By Ray Mark Rinaldi The Denver Post
I could feel my tires deflating, driving down to RedLine this week. Disappointment was oozing into the air.
Here was a gallery I have grown to admire, as much for the work on its walls as for its commitment to developing young painters and sculptors, to connecting disadvantaged kids to real culture, to avoiding the all-out baloney of the art world, and it was showing an exhibit with a title only a Wall Street banker could love: “The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art Collection.”
Wealth Management? Clearly, RedLine was selling out for one of those formless, faceless corporate art collections. It was enough to make me want to occupy something.
Of course, I should have kept the faith. Turns out this collection is both well-formed and full of faces — of different ethnicities, various ages and social circumstances, and nearly all presented in a compelling context. This wasn’t at all the safe work that companies spend lots of money on to make themselves look interesting. It was actually interesting.
Now, I’m not going to tell you anything about RBC Wealth Management because honestly I don’t know anything. And I’m not going to look it up just yet, or read the description in the fancy, hardcover catalogue that accompanies the exhibit. Save that for another day.
Instead, I’m just going to enjoy the art, allow the company to brand itself through the evocative portraits of Chuck Close and Elizabeth Peyton, the mysterious prints from Nan Goldin, Carrie Mae Weems, Luis Gispert and Sheila Metzner, the mixed-up paintings by Julia Jacquette and Jane Hammond.
This is arty work, indeed; an expensive sampling of material from mostly name-brand creators, and it does come off as purposely multi-everything, both in its subject matter and its materials. We get it, RBC Wealth Management, you value diversity.
But the exhibit at RedLine lets artists speak louder than the company, and that’s what makes it worth a good, long look.
The first image that hit me was Kehinde Wiley’s “Passing/Posing 15″ from 2002. The oil painting depicts a young, black man in a bright orange hoodie, a striking article of clothing in itself, considering that very day I had watched a “hoodie protest” from my office window, a response to the killing of 17-year-old, sweatshirt-wearing Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Wiley’s goal is to make you fully consider what you are seeing. His subject is routine, except that he is set in front of an unexpected backdrop — regal and luxurious wallpaper that looks like it might have been designed by Versace. A black kid in a hoodie? In a fine-art gallery? Is he rich, middle-class or poor? Is he up to good, or no good? You brought whatever prejudice you brought to this scene, and now you have to deal with it.
That same thread is sewn by Solomon Huerta’s untitled “Figure #2″ portrait — rendered from the back without facial features — of a young woman sitting in a folding chair. Or maybe it’s a young guy, or a nun, or a new mom, or a transsexual. You get it; viewers must confront their own preconceptions before they can make sense of things.
You could spend a lot of time doing that at RedLine. The work is as good as it gets in contemporary art. But it’s your time as much as it belongs to the Wealth Management Corporation Incorporated, Inc.
Like I said, I have no idea what this business is up to. Probably good things. I know I like its art collection.
Ray Mark Rinaldi: 303-954-1540, email@example.com or twitter.com/rayrinaldi
“THE HUMAN TOUCH.” RedLine hosts “Selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art Collection.” Through April 27. 2350 Arapahoe St. Free. 303.296.4448 or redlineart.org