Alternate personalities 

In the FAC Modern's installation show, one room carries the rest

  • Photo by LAura Montgomery
Installation is a tricky business. Unlike paintings, this form of artwork completely engulfs the viewer. Above all, an artist creates an experience with an installation.

This is the idea behind the Fine Arts Center Modern's newest show, Altered Space: 21st Century Installation Art. FAC curators Blake Milteer and Tariana Navas-Nieves chose Christina Marsh and Matt Barton of Colorado Springs and Gwen Laine of Denver to have free reign over the three main galleries of the Modern. Beyond that, the curators had no other say in the show.

This is an enormous risk on the part of Milteer and Navas-Nieves, but that is part of the allure of the exhibit. The show's premise of surprise and spontaneity is refreshing and new.

Yet with the freedom given to the artists, only one stood out as an inspired, activated space. And anyone who has already seen the show knows just the one I'm talking about.

Though Marsh, Laine and Barton each contributed a strikingly individual vision for the rooms, Barton's space swept those aside. Barton, a 3-D art instructor at UCCS, made full use of his space, filling it not only with props but an incredible, delightful energy.

He constructed a camping scene, anchored by a large fort made of quilts, which viewers can enter and sit inside. An artificial campfire beside the fort equips "campers" with marshmallows and a large projection of a surreal mountain landscape. All around the room are stands of fake trees, silk flowers and kitschy woodland animal figurines. By the ceiling, clouds of artfully pulled cotton batting seem to actually float by.

The environment is charming and silly, but warmly familiar; most of us can identify with forts and backyard campouts. A large projection on the wall of the phases of the moon speaks to the kind of wonder of an open sky one clotted with stars and the Milky Way.

  • Photo by LAura Montgomery

Barton's humor is in the details. A plastic skillet of stale Red Hot candies awaits viewers in the center of the fort. The double chimneys at the top are crowned with plastic birds and butterflies crazily spinning in circles.

Marsh and Laine's exhibits are not without merit. Laine's forest of silver balloons, tethered by stacks of clear photographs of human hands, is beautiful, if tame. March's spartan and contemplative space is calming and clear. Yet all of these attributes are boring when several yards away is Barton's spectacle.

For whatever childhood charm I lifted from viewing his work, Barton's concise artist statement returned with an undercurrent of sinister intentions. Phrases like "apocalyptic scenario" and "existentially dramatic content" dot the page. According to Barton's work, the consumption of natural resources to create an artificial world is leading us toward disaster. The scene of a camping trip created out of blatantly synthetic materials is a clue to this irony.

Barton's work commands attention. To piece together its intricacies requires some wrestling. But for a work that is so visually appealing and that makes you chuckle, in spite of Barton's morbid intentions it's a worthy return.


Altered Space: 21st Century Installation Art
FAC Modern, 121 S. Tejon St.
Show runs through April 26.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets: $6.75-$7.50, for more information, call 477-4308 or visit csfineartscenter.org.

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