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Fall exhibits at BMoCA capture the cosmos and fracture the female formula

From large-scale space paintings to a collection with strong feminist currents, works are on display through Jan. 17

“Swarm” (detail), 1990, enamel, wood balls and gems on 2 plywood panels by New York-based artist John Torreano. Torreano’s exhibition, “The Big Picture – Painting From The Universe,” guest curated by Julie Augur, is current on display at Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and will remain up through Jan. 17. (John Torreano/ Courtesy photo)
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Throughout the pandemic, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art has kept the community entertained with intimate studio tours and chats with creatives. Offering both virtual and in-person components for ArtMix, its annual fundraiser and auction, and extending exhibitions that folks may have missed through its closure, the brick building at 1750 13th St. continues to be a catalyst for creative experiences.

“Universe” (detail), 1973, acrylic and watercolor on paper, 28-by-41 inches, by artist John Torreano. This piece and others can be seen at “The Big Picture – Painting From The Universe” exhibition, guest curated by Julie Augur, on display at BMoCA through Jan. 17. (Jenny Gorman/ Courtesy photo)

Earlier this month, the captivating galaxy-inspired paintings of New York-based artist John Torreano were installed, along with the richly feminist and thought-provoking pieces by Chicago-based artist Nyeema Morgan.

Both intriguing collections, on display through Jan. 17, offer onlookers a chance to engage with pieces that calm, stimulate and rouse for a nominal entrance fee of $2.

“John (Torreano) has dedicated his life to painting and we are lucky to have his work here to share with the Boulder community,” said BMoCA’s executive director David Dadone.

Capturing the deep mystery and harmonious flow of searing stars and dusty nebulas, his work — spanning over 40 years —  is sure to resonate with both romantic skygazers and knowledgeable space fans.

Many of the paintings are based on images captured from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation today.

“His brush strokes are very dramatic, yet create a beautiful composition,” Dadone said. “His paintings are active, not passive.”

A myriad of plastic gems — unlikely treasures Torreano uncovered while walking New York City’s Canal Street in the ‘70s — are worked into many of the pieces.

“A Star(s) is Born,” by John Torreano on display at BMoCA. (Kalene McCort/ For the Camera)

The translucent jewels add dimension and light. A sense of motion can be found within the large-scale works that almost envelop onlookers.

“They’re big, beautiful and have a remarkable energy,” said Julie Augur, guest curator of “The Big Picture – Painting from the Universe.” “‘Gases In Omega Swan’ is a particularly spectacular piece and gives the feeling of what the atmosphere is like out there. There’s an incredible sense of movement in this painting, of swirling atmosphere.”

In “Paint in Some Holes,” from 1995, the natural markings of the plywood are beautifully juxtaposed against signature jewels, painted wooded balls and colorful putty-like molding pressed into carved-out craters. Even the textured subject of the piece rebelliously stretches onto the frame, creating a sense of whimsy and otherworldliness.

“Paint in Some Holes,” by John Torreano is one of the pieces that can be seen at BMoCA now through Jan. 17. (Kalene McCort/ For the Camera)

“Inside Nebula AD,” from 2016, is reminiscent of colorful camouflage, while “SwC in Doradus,” from 2017, has the essence of a brightly-hued bubble gum wall.

While teetering the line between abstraction and realism, Torreano has created work that artfully pays homage to the astrological matter captured by a state-of-the-art piece of equipment still floating in space.

“A Star(s) is Born,” has incredible depth and acts as a subtle reminder that out of darkness comes light.

“People love this exhibition,” Dadone said. “It’s a way for them to connect, get away from the daily grind and have some quiet time with the cosmos.”

Attendees also get to see a few of the watercolor paintings that are the initial inceptions for the layered and textured plywood pieces. These works, although a different medium, are every bit as stirring as the final evolutions.

“Swarm,” left, and “Double Spin” by artist John Torreano are on display at BMoCA through Jan. 17 as part of the exhibition “The Big Picture – Painting From The Universe.” (Kalene McCort/ For the Camera)

“I hope viewers take away a sense of wonder at both the subject matter and the original, creative imagery,” Augur said.

Those interested in learning more can check out a filmed artist talk with Torreano on Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

While Torreano drops us into dreamy and shimmering pockets of the universe, cloaked in mystique, Morgan brings us right back to earth with a collection that calls out the societal limitations — and expectations — placed on women.

I would say that working with Nyeema (Morgan) has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the curatorial process,” said guest curator Rosanna van Mierlo. “Her critical and theoretical insight, but also her talent for poetic narrative is incredible.”

“The Stem. The Flower. The Root. The Seed,” is the second of three BMoCA exhibitions that honor the 100th anniversary of women being granted the right to vote in the U.S.

From biblical references to fairy tales to sentiments ripped from current headlines, simple sentences — barely visible due to their white coloring against a white gallery wall — capture tales of women and point to the fact that females throughout the centuries have been both vilified and praised. Lusted and loved. Criticized and blamed.

“The texts on the walls become visible depending on where you stand and how the light hits the walls,” Van Mierlo said. “Your body, your placement in the gallery, your perspective in the widest sense, enables you to see and unsee, engage and disengage. Each of her works activates in some way.”

Just a few words hold incredible power and tell an entire story. Complex myths of femininity and the influence of narrative can be found in these phrases that all start with “The one about,” as if to rhetorically ask the viewer, “Did you hear?”

The one about the first woman who tempted man.

The one about the ill-fortuned maiden rescued out of servitude.

The one about the hooker with a heart of gold.

Casts of hands dart out from the wall, clenching poles that have stacks of lightweight papers slumped on the ends that are almost reminiscent of white flags of surrender, or perhaps the sign of a more aggressive call to battle.

A sculptural detail from Nyeema Morgan’s exhibition “The Stem. The Flower. The Root. The Seed.,” guest curated by Rosanna van Mierlo. Casted hands hold rods whose ends are draped with papers, marked with text, that visitors can take home. (Kalene McCort/ For the Camera)

“I would say that my favorite thing about the works is how they physically engage the viewer through different forms of perspective,” Van Mierlo said. “With the sculptures, it is the most immediately felt. There is a point in the gallery where you stand and all the dowels are pointing directly at you. Your body becomes an element in the sculptural presentation, indicating a reciprocal relationship. You become implicated in the narrative. There is a sense of expectancy there. You are not just some passive viewer.”

These thin pages of newspaper — once tuned over — are marked with all the text, now visible, that can be found on the gallery walls. The sheets are meant to be picked up, read and taken home.

“Interaction is important to me as a curator,” Van Mierlo said. “It was important to me that, no matter someone’s socioeconomic status, they would be able to take art home. In my mind I was thinking about this kind of teenage culture, where you plaster your walls with your heroes. That experience is less about art and more about a conversation you are wanting to have with these pop-culture icons that are larger than life.”

In addition to taking home these souvenir documents, on Oct. 28, at 4 p.m., interested patrons can tune into “The One About the Tiny Maiden,” a moderated discussion surrounding the theme of gender and power through politics and voting with the artist herself.

“By printing these archetypes of femininity, these mythical legacies of historical women, on newspaper combined with the base-colors of a mechanized testing sheet, Nyeema (Morgan) references that these days, the power of narrative derives from something that can be endlessly reproduced,” Van Mierlo said.

“Soft Power, Hard Margins.” (detail), 2020, mixed media by Nyeema Morgan is one of the pieces currently on display at BMoCA through Jan. 17. (Nyeema Morgan/ Courtesy photo)

In Morgan’s mixed media works — “Soft Power. Hard Margins.” — that incorporate LED lights, the concept of battling against imposed constructs regarding femininity is carried on. Set in ornate frames splashed with gold-leaf paint, messages — such as “Permission to reject the stigma of the female body ’— are illuminated in shadowboxes. Beneath the overlapping cutout lettering —  that is also purposely difficult to read — viewers can peer in, beneath the haze, to see glimpses of slightly  obstructed images.

“Nyeema’s (Morgan’s) work is brilliant at deconstructing this mechanism of mythmaking as a cultural and historical process, while at the same time enveloping the audience in a form of storytelling of her own, reworking the past as she goes,” Van Mierlo said. “That is a powerful, and to me a very moving, critical approach, a form of action that aims to perform, rather than ask for change.”

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