Spark's Fortieth-Anniversary Show, Two Solos Offer Trip Through Art History
July 24, 2019
Spark Gallery is the city’s oldest still-active artist co-operative; it was started by a bunch of Boulder emigres in late 1979, just a month or so before the launch of Pirate, which is often thought to be Denver's first co-op. So Spark is marking its fortieth birthday this year, and its current members decided to toast the founders, as well as other earlier Spark-sters, with a pair of exhibits this summer. The first, Spark Gallery 40th Anniversary Show, Part I, is open now; Part II opens on August 1.
A committee of members and past members put the exhibitions together, and the first one represents a history lesson on local vanguard art of a generation or so ago. Sadly, no historic narrative has been put together to explain how Spark came together, so viewers are left to figure things out on their own. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: History Colorado ought to be recording the reminiscences of the founding members, most of whom are happily still alive, some of them the key contemporary artists to emerge in Colorado in the late twentieth century.
I wasn’t in Denver when Spark was founded, but over the years, I’ve learned (and even surmised) quite a bit. First, it was named for Margaret Neumann’s dog, Sparky. Second, it was the ultimate conclusion of a chain of events that form a dotted line through Colorado's contemporary art scene. Among its direct antecedents are Drop City, the Armory Group, Criss-Cross and Boulder’s Edge Gallery (no connection to the co-op now in Lakewood). Taken together, these connections demonstrate how important Spark was — and is — to the big picture of this state’s contemporary art history.
Though no particular style defined the efforts of Spark's founders, several of them were concerned with mathematically derived compositions — typically patterns, but also more complex axiomatic images. That’s certainly the case with Clark Richert, Richard Kallweit, Charles DiJulio, Jerry Johnson, Marilyn Nelson and the nearly forgotten spiritual mentor to all of them, George Woodman. Sculptor Andy Libertone is doing something related but clearly different, though he has the same taste for hard edges as the others. (Libertone was an early guiding light for Spark, and lived above the co-op's first location, at West 32nd Avenue and Osage Street.) There were also founders who embraced a range of representational approaches, from neo-expressionist Neumann to realist John Fudge and even artists creating work with a cartoonish tilt, exemplified by Paul Gillis. His stunning if idiosyncratic “Untitled” is one of the show’s standouts.