Rule has proven to be the exception. The Denver art gallery has lasted a considerable three decades in a business that can be a lot of fun to be in but not so easy to profit from.
Rule Gallery has weathered the storms of fickle clients, flighty artists and fluctuating economies that have washed away scores of competitors over the years. It has remained nimble, staying just ahead of evolving tastes and changing locations when the time is right.
The gallery has taken up residence in emerging neighborhoods just before they got real-estate-hot — South Broadway for a time, then RiNo — taking advantage of the energy and then hitting the road when the rents got so high that revenues couldn’t keep pace. Along the way, it has fostered the careers of some of the region’s crucial talents, such as Clark Richert, Margaret Neumann and Mark Sink.
Gallery founder Robin Rule passed away in 2013, but the business — and its mobile strategy — have continued under a team led by long-time associates and now owners Valerie Santerli and Rachel Beitz. Rule Gallery opened in its fifth location last week near 4th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, just below the gallery glut of the official Santa Fe arts district a few blocks to the north.
The place is small and squat and from the outside offers a bit of shabby city chic design, with faded, white bricks and hardly any architectural dealing on the exterior. On the inside, it’s a bit more slick, white walls, a concrete-like floor and a ceiling with exposed beams.
The gallery would be a little hard to find if not for it’s cleverly-chosen opening exhibit of recent neon text pieces by artist Scott Young. The largest, “Wish You Were Here,” is 10 feet-by-12 feet and placed right on top of Rule’s roof, doubling as a glaring sign for the business.
It’s attention-getting, like all of Young’s plugged-in work, but also a little forlorn. The font is sparse and the final “E’ flickers as if the sign has seen better days. There’s a bit of desperation and longing in the way this oft-repeated post-card saying is presented: Less “wish you were here with me instead of back at home,” and more “wish you were here with me instead of on a better vacation some place else.”
Young likes to mix his messages, turning the innocent, telegraphed sayings and symbols of our age into something a little more honest. The best example is the piece titled “Intermittent Positive Reinforcement,” a four-foot square, pink, neon, smiley face on the gallery’s middle wall. It’s a happy piece of art until you turn the switch on the side, which allows the viewer to transform the smile into a frown creating a sad face. The third option is to have both the smile and the frown appear simultaneously, a grown-up version of the icon that reflects the complexities of real life, instead of dumbing them down.
This is Young modus operandi; it’s overly simple at times, but makes points on a gut, emotional level. More famous artists who are known for employing text tend to use it more poetically — as wily, brain teasers (like, say, Jenny Holzer) or to launch tiny, cryptic attacks on our consumer culture (like Ed Rushca).
Young’s messaging is more internal and a little more depressing. Take, for example, the video piece titled “Self Actualization.” Amidst a swirl of floating clouds, it flashes the message, word-by-word, “Why fall in love when you can fall asleep.” What the piece lacks in intellectual and lyrical depth, it makes up for with a good chuckle and a simple, if deflating, truism.
As a show, the 11 pieces on display at Rule, hold together nicely, and with appropriate despair. Love does suck. We’re never really happy nor really sad. We don’t wish you were here, we wish we were there. Young gets it right.
So does the gallery, by presenting this particular work upon yet another transition. It’s not easy packing up and moving, rehabbing a space to make it look like you’ve been there forever, getting to know the neighborhood and spreading the word to clients that you haven’t gone out of business, but simply shuffled across town.
But the up side is the place survives another upheaval. An important Denver institution keeps on going. Dealers get to deal, artists get to sell, buyers can see new work. There’s pleasure, there’s pain and they’re inseparable. Young’s work is all about that, really.
“Wish You Were Here” runs through Nov. 5 at Rule Gallery’s new location, 530 Santa Fe Dr. It’s free to get in and there’s more info at 303-800-6776 or rulegallery.com.