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Beam Me Up 

UFO show hovers at UCCS gallery

In what is turning out to be a season of "whimsical" art shows, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Gallery of Contemporary Art has come up with perhaps the most whimsical of all, The UFO Show running from Dec. 15, 2000 until Feb. 2 of next year.

Of course, it is possible to interpret the term "whimsical" in the art world as meaning "not quite up to our usual artistic standard." But the standard at the Gallery of Contemporary Art is serious enough that a seasonal backing off from the customary artistic rigor is probably a positive thing.

That is not to say that there aren't pieces in this exhibition of paranormal art worth seeing solely on the basis of their artistic merit. In fact, there are three pieces by deceased graffiti art icon and Warhol associate Keith Haring that are worth the trip to the gallery by themselves. And, as usual, Director Gerry Riggs has added a smattering of work from some of the best artists in the Pikes Peak region to this otherwise international show. Pieces from David Gonzales and Fritz Mann are examples of serious work that happens to have a paranormal expression as part of its message.

However, many of the national and international entries into this traveling exhibition are noteworthy more for their quirkiness or humorousness than the sheer artistic genius of their creator. Flying saucers of foam with orange and red acrylic flocking from Californian Jeremy Kidd are an example. These two overstuffed UFO pieces are fun to look at and should be a favorite of the kids. The viewer can even see through clear resin windows to catch a glimpse of moss and coral "extraterrestrials" piloting the craft.

The video sequence provided by Japanese artist Mariko Mori is equally entertaining even if differently intended. In it the artist is dressed in a silver space suit and wig with special contacts that give her eyes a reflective "kaleidoscopic" look. She caresses a crystal ball to the lilting strains of an otherworldly Japanese prayer soundtrack.

Then there is the antique Hoover vacuum turned intergalactic conveyance of Los Angeles artist Kenny Scharf. This gaily colored canister model saucer (complete with hose) depicts a variety of one-eyed male and female aliens peering back through circular windows at the viewer.

There are also a number of pieces that are notable for their ability to provoke thought. A series of well-done ink and gouache on paper works by New Yorker Amy Wilson carry catch phrases like "I want to Believe," and "What I know I know, what you know you only believe."

The work of Boston artist Paul Laffoley falls into the thought-provoking category as well as the category of more traditional artistic ability. His ink on paper work titled "Goechronmechane: The Time Machine from the Earth" has the intricate feel of an architectural drawing with lettered explanations of the machines workings which create a feeling of authenticity. His oil on canvas piece, "I Robur, Master of the World," is a bit less convincing on the "Hey, it could happen" scale but still serves as a feast for the eyes with its pseudo-scientific explanations of how only Robur can save the planet.

Haring's untitled figurative pieces of felt-tip marker on paper and silk-screen juxtapose a haunting simplicity of forms with the difficulty of the ideas they represent. Flying saucers beam death rays onto piles of bodies in one drawing while an alien spacecraft catches its human prey in flight in another. In a third, a pyramid shape comes under extraterrestrial attack as a pregnant earthling agonizes nearby.

The representational piece of Colorado Springs artist Mann also makes use of jarring contrast to make its point. "Ancient Ones Encounter Distant Ones," borrowed for the show from the Sangre de Christo Art Center in Pueblo, depicts a group of American Indians encountering an alien craft. Mann's rich coloration and painterly style contrasts with many other pieces in the show.

Colorado Springs' David Gonzales' entry is a more abstract but equally pleasing work. His visceral "Serendipity" oil won first place in the 1999 Fall Festival of Fine Art at the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts in Palmer Lake. This surreal cataloging of the world's shortcomings includes a group of fighter planes scrambling after an interplanetary visitor.

Another local artist, Lindsay Ray of Body Packaging fame, will contribute her full-sized silver inflatable saucer for the night of the exhibit opening. This piece has landed several times at events around town including the Tesla opening at the Smokebrush Theater earlier this year. Ray says her piece, like those of Jeremy Kidd, is a favorite of younger earthlings. "The kids always come up to me and want to know what it's supposed to be," she said. "At which point I usually say, "Tell me what you think it's supposed to be.'"

Ray's saucer usually comes equipped with eight columns in wild colors to support the craft. However, for the UCCS installation, Ray says she will just use sand bags to keep the ship from blowing off its landing pad on the roof of the gallery.

Ray, who says her children have reported contacts with UFOs in the past, laughs a little about the possibility of unexpected guests at the opening. "We're going to have lights on the saucer and we'd like to have some fog and there might be aliens that show up," she said. "I do think it's pompous to think we are the only ones in the universe."

Gallery Director Gerry Riggs says that part of the reason for his interest in the UFO show is his own witnessing of a pair of flying saucers a few years ago above the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. "They just hovered there, next to a water tower, before they took off," he said.

Something about the twinkle in Riggs' eye when he describes the incident makes you wonder if the tale is a part of the publicity for the exhibition, but there is no question -- he tells a convincing story.

It should be noted that UCCS is the first venue for this show which will have the benefit of an impressive 107-page catalog of the show's work including a number of well-written essays about the place of ufology in our society.

The catalog makes the point that, contrary to public opinion, looking at UFOs is actually a comforting experience. "The fact is that it makes people feel good to look at images of flying saucers," argues essayist Rudy Rucker. "There is a feeling of safety and completion in these round hovering entities."

Notwithstanding that Rucker goes on to claim that this feeling is related to the shape of parts in the female anatomy, there is undoubtedly a feeling of peacefulness surrounding many of the works of these 22 artists; a fact that one might want to remember as we progress further into the holiday shopping season.

The opening itself should be viewed as "an event" more than the usual reception for a gallery opening. It could even turn out to be a sort of Star Trek Convention with an art component.

In any case, it will be interesting to see who -- or what -- shows up on the evening of the 15th at the UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art.

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