Walking the beat again is bittersweet

Three months have passed since I last wandered around the art districts of Denver in my part-time duties as a freelance visual arts writer. You know the reason, of course — the coronavirus pandemic. Virulent and ever-present, it forced the closure of almost all public spaces, including art galleries and museums. Several galleries have cautiously opened as of late May and early June 2020. Meaning, facial masks and social distancing are required, and appointments versus drop-ins are highly encouraged.

Despite the chance to see art again, though, I found the art-walking experience to be bittersweet, primarily for two reasons. First, the atmosphere in the galleries seemed a little on the downbeat side, what with the spaces mostly empty of visitors (although it was a 90-degree Wednesday afternoon). It was as if all the new post-virus procedures and our general trepidation about being in public spaces again had relegated art-browsing to an inconvenient, perhaps unnecessary, pursuit. And that’s a shame.

Second, my days as a freelance art reviewer are probably coming to a close after 10 years. My main clients have downsized their operations, or no longer have budgets for freelancers. Any freelancer out there can certainly relate.

Still, I saw some wonderful art in and around the Golden Triangle, LoDo and RiNo in just one afternoon, and I’ll retrace my steps here with a few descriptions and lots of photos:

The McNichols Building, part of Denver Arts & Venues, is not only a beautiful art space, but also the site of two very worthwhile exhibitions at the moment. It’s a grand building, erected in 1907; unfortunately, its front door was bashed in during the recent Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Denver. Because of that and because of the pandemic, protocols are in place, including reservations and sign-ins at a temporary back-door entrance. Masks are mandatory throughout the building.

On the third floor, find “Queer City of the Plains,” in which several Colorado artists interpret what it means to be queer and out in the Centennial State. The timing is perfect — June is Gay Pride Month. In particular, I loved the feel of Secret Love Collective’s installation, in which several textile works along the walls are accompanied by a timeline of gay rights milestones and activism in Colorado. Also drawing me in was Jonathan Saiz’s intriguing combination of his trademark mosaic tiles with a quasi-history of gay life in frontier Colorado. Gay miners, cowboys, and frontiersmen and women? Why, of course.

The second floor features several contemporary Colorado artists, a few deceased, in an LGBTQ+ tribute called “Lavender Mist.” For the record, here’s the selection of artists: Jack Balas, Roger Beltrami, John Bonath, Mark Brasuell, Michael Brohman, Colby Brumit, Dale Chisman, Robert Delaney, John Haeseler, Wes Hempel, Shawn Huckins, Wes Kennedy, Tom Linker, Emilio Lobato, Mike McClung, Bruce Price, Roger Reutimann, Kevin Sloan, Peter Stevinson, Louis Trujillo, J. Bruce Wilcox, and David Zimmer. There are no obvious stylistic similarities amid this collection, but there needn’t be.

Another stop in my art walk was K Contemporary in LoDo, where pandemic protocols are in place, but the enthusiasm is high for new work by gallery artist Shawn Huckins, whom I recently profiled. It was a pleasure to see Huckins’ work in person after having to depend on website images. The experimentation with installation work is the highlight of the show, and you can get a taste of it here:

Next on my itinerary was Visions West Contemporary in RiNo, where I wanted to be sure not to miss new work by Colorado artist Sarah Winkler, whose landscapes bear a distinctive style that I can’t help but be totally smitten with, being the mountains — not beaches — girl that I am. With this show, Winkler is especially interested in peeling back the geological layers of wintry landscapes, including the anatomy of icebergs. A sampling:

Last but not least in my art adventure was the chance to see just a smattering of the protest art that has arisen in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police and the re-invigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement. Denverites can take pride in their involvement in peaceful protest marches. I’m trying to understand, though, how pent-up frustrations about both overt and subtle racism in our society manifested into lots of property damage in the Golden Triangle and elsewhere downtown. Maybe I’m not meant to understand. Just wish it hadn’t been quite so prolific. Kudos to those who honor the BLM movement with expressions of art. And kudos to the folks behind the Black Lives Matter signage on Broadway, and I mean, ON Broadway. The Denverite magazine coverage is better than I could capture with my camera. Here’s some of what I documented: