In the Denver Post

The Denver art scene’s newest hotspots may be right up your alley — literally
by Ray Mark Rinaldi.
Denver Post, November 15, 2017

The most interesting things in the Denver gallery scene aren’t happening in galleries right now, they’re taking place in garages — real garages, located off of alleys that are tucked away in residential neighborhoods.

On the east side of town, in Park Hill, critic and curator Yasmeen Siddiqui is operating Minerva Projects, a new space that will show local and international artists, while offering them residencies and the opportunity to publish their work in book form.

On the way west side, in Lincoln Park, poet Sommer Browning has started up Georgia, where she’ll display local talents in shows that will be concentrated over occasional weekends. The exhibits, three-day pop-ups really, kick off with Friday receptions that feature video screenings and live music. Georgia’s second offering, artist Katie Caron’s “Simulations,” begins Friday, Nov. 17.

The galleries are different kinds of characters. Minerva’s program is structured and the space is architecturally forward. Georgia is more about pulling the car out of the way for a couple of days so that some high-quality art can take over.

But they’re both informal, community-centered places that bring art into spots where it didn’t exist. And visiting them — everyone is welcome — feels like simply dropping into a neighbor’s house rather than entering the usual tidy, white-cube dealership. The two galleries are small, and not likely to challenge the art business status quo right away, though they do immediately enrich it, adding a bit of backyard charm while remaining artistically credible.

They’re a welcome addition in a city where serious galleries and project spaces are relatively rare and people are accustomed to seeing art in more formal, often stilted, settings.

An international perspective

Siddiqui describes Minerva Projects as an incubator providing “new criteria and frameworks for narrating and contextualizing the work of some very interesting artists.”

Alternative spaces, by their nature, open themselves up to alternative artists, she believes, “many of whom are women, some are people of color, or other maligned groups.”

Minerva’s first exhibit was a terrific example of how it can bring different creative energy to Denver. “Fixed Point Perspective,” curated by the respected critic Hrag Vartanian, explored studio photography from the Ottoman Empire and its overlooked legacy on contemporary art. The work, new and vintage, featured a varied lineup of artists with roots around the globe, including Aram Jibilian, Hrair Sarkissian and Gariné Torossian. These aren’t names (or frankly the kind of names, ethnically speaking) that we often get a chance to see here.

Vartanian’s show is part of his 10-year project exploring this studio photography subject matter, and it has a level of academic rigor that will hold up in the traveling show that Minerva Projects will arrange and tour and the book of images and essays it will publish around his discoveries.

But the exhibit was also an entertaining array of colorful, and sometimes comical, images that came off in a most relaxed way at Minerva. Siddiqui renovated her garage for the project; it now has a sleek, glass folding door, a custom-made plywood desk, track lighting and a freshly poured concrete floor.

But there’s no escaping the fact that the very same address is the place where Siddiqui lives with her husband, three kids, a cat and a dog. That makes Minerva quirky and 21st century cool. There’s art in the backyard, but also playground equipment, and a large wooden picnic table where people can sit and discuss Middle East photography — or what’s happening at the nearby middle school.

Siddiqui, who is Canadian and came to the United States in 2002, and who has a long résumé of arts writing and curatorial work, plans to mix up her fare. She’s particularly interested in work that “draws from multiple cultures and histories,” as she puts it, and artists whose output can be a challenge to appreciate in traditional galleries. Next up is Denver artist Daisy Patton, followed by Israeli-born artists Tamy Ben-Tor and Miki Carmi, who work together via painting and performance art.

“The artists that have the most to gain from Minerva Projects are those who require a prismatic lens for understanding their work,” Siddiqui said.

Not just a garage

Over at Geogia, Sommer Browning has a different approach. A full-time librarian and writer, she’s published several collections of her poetry and is a well-considered figure in the region’s literary and live reading scene. The gallery allows her to explore her own evolving fascination with visual art, which she describes as “the new media that can say everything and anything.”

Browning spent months visiting and researching galleries, and when she wanted to open one of her own, the nearest and most affordable space was her “one-and-a-quarter car” garage. Georgia’s first show, a three-day pop up in September, featured large-scale collages by her pal, the poet and emerging visual artist Joshua Ware.

Georgia, named after Browning’s young daughter, opened with a surprising splash and an interesting conceptual sideshow at Counterpath, the gallery and performance space in East Denver. In recognition of the notion that Browning, a performance artist, was turning her garage into a gallery, Counterpath transformed itself into Browning’s garage: The entire contents of her garage, including her car and storage boxes, went on display at Counterpath.

Video from Counterpath’s exhibit was streamed live to Browning’s Friday night opening in Lincoln Park, an event that drew a large crowd, including neighbors, friends and a variety of folks from the established gallery and museum scene.

The gallery had quiet daytime hours on Saturday, when more people dropped in. “I could really talk to them and the artist was there,” said Browning. “We were able to have really productive engagement” with visitors.

Before closing Sunday afternoon, Georgia hosted a panel discussion with other artists and curators currently exploring alternative places to exhibit work.

Georgia’s follow-up kicks off Nov. 17 with a more established name, Katie Caron, who teaches at the Arapahoe Community College Art & Design Center and shows regularly at art spaces across the region. She’s on the roster of the high-end William Havu Gallery in the Golden Triangle.

Caron is known for transforming a variety of materials — everything from rubber to ceramics to discarded plastics — into “illusionary environments that engage the natural world, technology, biology, and human perception,” as Georgia’s accompanying text puts it. Her work tends to be engaging and entertaining and, from an ecological perspective, big-picture, and it promises to both complement and ground Georgia’s temporal nature.

She’ll show existing pieces and create an installation for the exhibition, and the opening reception will again feature video and live music.

And fitting for a gallery named for a 5-year-old, there will be some children’s programming connected. On Nov. 18 at 11 a.m., Edwina the Great and Her Amazing Traveling Flea Circus perform. The event is pay-what-you-can and seating is limited.

Ray Mark Rinaldi on Minerva Projects in the Denver Post

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