Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Curators IV: Holly Parker

[A longer version of the profile that ran in the Gazette on March 18]

At the Business of Art Center, Holly Parker is the familiar face among the region’s new curators.

The Colorado native was gallery director for the Smokebrush Foundation — where she managed the construction of the Uncle Wilber fountain in Acacia Park — before leaving in 2004 to get her master of fine arts degree.

That experience was mind-opening for Parker.

“It was interesting being with students who went directly from undergraduate to graduate school,” she said. “It helped me realize the value of my previous experiences.”

Living in Italy also gave her a new appreciation for life in a comparatively young city.

“It’s very hard for contemporary artists in Rome,” she said. “All the money goes into preservation.”

Because the Business of Art Center is a major studio space and production facility, Parker’s artistic mission is more local than the other curators'.

“The Business of Art Center has a mission to serve the community,” she said. “Part of that is bringing in exhibitions that educate the community in various ways. Diversity is really important.”

Gallery offerings range from the current “Wunderkind” exhibit, providing a showcase to the region’s best high school artists, to upcoming exhibits by the center’s resident studio artists and an exhibit of contemporary friendship books by Tom Leech, a long-time local artist and master of paper marbling who left to run the press at the Santa Fe Art Institute.

Parker remains a dedicated artist. Her current series is called “Active Ingredients,” in which Parker creates art made from used motor oil and earth. Themes include weapons of mass destruction and nuclear power.

For Parker, the latter — with its potential for enormous good and enormous evil — exemplifies the quandary of modern life.

“I’m really interested in technology,” she said. “It’s created many of our problems, but it also may save us.”

Parker is hopeful about the region’s arts scene.

“The art community has ebbed and flowed over the years,” she said. “Right now there’s a lot of new energy.

Curators III: Tariana Navas-Nieves

[A longer version of the profile that ran in the Gazette on March 18]

Tariana Navas-Nieves, the Fine Arts Center’s new curator of Hispanic and Native American art, calls her job “a curator’s dream.”

Navas-Nieves applied for the job of curator of American art, but the center was impressed enough to alter the job description to take advantage of her dual expertise.

She admits that one half of her job description gives her more joy than the other: “Latin American art is my passion,” said the Puerto Rico native.
“I fell into Native American art by working with collectors.”

Navas-Nieves’ work with collectors is just one aspect of her experience.

“I’ve worked in big spaces and small spaces, and with big collections and small collections,” she said. She’s been a consultant for the Denver Art Museum, and also worked at Denver’s cozy Museo de las Americas.

One of her duties is to bring the center’s historic collection of Southwestern arts and crafts up to date.

“It wasn’t just santos in the Southwest,” she said, referring to the painted and carved images of saints that form the core of the center’s collection.

She’s looking at other museums for hints on what direction to take the collection.

“The Denver Art Museum has a fabulous Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial collection,” she said. “We need a contemporary collection to complement that.”

A regional perspective comes naturally to Navas-Nieves: She still lives in Denver, where her husband is a criminal defense attorney. The couple has two young children.

She also brings an international viewpoint to her job, saying she can’t do a good job without knowing international trends and artists.

Navas-Nieves hopes to bring national and even international attention to the Fine Arts Center, a process that began when Michael De Marsche took over as the center’s president and chief executive officer in 2003.

“I’m hoping to cause some ruckus and reaction,” she said. “Colorado Springs is kind of a traditionalist city. I want to celebrate that but also to expand it. This city is ready to be challenged and pushed in new directions.”

But like De Marsche, Navas-Nieves believes that it’s possible to bring modern art to a broad public.

“Art is not for curators or scholars or a small group,” she said. “It is for you — it is for the public.”

Curators II: Christopher Lynn

[A longer version of the profile that ran in the Gazette on March 18]

The 32-year-old Christopher Lynn is the youngest of the region’s new curators. The UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art curator is a Utah native who was previously assistant curator at DePauw University in Indiana. His wife, Maria Samuelson, is a performance artist.

That alliance suggests Lynn is an unabashed modernist — which he says is correct.

“I come from a more conceptual base,” he said. “I’m willing to forgive mildly shoddy craftsmanship if there’s a really exciting concept.”

Lynn is still working on an exhibition schedule that was in place before he arrived. But he’s raising the level of activity at the gallery. He hopes to make it a place people visit often — not just for openings.

New programming includes film nights, quarterly “Bad Art Nights,” lectures and panels. Lynn has redesigned the gallery’s Web site with new features such as a blog and a soon-to-debut online coloring book in which anyone can create individual versions of everything “from high-brow to street art.” The originals will come from all over the world.

“I really like the notion of kids getting involved,” he said. “I went to public school, where there wasn’t much except Blue Boy and the Mona Lisa. Even in high school, I was lucky to brush up against Warhol.

“I want to demystify contemporary art for people and make it more accessible.”

He says that often all it takes is getting people to understand that their opinions are valid.

“Somebody says, ‘It’s a giant steel cube — I don’t get it,’” said Lynn. “But they do get it — it’s a giant steel cube.”

Lynn’s views on promoting local artists are similar to those of Fine Arts Center president Michael De Marsche.

“There will probably be fewer local artists shown,” he said — but when they are exhibited, they’ll get the red-carpet treatment.

“I’ve seen a lot of institutions treat local artists as second-class citizens,” he said. “They tend to ‘ghettoize’ them — ‘We have our big national shows, and we have our local artists.’”

Lynn hopes to integrate local artists with artists of national and international stature.

“If someone gets a solo show, it’s not as a local artist, but as a great artist,” he said — an approach he believes will make local artists work harder.

And if artists aren’t getting the recognition they deserve, he has some advice: Make a space.

“Lots of galleries have the life-span of a fruit-fly,” he said. “That’s what’s going on elsewhere. Colorado Springs needs more venues.”

Curators I: Jessica Hunter Larsen

[A longer version of the profile that ran in the Gazette on March 18]

Not too many years ago, Colorado College was insular enough that a new curator wouldn’t have been news in the community.

Jessica Hunter Larsen is changing that.

She is a Boulder native who moved to San Francisco after getting an art history degree at Colorado College.

“I was going to take the art world by storm,” she said. “It took about a year for the naive sheen to wear off. The gallery world is more about sales and marketing than about connecting with the work.”

She subsequently spent a decade at Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Montana, where her duties consisted of basically everything.

“I loved it,” she said. “It was a small, really dynamic organization." But the lure of her alma mater was too much to resist.

The byword of Larsen’s approach is “interdisciplinary.” She’s always looking to connect different media, whether at Colorado College, at the college’s I.D.E.A. Space, or with local artists and organizations.

“There are a lot of collaborative opportunities in town,” she said. “That’s the way to build audiences.”

Like Christopher Lynn at the UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art, Larsen wants to make contemporary art more approachable.

“I’m interested in pulling art out of the gallery and connecting it to daily life,” she said.

One way is simply to put it in people’s ways. Hunter Larsen has overseen the placement of guerilla art on the college campus and is looking forward to displaying an installation piece to be created by Julia Becker — and collaborators, of course — from March 26 to 30.

“She creates spiritually invested places within utilitarian environments,” Larsen said. “It’s insanely beautiful work.”

Hunter Larsen doesn’t downplay art history, but she’s most interested in what’s being created today.

“People and cultures make art about what they care about,” she said. “These are the stories we tell ourselves.”

In searching for today’s stories, Hunter Larsen is casting as broad a net as possible. She's already programming for the 2009/10 academic year — include a Tekcno Powwow, mixing American Indian culture with rap, hip-hop and rave; a performance by renowned artist/writer Coco Fusco in which Fusco will play the role of an interrogator in the War on Terror; and an exhibit of Vickie Meguire’s exquisite paper kimonos.

“There’s no way to assess what will have legs 10 years from now,” she said.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cashore Marionettes at the MAT

Sear these words into your memory: The Cashore Marionettes.

That way, you won’t miss one of the world’s best marionette acts the next time it’s in town.

At a full-house benefit performance for the Manitou Art Theater on March 7th, Joseph Cashore — assisted by his wife, Wilma — put on a dazzling display of skill and artistry in “Life in Motion,” a series of 13 short skits. The sheer engineering of Cashore’s puppets is incredible: It looked as though some of them had as many as 30 strings. An elephant’s trunk was capable of both picking up a log and blowing a feather; Old Mike, a homeless man, could wriggle his toe through the worn-out sole of his shoe.

But even more impressive was Cashore’s combination of observation and skill. When Maestro Janos Zelinka played, he looked like a living, 18-inch-tall violinist. When Cashore operated both mother and baby in “A Lullaby,” the two characters moved completely differently.

The exactness of the physical movements was matched by the characters’ realistic and nuanced personalities. Cashore is equally successful with comedy, as in the endless distractions from homework Sara finds in “The Scholar,” tragedy, as in Old Mike’s closing sigh of grief, and even satire, as in a performance by a heavy metal guitarist, complete with pelvic thrusts.

It’s the show’s balance of humor and pathos made it as fulfilling for former children as it was enchanting for children. Cashore is an example of great artistry found in an unexpected place.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Concertos, Concertos

Cellist Ani Aznavoorian provided most of the thrills at Saturday’s Colorado Springs Philharmonic concert.

Aznavoorian showed off her incredibly expressive musicianship in Brahms’ Double Concerto For Violin and Cello, in which she was joined by violinist Stefan Milenkovich, and in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto For Violin, Cello and Piano, in which she was joined by Milenkovich and pianist/conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith.

The orchestra also got a chance to show off on its own, with a sparkling performance of Richard Strauss’ virtuosic roller-coaster ride, “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.”

If anything, Aznavoorian has improved since her 2004 appearance with the philharmonic. She has energy to burn, a warm sound, phrasing that always sings, and seemingly no physical limitations. She grabbed the crowd’s attention in her first solo, which began as a continuation of the orchestra’s dramatic opening and transformed the mood into hushed tenderness.

She somewhat overshadowed Milenkovich, who phrases intelligently, has a pure, open sound in quiet passages — he was wonderful in the Brahms’ prayerful second movement — but has a much less pronounced musical personality and sometimes forces his tone.

Though Aznavoorian and Milenkovich sounded completely different when playing separately, they had an amazing rapport when playing together.

The first movement of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto may be the blandest large-scale piece the mature Beethoven ever wrote. But the short second movement is a gem — especially when played with the intensity Aznavoorian brought to it — and the quasi-Polish finale is delightful.

Smith’s decision to conduct Beethoven’s concerto from the keyboard resulted in a a few white-knuckle moments between the orchestra and the soloists. But each movement got better, and the finale brought the concert to a brilliant and satisfying conclusion.

It was in the finale that Milenkovich gave his most spirited playing of the evening. Smith also performed this movement with the intelligence and passion that he brings to his conducting.

Though the orchestra was often in the background in the concertos, it more than got its say in the curtain-raiser: Strauss’ witty, sparkling “Till Eulenspeigel.” The piece is based on the adventures of trickster from German folklore — and though it’s not necessary to know the story, it’s important to know that there is a story. Otherwise, many of the sudden changes of color, mood, volume and tempo are inexplicable

This was another performance that showed how far the orchestra has come. Simple competence is difficult enough in this orchestral showpiece; but this performance was also spirited, exuberant, and just plain fun. The orchestral tone was bright, focused and occasionally very, very loud.

Colorado Springs Philharmonic with Ani Aznavoorian, cello, and Stefan Milenkovich, violin
When: 2:30 p.m. today
Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Tickets: $12-$50; 520-7469 or