Float through Barbara Takenaga’s dream worlds at Robischon gallery show

When the economy is good and the art is appealing, the gallery business can be fairly lucrative. Sure, it has ups and downs like any commercial enterprise, but with high prices and 50 percent commissions, a savvy gallerist can reap dependable rewards over time.

The way galleries pay that back to their communities is by staging interesting exhibitions of the artists they represent. The shows are always free and often excellent. They serve as places where people can connect around quality entertainment and  — if they are lucky — creative ideas, and that includes both serious art consumers and those without the intention or the means to buy fine art.

No Denver gallery does this better than Robischon, and its current four-person show is the veteran LoDo gallery at its very best. The talent is considerable, the curating authentic and the opportunities for local art fans unique.

Barbara Takenaga is the star of this lineup. She’s a 1978 University of Colorado Boulder grad who went on to New York and became one of the most respected painters of her generation, winning a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship in 2020. Takenaga’s work is inventive, technically dazzling and, when you spend a few minutes with it, walk around it, get up close to it and then far away again, exhilarating.

Her power comes through balance and a mastery of acrylic paint. She makes her own sort of abstractions, effusive, eruptive scenes that can feel like journeys into deep space, or deep sea, or maybe just deep thinking. She plays with dimension and illusion; she immerses her viewers, and not in that obvious way of those trendy immersive exhibitions that trade on the reputations of icons like Van Gogh. Takenaga’s special effects are organic; they have purpose.

If you go

Robischon’s current four-artist exhibit continues through June 11 at 1740 Wazee St. It’s free. Info: 303-298-7788 or robischongallery.com.

At Robischon, Takenaga is presenting 16 paintings under the title “Outliers.” They come in different shapes and sizes, though there is something on the level of a personal masterpiece in the massive work called “BlueFive,” a quintet of connected panels that come together into a single, 18-foot-long piece, each bringing along an explosion of energy that resembles water bubbling and bursting in the direction of the viewer. They are ruptures of soft matter that begin near the center of the canvas and emanate off of its sides in the form of drops extending into the atmosphere.

Of course, that’s just one way of looking at the paintings. They could also be stars exploding or volcanoes spewing or perhaps a psychic imagining of what it might be like to visually experience any of those things. This is abstraction in its freest form, and yet the paintings are also contained and relatable on a human scale. Like the best abstractionists, Takenaga is able to paint what it feels like to see.

It is incredibly difficult to arrange paint on canvas — or, actually, linen in this case — in Takenaga’s precise manner, to conjure from nothing these lines and curves and tiny dots laid out in patterns that imply inertia, to space things just right, to keep edges so clean and confident, to apply just enough paint through brushstrokes and pours, and never more than that, to make shapes that hint at actual figures or real-life scenes, but never give in to being anything specific. There is comfort in guessing what Takenaga is painting, but endless fascination in deciding if you got it right. The paintings never stop unfolding.

There are other kinds of paintings in this set, works like “Black Line, Red,” that appear to be inspired by more tactile subject matter, such as fabrics or textiles, but they are connected in the way that the artist paints them by highlighting their smallest details and rhythms and building that into an image, where the positive and negative aspects of the scene alternate. Foreground and background are interchangeable, sometimes giving the works a 3-D effect.

Robischon expands on Takenaga’s habit, using minutiae to make big statements in assembling the rest of  the current lineup, most notably with its display of Omar Chacón’s “Variaciones Chuecas.” The Colombian-born artist’s 16 abstracts are aggregations of small components of acrylic paint, made individually, dried, and then assembled into a whole. They feel like groupings of tiny paintings that have been brought together on one canvas.

These works are less about imagery and more about the relationships between shapes and colors. Chacón is all about patterns, too, and symmetry. But he is loose in the way he connects his raw materials. There is enough irregularity in the arrangements of these pre-made components — they are far from exact; in fact, the title of the show translates into “Crooked Variations” in English — that they don’t come off like old-school geometric abstraction. They feel hand-made, rather than processed or collaged. There is a sensuality and earthiness to that.

That aspect connects well to the work of the final two artists in the show. Linda Fleming’s powder-coated steel pieces — some free-standing, others mounted on the gallery walls — are swirls of metal that continuously curve and curl and fold back and around themselves. She brings a surprising fluidity to hard materials and, like Takenaga’s paintings, the objects seem to have no beginning and no end.

Same goes for the rolled paper constructions of Jae Ko. These 10, wall-mounted, intensely-blue pieces are lush in texture and rich in color. They feel solid and tightly wound but also pillowy and soft. They are odd and alien, yet wholly seductive.

There is a dreaminess to all the work in this exhibit, and that brings it together in the way that nearly all of Robischon’s mixing and matching of its roster tends to do. But it’s an effect built on a complex process: All this work — the way that Robischon presents it — is deeply thoughtful.

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