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By Michael Paglia


There's new realism at the Mizel Center, a new spot for the Mizel Museum, and news at the DAM.

The Singer Gallery never ceases to amaze me. Credit for this must be given to Simon Zalkind, the gallery's able director. Despite a modest budget and even more modest facilities at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, Zalkind invariably comes through with some of the best exhibits in the area. That's certainly true of the Singer's current offering, Iswaswlllbe, a solo dedicated to Geoffrey Laurence.
Laurence, who is in his fifties, was trained in London in the 1960s and lived there for decades. In the 1990s he came to the United States to attend the New York Academy of Art, where he earned an MFA in 1995. After graduation, he moved to Santa Fe, where he still lives.

Zalkind chose Laurence because his works, though disquieting, are beautiful and perfectly painted. "I was impressed with the technical facility, the level of refinement of craft, but I require more than that," Zalkind says. "In these paintings, the moral dimension, the aesthetic dimension and the technical facility were of a piece."

The Laurence paintings are examples of contemporary realism filled with figures and representational details. Many have complicated compositions that make them difficult to fully understand, but they're coherent enough to convey the edgy mood the artist was conjuring.

The works are of various types. but all of them reflect Laurence's interest in the history of European painting. In "Study for 'We're All Mad," from 2003, a mural provides the background, and a boy-man wearing a child's hood with rabbit ears and a goatee crouches in the foreground. The pose has a Michelangelesque quality. There are no direct references to war in this painting, but the boy-man might be a future soldier, as war is the dominant theme among many of the other paintings.

In "HoldFast," an oil on canvas from 2004, three soldiers are seated on chairs in front of a mural of the Rape of Europa. On close examination, the three soldiers are actually all the same person: On the left he's in contemplation, in the center he's at the ready, and on the right he seems dispirited. It's an allegory about the effects of war on an individual soldier.

Adjacent to "HoldFast" is 2005's "Collateral Damage," which depicts an executive (a war profiteer?) talking on a phone and wearing a medieval-style jester', cap. He's also posed in front of a mural. Laurence likes to put Old Master paintings in the backgrounds, as if to create a stage which his figures act out their role. In the controversial title painting, "Iswaswillbe," Laurence uses a red stage curtain as a stand-in for the murals, but it serves the same purpose of forcing the viewer to pay attention to what is in front. In this case, that's hard not to miss: a Nazi SS officer in full regalia, embracing a skeleton wearing a prayer shawl reminiscent of the flag of Israel. Though Zalkind has fielded some complaints about this painting, it clearly an anti-Nazi work.
Laurence has written that he is not a realist and is not interested realism. Instead, he is what he calls an "emotionalist". I can certainly see what he means. Iswaswillbe is a magnificent show, and I unreservedly recommend it.

The Mizel Center is often confused with the Mizel Museum because they share the Mizel name, but they are not the same entity. The museum was founded as the Mizel Museum of Judaica in 1982 by the now-retired Rabbi Stanley Wagner, who brought in zillionaires Larry and Carol Mizel to serve as principal benefactors.

Originally located in a space at the BMH-BJ Synagogue on South Monaco Parkway. the museum presented exhibits of various types, including some very good art shows. For example, in the '90s, Jack Kunin organized a series of exhibits on Jewish 'artists working in the region that were excellent and scholarly'. There were also solos dedicated to Jewish artists, including political cartoonist Arthur Szyk and modernist painters Ben-Zion and Akiha Emanuel.

In 2001, the Mizel Museum of Judaica merged with the Mizel Family Cultural Arts Center and became the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, but the two institutions never really became one. There were ambitious plans for the paired operation, including the idea of a free-standing museum building to be situated next to the Robert B. Loup Jewish Community Center. Things got far enough along that there was actually a model created by designer David Owen Tryba, but the project never came to fruition.
The merger dissolved in the summer of 2003, and the Mizel Museum - with the "Judaica" dropped - moved into a jewel of a mid-century modernist building thought to be the work of William Muchow. The expressionist structure, located on the campus of Congregation Rodef Shalom, at 400 South Kearney Street, features a mosaic wall covered in an all-over pattern of Stars of David and has a zigzagging folded-plate roof.

Last week, officials at the Mizel Museum announced that the facility would be moving in. In 2006 it will relocate to a ground-floor space in the Museum Residences project, a part of the Daniel Liheskind-designed Denver Art Museum complex. The Mizel Museum will face the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building across a courtyard. Since splitting with the Mizel Center, the museum has not done much art programming and has instead focused on educational presentations that foster multiculturalism. I suggest that art be put back into the mix - especially when the DAM will be so close by.

When I learned that the Mizel was going to move in next to the DAM, it crossed my mind that maybe the Clyfford Still museum would wind up nearby, too. The site for that proposed museum has not yet been chosen, but Dean Sobel, the director of the Still Museum, told me that the site-selection committee was close to a decision and that the chosen spot would he announced early next year. It will be 2007, however, before the facility itself will be built.

Sobel gave me one tantalizing clue about where the museum might be constructed: He said that if things turn out the way he thinks they will, I will be pleased. Hmm. Well, I did say that I thought the Still museum belonged in close proximity to the DAM. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Crews at the Denver Art Museum are busy as bees both outside and inside the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building on Acoma Plaza at West 13th Avenue. Save for the landscaping, the exterior is essentially done, with only doors and windows left to be installed and the plastic pro-panels. The panels, which are soft and sort of wavy, will not change color over time, because unlike copper or bronze, no patina will be produced through weathering.

A lot of people are worried that the canted walls of the Hamilton will not be artfriendly, but when I walked through, I found that the spaces inside were not outrageous. That is, with the exception of the African-art gallery on the fourth floor, which has a dizzying array of oddly shaped walls and ceiling portions.

R. Craig Miller, curator of architecture, design and graphics, has called the Hamilton a museum for the 21st century. He's right. It's so darned complicated that it would have been impossible to do before the age of computer facilitated design and engineering. For heaven's sake, even the scaffolding was worked out with computer programs. So here's the funny part: The interior is positively Ancient Egyptian in character. Honest. There are many vistas created by the tilting walls, and the passageways cut into them are reminiscent of the interiors of some tombs and temples.

Very few of the final finishes are in place, and construction workers are just putting up the walls, the grand staircase and the mechanicals. However, in the ground-floor special-exhibition space - now, there's a naming opportunity if I've ever heard one - the drywall is up and the floors are down. The floors match those in the Gin Ponti/James Sudler designed North Building (another ripe naming opportunity), having been made from end-cut boards of Douglas fir stained a dark walnut color. The lobby and reception spaces will have black granite floors, as will the grand staircase.

There are many dramatic spaces, with the central atrium being the front-runner. Also impressive, though not as dramatic, is the large special-exhibition space on the second floor, where the Logan Collection will be displayed when the museum opens late next year. The permanent spaces for modern and contemporary art are really something, with one capacious gallery on the third floor and another on the fourth. When the Hamilton opens, there will be three floors of modern and contemporary art. My head is spinning already.

The architecture, design and graphics department will not he housed in the Hamilton, but will remain in the Ponti building and will have an entire upper floor instead of the cramped quarters it formerly occupied. Miller, whom I've described as a connoisseur of the old school, is also very new-school: He was named to ID magazine's IV 40 list, which appears in the upcoming January-February issue. This means he's been identified as one of the forty most important people in the world of design. Miller's entry describes him as a "world-class art historian and design authority" and his taste as being "matchless." His latest project is putting together a show on contemporary European design, and it's sure to become agroundbreaker exhibit, like his fabulous US Design 1975 to 2000, which also debuted at the DAM.

Miller deserves some of the credit for snagging the likes of Daniel Libeskind to design the Hamilton, as he does for Michael Graves's involvement in the Central Denver Public Library, which is across Acorns Plaza from Ponti's DAM. With his worldwide connections, he was able to tip off Libeskind and Graves along with other top-ranked contenders who vied for both projects - that the commissions were out there for the taking. But that's only one of many reasons Miller deserved to wind up on that ID 40 list.



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