When the first Neo-Geo show went up at the Gallery of Contemporary Art at UCCS in 1995, Colorado Springs was going through a period of unprecedented change. The economy was booming after years of stagnation, but suburban sprawl was creeping out onto the plains as the huge influx of Californians strained local resources and clogged the streets and highways. Neo-Geo gave local artists an opportunity to respond to these changes -- "both positive and negative" -- said GCA Curator Gerry Riggs.
Given the current water-shortages, fires and congestion caused by the drought-'n'-sprawl '00s, it's no surprise that the GCA would choose stage another Neo-Geo show eight years later to consider issues of sustainability. This time it's, you guessed it, Neo-Geo Revisited.
In conjunction with programming by the organization "Moving Toward a Sustainable Colorado Springs" (formerly Geo-Genetics Network), a 10-year-old local organization whose mission is to "address the ideas surrounding notions of a sense of place," the GCA has included 18 of the artists who participated in the 1995 show, along with six new artists.
The list of returnees reads like Colorado Springs baby-boomer artist all-star team: Tracy Felix, Floyd Tunson, Dawn Wilde, Don and Maxine Green, Lenore McKerlie, Pat Musick, Bill Burgess, Michael Baum and many others.
Newbies to the show include Bill Beard, Deb Komitor, Steve Wood, Elaine Bean and Gerry Riggs.
Among the highlights of the show are Bill Burgess' "Up Town," a painting that he started in 1973 and finished in 2003. This uncharacteristic work (Burgess is primarily a sculptor) takes an unsentimental look at the urbanization of Colorado Springs in an almost-abstract fashion with an absolutely gorgeous palette of pinks and grays that make his spiral sculptures seem unnecessarily understated.
Michael Baum's three-panel, "House Near Manzanola," of an empty white farmhouse with a barren brown field set against an azure afternoon is a perfect example of how to bring horror to the doorstep in an evening gown. This is exquisitely painted triptych addresses the ills of corporate farming, drought, poverty, loneliness, emptiness and beauty all at once without beating you over the head with any of these themes.
Floyd Tunson's grotesque flies are also stunningly painted indictments of humanity's feculence.
While there are some standout works, and many works that undoubtedly make poignant statements about their themes, Neo-Geo Revisited feels, on the whole, didactic, conceptually weak and aesthetically mediocre.
Mixing art and politics is always a slippery slope, and Neo-Geo Revisited can be commended for taking a stab at it. Not that art can ever be free of politics, but if you want to get someone into bed it's always better to wear tight pants than to beat him over the head.
For more information about sustainability events being held in conjunction with Neo-Geo Revisited, go to www.ppenvironmental.org.