The current show at the UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art, Three Local Collectors: Highlights from the Brasch, Lehrer, and Wenderski Collections, is fun, gratifying and faintly voyeuristic.
It's fun because there's lots of good stuff on display; gratifying because it's different, uneven and quirky; and voyeuristic because you get a sense of what it is to be a dedicated, even insanely obsessive art collector.
Was it Samuel Johnson who once remarked, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Similarly, if you can't find something to like in this exhibition, you just don't like art.
Would you like a carefully selected group of works on paper by some of the best artists of the second half of the 20th century? A Jennifer Bartlett, a James Rosenquist, and a couple of Tom Wesselmans? Take a look at Ron Brasch's thoughtful, harmonious and utterly pleasing collection.
Or maybe you'd prefer to look at a group of mostly regional pieces, many created in the late '80s, by then-obscure artists who have since become the big dogs of the Denver art scene. Kathryn Wenderski had the eye; she acquired major pieces by such artists as Bethany Kriegsman, Zoa Ace and Louis Recchia. Have a look at Recchia's enormous folding screen, a multimedia tour de force, brilliant and exuberant, that overwhelms everything within 50 feet. Wenderski, modest and self-effacing, looked for art that challenged her and made her think differently about the world.
But if you want a window into the soul of a wonderful collector, Rich Lehrer's collection provides that window in spades. Around 30 pieces from Lehrer's collection are hung in the show, including a few very large canvases -- large meaning five feet by seven feet. It's a wildly diverse group, including half a dozen conventional Western landscapes; a visionary, even hallucinatory piece by Orlin Helgoe; an early Sushi Felix. Is it possible that the same guy owns all of this stuff? A collector for the last two decades, Rich started small -- buying art with a narrow, specifically Southwestern focus. But like a gambler who begins by playing the nickel slots, he got hooked, and within a few years his taste had become eclectic and insatiable. His house overflowed with art -- so much so that a few years ago a prominent local artist, delivering a commissioned piece to Lehrer, was so horrified by the clutter that he tried to renege on the deal.
Of necessity, Lehrer is now a recovering collector. He's moving to North Carolina and into a house with lots of glass and not much wall space. He says that he's cutting back, even selling some of his hoard. We'll see. After all, there's no such thing as a 12-step program for obsessive collectors.
There's something about all of these collections -- a certain freshness, naivet and enthusiasm that makes them very different from similar gallery/museum-sponsored exhibitions. When you buy for yourself, you go with your heart -- you don't care about impressing your peers, or not looking like a fool. Just as the audience is part of the theater, so too does the collector participate in the art that he/she acquires. And by going to see this wonderful show, we're part of it too -- we kick of our shoes and join the dance.
-- John Hazlehurst
Three Local Collectors: Highlights from the Brasch, Lehrer and Wenderski Collections
UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art (northwest upstairs corner of Science Building, UCCS campus)
Through Nov. 23, open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1-4 p.m.
Nov. 4 symposium on how collections are built, how and why people collect art
Call 262-3567 for more