Sometimes art takes you to strange places. And it can happen when you least anticipate it – when you walk into a gallery or museum expecting something ordinary and instead let yourself be drawn into an artist’s imaginative world with something something unique and fun to say.
This happened to me twice in the last week. So, I thought I’d skip the usual single exhibit review I do in this space most weeks and just tell you what I saw.
Vinni Alfonso, “Memento Amore” at the RedLine Art Center
There’s something quite brave about artist Vinni Alfonso. He does things that many people would consider messy or inconsistent, unsettling to watch, even grotesque. Then he shows them in public, demanding that people look at them.
Alfonso applies acrylic paint to his canvases and three-dimensional objects – layers and layers – in dabs, clumps, swooshes and heaps, infusing the surfaces of his works with an uneven, uneasy feel. His color choices are just as extreme. It’s not uncommon for the most ghastly shades of mustard yellow, easter egg purple, mint green and black to present themselves to the viewer all at once.
But what may seem excessive actually feels essential in his creations, especially those collected in his current exhibition, “Memento Amore” at RedLine Art Center. His best paintings in this show are overloaded, and some even, with visceral emotions. One piece is called “Anger”, another “Denial”, and these works contain volumes of intensity. The brushstrokes of paint overlap, collide and fight each other in an attempt to take up the most space on the canvas.
When recognizable images come together in these pieces, it is in the most abstract way. Sometimes his works are figurative with heads and bodies that imply their humanity. Other times they look like aliens or monsters. Often they look like wild flora, wild gardens exploding in your face.
They are not easy to decipher or consume, as they elicit emotional rather than intellectual reactions. You’re not sure what Alfonso wants you to feel, but he wants you to feel it fully.
It starts at the beginning of “Memento Amore”. Visitors are greeted with the monumental piece titled “Thought Histories”, which consists of hundreds and hundreds of small works, perhaps 6 inches by 8 inches, arranged in a grid that spans 20 feet long and 8 feet tall.
We assume that each individual piece represents a thought, although it is expressed in a single stroke of paint and usually in a single color. Each of these pansies is incomplete and unfinished, just a patch of green or brown or magenta, with no sharp edges, that is applied to glossy photo paper.
The piece resembles, in a way, the diagram of a mind going through a single day. Ideas flicker in our brain and then disappear, replaced by another flicker. Then another. They connect but they are separate.
To help make sense of it, Alfonso has put all the “thoughts” together in a video, titled “Thought History Loop” which plays on a monitor hung on an adjacent wall. The video is essentially a quick slideshow of the little paintings – each pops up for a few seconds and then goes away – creating an animation of how we process ideas over time.
It’s the most powerful moment in the show and the best example of what Alfonso is trying to capture, which he describes in his artist statement as “the process of intentionally creating memory while remaining grounded in the present.” . It’s an exercise in self-realization while acknowledging that we don’t have complete control over how our brain works.
Alfonso can push things beyond the tolerance level of most art fans. At the center of the gallery is a piece titled “Fontaine”, in which two life-size human figures face each other in a form of engagement. They can hug, they can fight, it’s hard to say. It’s a real fountain with green water flowing from the figures and it sits on top of a pile of real dirt adorned with artificial flowers
The entire room is covered in the kind of glop that is Alfonso’s trademark, an unknown agglomerated material that makes them hideous and monster-like. And yet they are also posed in such a way that they stare at each other intensely, as if trying to communicate something quite deep to each other.
There’s a loathsome romance in the fountain that some will see as heartfelt and others will think it’s melodramatic. It could go either way and Alfonso is definitely taking a chance on making it the centerpiece of his exhibit. The visitor is tempted to look at the indulgent aspects of his work and overlook its authenticity.
But it’s refreshing and unfiltered and, like the rest of the series, bold in its own way. This kind of art is hard to sell. It’s better than most of what I see in commercial galleries, although it’s hard to see a professional gallery do it; they are too scared and rarely do the kind of work it takes to make art such unusual, handmade and raw, sellable art.
In this way, “Memento Amore” speaks to why non-profit galleries are so crucial to the art ecosystem. And there are two people involved here, RedLine, who give it space, and Alto Gallery, who produced it, not curated it, and uses Redline as their exhibition space this time around. It’s an accidental partnership that I hope will continue.
But more than that, the exhibit is about what it means to be an artist, to be driven to create the things your muse places in your mind, even though people will think you’re a weird character. Even when you are unsure of them yourself. I like to say that the most authentic artists do what they have to and then show what they do. That’s the job. It is not easy.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
“Memento Amore,” co-produced by RedLine and Alto Gallery, continues through November 6. Location: 2350 Arapahoe St., Denver. Information: redlineart.org
Anuar Maauad, “We Are Bodies”, Black Cube HQ
For 13 years, artist Anuar Maauad has been leading public workshops asking people to consider their own bodies – their shapes and curves, the size of their feet and head, the length of their arms and the width of their shoulders.
He then asks them to make clay models of themselves. He amassed 7,000 of these doll-sized objects which he keeps in something called “The Archeology Files”.
There’s a lightness to the sculptures, a handmade Play-Doh preciousness reminiscent of childhood fun. They are, in a way, adorable.
But, of course, there is so much more going on. Asking people to make models of their bodies is, indirectly, asking them to see themselves as others see them – or at least as they perceive others to see them, and that’s a strange exercise. Even the most confident among us have mixed feelings about our appearance, bizarre self-perceptions about everything from the bumps in our noses to the contours of our hips.
For his exhibit at Black Cube’s headquarters in Englewood, titled “We Are Bodies”, Maauad amplifies these bizarre things we think about ourselves. He took the models produced at a recent workshop in Denver and enlarged them to larger-than-life size using a 3D printer.
The objects are full of exaggeration, elongated torsos and clumsy heads, lumpy private parts and fat necks. Maauad made them entirely white and placed them on elegant pedestals, inviting visitors to regard them as serious works of art.
Curator Cortney Lane Steel goes even further. She places them all under a bright, white, theatrical spotlight, so that every crease and nook of the pieces is multiplied by ten. The entire exhibit looks like a live show-biz production.
In this way, this exhibition entertains as much as it enlightens. Visitors can walk around the objects and view them from all sides. Each of the 10 exhibited sculptures acquires its own personality, becoming the characters of a well-written play, full of both admirable qualities and imperfections.
And for the plastic objects, they retain an impressive amount of humanity, enough for a viewer to embrace them beyond their physical appearances and begin to appreciate what they have in common – and what the viewer has in common. common with them: eccentricity, strength, vulnerability.
It feels heavy and a bit sentimental, and to be clear, this show is neither of those things. It’s got hard edges, hard lighting, and it’s kind of grotesque. But it encourages visitors to consider that we’re all basically, in general, all the same on the outside – two eyes, two ears, maybe an oversized nose – and consuming ourselves with our looks aren’t at our best. interest.
If you are going to
“We Are Bodies” continues through February 10 at The Black Cube, 2925 S. Umatilla St., Englewood. It’s free and open to the public by appointment. blackcube.art
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