The exhibit “Pink Progression” is more colorful than its name implies. Yes, there is lots (and lots) of pink on the walls, with nearly all of the artists using it as a language to talk about their experiences participating in the landmark Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017.
But the color is stretched to its limits. At the Center for Visual Art on Santa Fe Drive, pink is soft, harsh, bright and flat; it moves toward fleshy beige, fiery red and romantic rose; it can fade almost to gray and then turn shockingly neon.
That’s a hint at the range of emotions and awakenings sensed by the people who marched through downtown Denver and in cities across the world that day. They strutted and chanted and wore those one-of-a-kind hats together, but their takeaways were unique. The exhibit puts a range on display and invites visitors who went to the event, and its followup a year later, to reflect on their own impressions.
Did it turn you into a formidable pink serpent, like the image created in the piece “Ouroborous,” which hangs dauntingly in the gallery’s front window, 12-feet-long and covered in mica by co-creators Emma Hardy and Rebecca DiDomenico?
Did it make you an exterminator of the patriarchy, like it did Sandy Lane and Rachel Delaney, whose work is actual wallpaper installed at the CVA with a pattern of dead rats overcome by some day-glow pink poison? The rats represent the male-dominant status quo and, just in case you don’t get the point, there’s an actual dead rat embedded in the wall. Watch out, ungentlemen.
Did it force you to consider your female anatomy, and the physical attributes that define a woman’s place in the world, like Sue Simon, who renders her own DNA sequence in pinkish acrylic hues, aligning it by a field of flat black on canvas in “I Am”?
Or like Rain Kerrane, whose “Cut” features actual human hair in curlers and pink ribbons? The whole hairdo is falling part at the seams and is ready to be chopped off by a pair of green scissors, a new, more-empowered look inspired, perhaps, by the march.
“Pink Progression” gets its strength in numbers. More than 50 artists — nearly all female and many well-known in Colorado — have work in the mix. The exhibit, organized by artist Anna Kaye, has had a few incarnations, including recent showings at the main Denver and Boulder public libraries. It keeps getting better, as this iteration at the CVA — curated, pumped up and cleverly contextualized by Cecily Cullen — proves.
The mass showing is fitting, since the march itself was all about big numbers. Its success, at least in the moment, came from the fact that more than 100,000 people walked through downtown Denver and into Civic Center. Maybe a million gathered in Washington, D.C., and as many as 5 million took part globally. Crowd counts, of course, vary.
It was a strikingly real moment in a world where politics has gone virtual and conversations about current events take place in the solitary moments we spend writing emails, making contributions online and expressing ourselves through comments on social media. Marchers could feel the anger and the excitement, and also the bitter cold and their sore feet.
Mindy Bray gets right to that with the site-specific “Breakdown/Breakthrough,” which has her painting directly into a gallery corner, and onto the floor, something resembling the cracks on the concrete streets she saw as she marched. The piece combines physical testimony of the event — it happened, and in the core of this urban environment — with something of a metaphor: As these boots hit the ground, were they cracking something larger?
That’s a question only history will be able to answer. Sure, there were short-term gains, a boost in solidarity and caring, and an awakening. The march also recorded a transitional moment in our social evolution with its broad definition of gender. It was abundantly clear in 2017 that a pro-women movement must include the trans community, people who identify as female, regardless of their birth gender.
Frankie Toan’s piece, “The Couch Project,” evokes the spectrum of all those invited, by sewing together embroidered words and phrases — loving and anti-loving — used to name folks who don’t follow the norm. “FAGETTE” is one. “FAGULOUS” is another.
But there are pieces in “Pink Progression” that arouse hopes that the march will have a lasting impact on the status of women, personally for those who witnessed it and more broadly for society.
Trine Bumiller presents a set of 128 small oil paintings on panels depicting all of the U.S. national monuments erected to formalize the importance of key moments in history. The representations are monochromatic, rendered in blacks, but each has a decidedly pink hue in the background. It’s a bold statement about the gravity of Jan. 21, 2017.
That work is balanced by an understated assertion from “Pink Progression” instigator Kaye herself, who often uses fire in her work to connote destruction. Here, she turns things around with “Fall and Rise,” a watercolor depicting a plant in a glass vase, its pink petals blooming and its roots looking visible and strong. Over it, she projects a gentle bit of fire, an “eternal flame” if you will, suggesting the passion of the march is not likely to burn out soon. We will see.
“Pink Progression” continues through Aug. 18 at the Center for Visual Art, 965 Santa Fe Drive. Info at 303‐294‐5207 or msudenver.edu/cva. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of talks and workshops; a list of events is on the website.