For decades now, the Arvada Center has been exploring photography in all its uses, genres and interpretations. That tradition continues today with “Double Exposure,” a group exhibition featuring 13 artists working in both photography and video, plus “Stop/Look/See,” a retrospective of James Milmoe’s single-image work. Both shows are curated by the center’s exhibition manager, Collin Parson.
Parson’s intent with “Double Exposure” is to “explore the versatility of lens-based artwork and the artists that create such work” and most of the contributors to this exhibit are local. Dylan Scholinski’s “ex-tra or-din-ar-y” presents a gigantic wall mosaic of vernacular videos and stills. As a 15-year-old girl, Scholinski was locked up in a mental hospital and forced to undergo treatment for being an “inappropriate female.” Now 50, he is a male activist/artist working to empower troubled Denver youth. Nostalgic is perhaps the wrong term given his history, but his approach is romanticized enough to obscure the dark turbulence of his experiences. Perhaps that is a reflection of his pointed embrace of Wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic arguably shared by his fellow artist Yoshitomo Saito. *
Parson has transformed the Main Gallery into a series of discreet rooms and annexes. This has eliminated most image and sound bleed, but light remains a problem. Saito’s elegiac “Madame Erochenko” — an unexpected pleasure given his primary identity as a sculptor — projects a video of an animated moth next to a triptych of color photographs depicting its mangled life-model. An ambient score encourages Saito’s quest for “the quietude needed for reflection, meditation, and healing.” Given the means to control lighting, the piece would be a complete success; hopefully it will find a more hermetic environment elsewhere soon.
“Double Exposure” has many other worthwhile stops. In counterpoint to the conceptual works around her, Dana Forsberg contributes an absorbing documentary project about an organic farm in Hawaii that is also a training center for underserved youth. One cannot miss Debra Sanders’ grid of organic-prophylactic bubble-gum stills but be sure to enter her room behind, which is illuminated by rotating toy camera projections. Equally mesmeric is Edie Winograde’s “From the Train,” a triptych that depicts a “reverse, West-to-East geological survey.” In this wall-piece, a small grid of stills is flanked at left by a video of her train journey shot through an Amtrak window and, at right, by a dramatic reenactment photograph taken by Winograde at Utah’s Promontory Summit.
While a majority of the artists chosen (from an open call) have created videos and stills with matching content, some are showing seemingly unrelated work. For instance, Heidi Neubauer-Winterburn’s poetic, photo-collages and video inspired by Marguerite Duras and Dave Seiler’s skillfully crafted mutoscope and pixelated media compilation, showcase creative quest rather than conceptual unity, which tends to weaken the show’s curatorial rigor. Nevertheless, “Double Exposure” is well worth the visit.
Come expecting to spend a solid 45 minutes downstairs, and save time to see “Stop/Look/See,” a precise 90-piece retrospective by James Milmoe upstairs.
“Stop/Look/See” demonstrates how adeptly Parson balances the center’s program of contemporary art with historically foundational shows. Milmoe, an octogenarian who has pioneered photography in the Denver region since the early 1950s, has what is often referred to as a “restless eye.” His subject matter bounces around from architecture to graphics to aspens to urinals to flowers to cemeteries — yet Parson manages to present a cohesive overview of what represents, in retrospect, just a tiny fraction of Milmoe’s life work.
Like many fine-art and commercial photographers in the region, Milmoe has an eye for iconic engineering and design, as well as a background in chemistry that led him to avoid too many toxic encounters in the darkroom – one reason, he suggests, that he is still active and alert at the age of 89.
Milmoe was part of a group of photographers in the 1950s and ‘60s that fought long and hard to bring photography into mainstream acceptance as a fine art in Colorado. One would think, then, that this would be an apt excuse for a trip down memory lane; happily – totemic displays of books and analog equipment aside — the show feels remarkably contemporary. The absence of date attributions and reliance on color certainly helps in that regard.
Perhaps it does occasionally betray its “Mad Men” roots. There are one or two “gotcha” moments — a Kodalith silhouette that grounds an image in the 1960s, for instance — but Milmoe is most interested in providing us with agelessly dynamic eye candy. A close-up series of car and motorbike logos is especially vivid, while a trio of ragged ,opera posters dating back to 1905 contrasts worn color and texture to evoke a slower era that was no less dependent on good design to sell tickets. Elsewhere, a dazzling grid of flowers and a glimmering display of “Toilet Hardware” are installed on either side of a men’s room entrance. Enter the loo if you can to compare Milmoe’s collection with some actual fixtures — it’s quite illuminating.
Info: “Double Exposure” and “Stop/Look/See” are on view at the Arvada Center through March 26, 2017. James Milmoe will be speaking at the Center at 11 a.m, on Saturday, March 11. Information is at arvadacenter.org. Both shows are presented in conjunction with Denver’s Month of Photography, which is gearing up for its biennial photo feast. Details and listings of all the MoP shows and events are online at mopdenver.com.
(* According to Dylan Scholinski’s statement, Wabi-sabi is “a comprehensive Japanese aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection while finding the importance, acceptance, value and beauty in all that is imperfect, asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the limitless integrity of natural objects, emotions, and processes.”)
Rupert Jenkins is a writer and curator who lives in Denver. His company, Durrington Edits, specializes in arts-related editorial projects, exhibition planning, and consulting, with an emphasis on photography and the photo-related arts. rupertjenkins.com.