found aesthetically pleasing. I would hang “Landscape” ($200), “Red” ($400) or “Hosiery” ($200) in my home and find the work compelling each day.

These well-crafted works combine discarded metal, scraps of carpet foam, pieces of plastic, those tacky fake grasses sold at craft stores, and hoses. The use of color in Homgren’s work is terrific and truly exemplifies “high art” created from trash and scraps. My only nitpicking complaint is about “Yellow” ($300), which hangs with an exposed wire that detracts from the otherwise interesting lines and proportions.

A piece that intrigues conceptually and contextually for me is Diana Ruthers’ “I Only Tilt at Windmills” ($400) mixed media piece. The mask, the shield and the spear are all well crafted from found objects and look very tribal. The title comes from Don Quixote who battles imaginary enemies, which in reality are only windmills. Ruthers writes in her statement: “I get behind a cause and push and struggle and try to set it right . . .. It is a humorous comment on futility for all the right reasons.”

I confess. I admire someone who can laugh at herself and admit she doesn’t see what might be obvious to others. Isn’t this exactly how artists feel about reviewers? The work is so intimate and the meaning so obvious to them, they don’t understand how we outsiders might not get it. And conversely, how we reviewers look at work, bringing our own background and experience and wondering how the artist didn’t see the true meaning of her own work?

I commend Debra Greenblatt for attempting homage to minimalist installation artist Dan Flavin; unfortunately the piece does not work in the DAC gallery. Greenblatt’s “Dan Flavin visits the Aegean” ($300) is a white wooden box holding a fluorescent lighting tube with blue-green gel. The piece sits on the floor in the front gallery flooded with light from the front windows. There is no intense illumination or splays of colored light on the walls as typical of a Flavin installation. It just doesn’t work in the setting.

My biggest complaint about the show is the lighting. Many works are dark and poorly lit. Particularly April Swanson’s “And My Mom Said I Can Grow up to be President” (not for sale) a cheap gold frame with the words “I am.” “Myself.” “an Individual.” Typed on the same size white cards and pinned to the background of the frame. The entire piece is unlit. Which is unfortunate, because it is somewhat elucidatory, the combination of phrases playing in the mind.

Swanson’s installation on the adjacent wall “Dress Me Up in Black & White” (not for sale) is also poorly lit. The work shows a series of photographs of a large-breasted woman in a seductive black bra, balanced by a series of soft matronly images. Swanson says in her statement that the work is NOT a juxtaposition of “The Madonna” and “The Whore.” However, if that were the case, then the installation should not have juxtaposed the images. I’m not sure how the work “is a comment on the preoccupation our culture has with domesticating female sexuality,” as Swanson writes in her statement. Without the statement, the work doesn’t convey domestication of female sexuality. But again, I commend the artist for attempting something we don’t see very often in this part of the country: installation art.

Another distraction is the number of pieces presented by the fourteen artists. Each artist has multiple works represented and the show seems crowded.

Yet, it is worth a visit and there are many interesting and fun works. Look for “Ted the Spider,” by Carl Stransky and “College Collage,” by Amy Vaclav-Felker and “Nature Bundles,” by Mary Ellen Long. After your visit, I challenge you to look at detritus, flotsam, or trash on the street in the same way again.

Leanne Goebel is a freelance arts journalist from Pagosa Springs

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